Teaching Critical Geography with Don Mitchell’s Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction
University of Texas at Austin
The past decade has seen the slow emergence in geography of an interest in critical pedagogy (Castree 2003; Cook 2000; Hay 2001a. 2001b; Heyman 2000, 2001a, 2001b; Merrett 2000). Yet this interest has tended either to be general in nature, or organized around teaching a specific topic (e.g. Dwyer 1999 on race; Hardwick and Shelley 1999 and Oberhauser 2002 on gender; Knopp 1999 on sexuality). The 2008 session took a different approach by focusing on just one book (and one subfield). Don Mitchell’s Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction was chosen because it has emerged as an important and interesting book (though not without flaws), and one that could sustain a two-hour discussion. Since many of the reviews cited above provide summaries and overviews of the book, I will focus my comments here on what makes Cultural Geography a particularly interesting book from a pedagogical perspective: the ways that it is different from traditional textbooks. First, it is a difficult book, especially for an undergraduate audience (see Surprise, this issue). While Mitchell writes clearly, and provides numerous, detailed case studies and examples, he also grapples with a complex body of critical theory. Several contributors to this collection, and many reviews, note that while the book explains complex theory in contemporary cultural geography to newcomers in the mode of a textbook, it also expands that theory in the mode of a scholarly monograph. The book has an original argument to make about the complex interplay between political economy and culture.
Editor’s Note: The version of Don Mitchell’s response to comments on his book, carried in Human Geography, Volume 1, Number 2, pp. 122-23 had several lines of text missing. Here is the complete response.