Working through our differences: Limits of ontology in the ordinary lives of critical geographical theory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

You won’t get far in geographical theory today without bumping into one ontology or another. Metaphysical assertions about key spatial concepts – ‘space is open’, ‘community is exclusionary’, ‘the political is agonistic’ – guide empirical analysis. In this mode of theorising, the vocation of critical geography is to correct conceptual misunderstandings and thereby direct political action. Curiously perhaps, the geographer becomes one who – in the name of emancipatory projects – points people to their proper place. An alternative approach to critical theory might consider instead how people place themselves. Just such a concern animates the varied enterprises operating under the name of ordinary language philosophy. This article examines how philosophies of ordinary language might contribute to new avenues of geographical research by examining the relationship between Stanley Cavell's writings on the human voice as a site of embodied and passionate response and Clive Barnett's call for an action-theoretic approach to social inquiry as an alternative to ontological critique. Taken together, their work recommends a programme of inquiry into ordinary critical geographies: how people circumstantiate the meaning, worth and wisdom of their actions, and, in doing so, work to place themselves in the world.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalDialogues in Human Geography
Early online date21 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Dec 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Clive Barnett
  • critical geography
  • ontology
  • ordinary language philosophy
  • spatial grammar
  • Stanley Cavell
  • worldly accountability


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