Public Geographies

Our public conversation is infused with multiple geographical references and ideas and these Public Geographies are interesting topics for research. In Geopolitics and Empire, I examined the notion of Geopolitics, the geographical understanding of global power. The book looked at the common-sense geographies at the heart of British imperial policy of the early twentieth century and at US imperial policy in the early twenty-first. The continuities rest upon very questionable assumptions about race, space, environment, and history. The book proposed a new Progressive Geopolitics that begins from very different observations about hybridity, cooperation, resources, and justice.

I am now looking at the geographical bases of Irish identities and have singled out the nation, the diaspora, and the cosmopolis as distinct geographical frames within which Irish identities are negotiated. The research on the nation as a form of Irishness examines the moment of Young Ireland, 1845-49, and asks how people, past and place were spun together to make an Irish claim upon patriotism, history and territory. The research also looks at how this movement organized its own space and at how it tried to accommodate the awful lessons of the Great Famine. Many postcolonial identities are built upon such wounds and the consequences for the politics of ex-colonies are profound.

Once attuned to the resonance of geographical concepts in the public conversation, they are readily identified: for example, passing, the niche, the interim, spaces of exception, contagion, the Anthropocene, gentrification, and scale. I am elaborating upon the last of these, scale, as a way to understand the contrasting and conflicting governmentalities of the Irish State and the Roman Catholic Church in the context of church-state relations and the abuse of children by clergy. This matter is changing the nature of church-state relations in Ireland but nested jurisdictions of parish, diocese, national church, Vatican, and of parish, county, state, and international agencies offer resources and occasions for managing, evading, deferring, or confronting this crisis in distinctively geographical terms. Where is the Church and where do we find the defenders of the rights of the child? It’s partly a matter of scale.

Gerry Kearns

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