Prof. Emeritus Bob Lake: From Professional Geography to Public Geography, from Representational Certainty to Not Knowing the Answer

September 15, 2023


Most practices of professional geography employ a realist ontology of knowledge, seeking accurate representations of an external world that exists in itself, prior to our attempts to know it. Certainty in the accuracy of our interior representations of an external world, however, breeds dogmatic claims to truth in the attempt to bridge the unbridgeable gap separating matter from mind. A reading of Rorty’s (2021) posthumously published Pragmatism as Anti-Authoritarianism offers an escape from authoritarian certainty by charting a shift from professional geography to a public geography (although he never used that term). Making this move entails a shift from analysis to conversation; from abstract theorization to the extension of loyalty to the widest possible plurality of publics; and from representing an antecedent truth to the pragmatist’s goal of reaching collective agreement on what to do. Rorty’s antiauthoritarian pragmatism makes a compelling case to stop thinking of knowledge as correctly answering a multiple-choice question in which the answer is known in advance and instead to nurture a public geography aimed toward the larger challenge of negotiating collective agreement on how we should live together in an interdependent world.

Robert W. Lake (2023) From Professional Geography to Public Geography, from Representational Certainty to Not Knowing the Answer, The Professional Geographer, DOI: 10.1080/00330124.2023.2242465

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