Geography and ethics: placing life in the space of reasons

Barnett, Clive (2012). Geography and ethics: placing life in the space of reasons. Progress in Human Geography, 36(3) pp. 379–388.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0309132510397463

Abstract

Discussions of ethics in recent human geography have been strongly inflected by readings of so-called ‘Continental Philosophy’. The ascendancy of this style of theorising is marked by a tendency to stake ethical claims on ontological assertions, which effectively close down serious consideration of the problem of normativity in social science. Recent work on practical reason emerging from so-called ‘Analytical’ philosophy presents a series of challenges to how geographers approach the relationships between space, ethics, and power. This work revolves around attempts to displace long-standing dualisms between naturalism and normativity, by blurring boundaries between forms of action and knowledge which belong to a ‘space of causality’ and those that are placed in a ‘space of reasons’. The relevance of this blurring to geography is illustrated by reference to recent debates about the relationships between rationality and habit in unreflective action lies. Ongoing developments in this tradition of philosophy provide resources for strengthening a nascent strand of work on the geographies of practical reason that is evident in work on ethnomethodology, behaviour change, and geographies of action.

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