Walking away from a research project

In 2014 I decided to abandon a research project I’d been pursuing for almost a year. That much wasted effort was ugly to contemplate. Sure, I could have viewed it as sunk costs; I am, after all, the child of an economist. But walking away also had significant opportunity costs, as I abandoned the chance to publish on a hot topic, a chance for which I had prepared carefully. Abandoning the project meant that I would have to start from scratch again, setting my research and publication calendar back a year; if I could have just gritted my teeth and powered through it would have been far better for my career. But I have a long-standing habit of prioritizing well-being over career; no walking away from that!

The project was on fracking. My collaborator (Brian Lutz, an excellent biogeochemist and lovely human being) and I carefully studied the existing literature and concluded that the environmental impacts of fracking seemed to be far less serious than those of more established energy sources, most notably coal. I was not predisposed to take a moderate position on fracking, so this conclusion deeply surprised me. The more I learned, though, the more the disparity between the actual impacts of fracking and the public conversation stood out. Why were all these awesome environmentalists screaming about fracking when the impacts of Mountain Top Removal coal mining, for example, were an order of magnitude more intense, and unmitigable to boot? Our only explanation was that what we were seeing was the geographic redistribution of the environmental injustices of energy production, and that people newly confronted with those injustices were more upset by them than by deeper, long-standing injustices far away.

It became clear that this hypothesis was going to get me into trouble almost immediately. When I began to tell people casually about my new project, their reactions were almost always shock: how could I possibly suggest that fracking was not a deep environmental evil?!? One post-doc actually yelled this, berating me through much of a 45-minute long train ride for taking such an ethically and environmentally unacceptable stance in my research. We received a review on the one paper we submitted that was unlike any I had ever received: vitriolic and accusatory. The reviewer accused of being ‘gas industry shills’ and of taking industry money without disclosing it (neither of us had any funding for the project). Brian, who had worked on fracking for several years, said that was par for the course.

I spent some time sitting with all this, trying to decide what to do. It seemed clear that we had something useful to contribute to the debate over fracking. It seemed equally clear that we could stay in the conversation only at the cost of such an onslaught of accusations of bad faith that there was absolutely no guarantee that we would be able to contribute.

In the end, I decided to walk away. Wholesale abandonment of a line of research seems like an insane decision. But academia is my second career. I do it because I love it. If it stops being enjoyable, I will go do something else. Perhaps most importantly, while I don’t mind drawing anger in a good cause, fracking is not one. I’m comfortable taking heat for tackling the ridiculous racial and gender imbalance in my field, but I have zero desire to be a punching bag for a cause I don’t actually support.

So there it is: nearly a year’s effort, gone. But I was SO much happier once I made that call. And really, that’s all the peer review I needed on this decision.

The parable of the pool cue: macho posturing in conference sessions

To make conference sessions more reflective of the actual demographics of our field, it’s not enough simply to invite a more plural set of speakers; we also need to address the masculinist culture that dominates some areas of Geography. In my area, for example, the theory sessions are so notorious that even when organizers try to reach out they mostly end up with the usual suspects. Many women, people of color, and white male allies have no interest in engaging the macho posturing of session participants (on stage and in the audience).

What does that masculinist culture look like, you ask? Let me tell you a story: the parable of the pool cue. This is how the order of things was explained to me my first year of college. “Phil” is short for philosophy, which is where the theory courses were at the university I attended.


The Parable of the Pool Cue

My freshman year in college I was shooting pool with my friend Benjamin when a very large guy in a black leather jacket and brass knuckles (really) sauntered over to us and said, taunting, “So, I hear you wanna be Phil majors.”

We nodded, eyes big, very nervous about where the conversation was going.

“Know why I’m a Phil major?”

We shook our heads.

“Because it gives me a hard on,” he said, using a pool cue to demonstrate.  “And you know what Phil classes are?  They’re about proving who has the biggest… fuckin’… hard on,” extending the pool cue out with each word.

Benjamin and I both switched majors later that week.
Let us be clear that that masculinist culture sucks not just for women and people of color, but also for non-macho white guys like my friend Benjamin. It’s past time we changed it.

So what do we do?

  1. First, remember that the Pool Cue dynamic is learned, and where it’s learned is primarily in the classroom. Instructors let it happen, or even encourage it. But check it out: now we’re the instructors. So the first order of business is changing the culture in theory seminars in our departments.
  1. A good second step would be refusing to show up for Pool Cue sessions at conferences. It’s the basic rule of socializing three-year olds: don’t reward bad behavior. On that same principle, we could change our citation practices to omit macho jerks. They can sit in empty conference rooms together and watch their H-indexes stagnate. That might make their pool cues less rigid.
  1. As a follow-up, take the time freed up by Step 2 and go to sessions organized by women, people of color, and the many lovely white guys in our field.   Standing room audiences for those sessions would help to shift the cultural norms.

It’s our field. We can change it.

Resources for thinking through race and gender within Geography

Juanita Sundberg suggested that we accompany the manifesto with a bibliography of work that inspired it.  The list below is an excellent tutorial for thinking through the power relations that shape many aspects of our field, from conferences to fieldwork.  To be clear, this is not a bibliography of work by geographers about race and gender in society; it is a bibliography of work on the dynamics of race and gender within the discipline itself.

We chose to put the list in chronological rather than alphabetical order so you can see how the conversation has changed over time.

If you see things we should add, please send them my way.


Bibliography on the dynamics of race and gender within the discipline of Geography

Monk, J. and S. Hanson (1982) On not excluding half of the human in human geography. The Professional Geographer 34: 11–23.

Sanders, R. (1990). Integrating race and ethnicity into Geographic gender studies. The Professional Geographer, 42(2), 228-231.

Kobayashi, A. 1994. Coloring the field: Gender, “Race,” and the politics of fieldwork. The Professional Geographer, 46(1), 73-80.

Bonnett, A., 1997. Geography, ‘Race’ and Whiteness: Invisible Traditions and Current Challenges. Area 29, 193–199.

Jackson, S., & Howitt, R. 1998. Some things do change: Indigenous rights, geographers and geography in australia. Australian Geographer, 29(2), 155.

Kobayashi, A. 1999. “race” and racism in the classroom: Some thoughts on unexpected moments. Journal of Geography, 98(4), 179-182.

Sanders, R. 1999. Introducing “white privilage” into the classroom: Lessons from finding a way. The Journal of Geography, 98(4), 169.

Dwyer, O. 1999. Teaching about race and racism in geography: Classroom and curriculum perspectives. Journal of Geography, 98(4), 176-179.

Multiple authors. 2000. Professional Geographer 52(4). Focus Section on Women in Geography in the 21st Century

Domosh, Mona. 2000. “Unintentional transgressions and other reflections on the job search process,” Professional Geographer Focus Section on Women in Geography in the 21st century, 52/4:703-708.

Dwyer, O., Jones III, J.P., 2000. White socio-spatial epistemology. Social & Cultural Geography 1 (2), 209–222.

Gilmore, Ruth 2002. Fatal couplings of power and difference: notes on racism and geography, Professional Geographer, 54(1), pp. 15–24.

Mahtani, Minelle. 2002. Women graduate students of colour in geography: increased ethnic and racial diversity or maintenance of the status quo? The Great Lakes Geographer, 9(1), pp. 11–18.

Peake, Linda & Kobayashi, Audrey. 2002. Policies and practices for an antiracist geography at the millennium, Professional Geographer, 54(1), pp. 50–61.

Pulido, Laura. 2002. Reflections on a white discipline, Professional Geographer, 54(1), pp. 42–49.

Schein, Richard. 2002. Race, racism and geography: an introduction, Professional Geographer, 54(1), pp. 1–5.

Mahtani, M. 2004. Mapping race and gender in the academy: The experiences of women of colour faculty and graduate students in Britain, the US and Canada. Journal of Geography in Higher Education 28(1): 91-99.

Peterson, V. S. (2005) How (the meaning of) gender matters in political economy. New Political Economy 10(4): 499-521.

Mahtani, M. 2006. Challenging the ivory tower: Proposing anti-racist geographies within the academy. Gender, Place & Culture, 13(1), 21-25.

Kobayashi, A. 2006. Why women of colour in geography? Gender, Place & Culture, 13(1), 33-38.

Liu, L. Y. 2006. On being ‘hen’s teeth’: Interdisciplinary practices for women of color in geography. Gender, Place & Culture, 13(1), 39-48.

Sanders, R. 2006. Social justice and women of color in geography: Philosophical musings, trying again. Gender, Place & Culture, 13(1), 49-55.

Louis, R. P. 2007. Can you hear us now? voices from the margin: Using indigenous methodologies in geographic research. Geographical Research, 45(2), 130-139.

Johnson, J. T., Cant, G., Howitt, R., & Peters, E. 2007. Creating Anti‐colonial geographies: Embracing indigenous peoples’ knowledges and rights. Geographical Research, 45(2), 117-120.

Berg L, 2012, “Geographies of identity I: Geography – (neo)liberalism— white supremacy”  Progress in Human Geography 36(4) 508-517

Bonds, A. (2013) Racing economic geography: The place of race in economic geography. Geography Compass 7(6): 398-411.

Faria, C. and Mollett, S. Critical feminist reflexivity and the politics of whiteness in the “field”. Gender, Place and Culture. DOI:10.1080/0966369X.2014.958065

Mollett, S. 2013 Mapping Deception: The politics of mapping Miskito and Garifuna space in Honduras. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 103(5): 1227-1241.

Mollett, S. and Faria, C. 2013 Messing with Gender in Feminist Political Ecology. Geoforum, 45:116-125.

Adams, Joy K, Patricia Solís & Jean McKendry (2014) The Landscape ofDiversity in U.S. Higher Education Geography, The Professional Geographer, 66:2, 183-194, DOI: 10.1080/00330124.2012.735935

Clancy, K, R Nelson, J Rutherford, and K Hinde. 2014. “Survey of academic field experiences (SAFE): Trainees report harassment and assault” PLOS. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102172 http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0102172 [Note: This article does not focus on Geography, but it clearly raises issues that Geographers experience in the field]

Kobayashi, A. 2014. The dialectic of race and the discipline of geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 104(6), 1101-1115.

Kobayashi, A., Lawson, V., & Sanders, R. 2014. A commentary on the whitening of the public university: The context for diversifying geography. The Professional Geographer, 66(2), 230-235.

Mahtani M, 2014, “Toxic geographies: absences in critical race thought and practice in social  and cultural geography” Social and Cultural Geography 15(4) 359-367

Domosh, Mona. 2015. http://news.aag.org/2015/06/why-is-our-geography-curriculum-so-white/

Maddrell, Avril, Kendra Strauss, Nicola Thomas, and Stephanie Wyse. 2015. “Mind the gap: Gender disparities still to be addressed in UK Higher Education geography.” Area. doi: 10.1111/area.12223.

Price, Patricia (2015) Race and ethnicity III: Geographies of Diversity. Progress in Human Geography 39 (4): 497-506

Joshi S, McCutcheon P, Sweet E, 2015, “Visceral Geographies of Whiteness and Invisible Microaggressions” ACME 14(1) 298-323


the unbearable white-maleness of AAG

I can’t count the number of conversations I’ve had over the years about the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of AAG, and its discouraging reflection of the overwhelming whiteness and maleness of Geography.  But the stable demographics of conference panels mask a notable increase in the number of women and people of color in our field. AAG sessions were probably never an accurate reflection of the make up of Geography, but the level of distortion is starting to shift the conversation from discouragement to outrage.

So here’s the thing I’ve finally realized as a result of that outrage: AAG is not a reflection of our field, it’s a key site for changing it.  Like the more obvious intervention points of grad school admissions, hiring, tenure and promotion, and citation practices, changing the composition of AAG panels changes our field.  It does so by making women and scholars of color and their work more visible, and by changing the intellectual debate to reflect a broader range of viewpoints.

The manifesto below was developed collectively over the summer as one starting point for encouraging collective change.  Since then, many more people have signed onto it.  All of us are committing to ourselves and to each other that we will change our AAG organizing practices to bring them into better alignment with our politics.

I am late to this party; many people have been fighting to change AAG for a good long time now, and my thinking has really changed thanks to conversations with some of them over the last few years. It’s past time I added my voice to theirs.  I hope you will consider adding yours as well.

P.S. A number of people have gotten in touch to ask if they can add their name to the Manifesto.  We’d be delighted to have more folks on here!  Just send me an email and I’ll add you.  I hope you will forgive me any typos on the list below. I am an unimpressive speller and a WordPress novice, which is a bad combination.


Manifesto on the gender and racial composition of AAG panels

Geography is still predominantly white and male, but there are far more women and people of color than in previous decades. This matters not only for the individuals involved – who geographers are – but for the content of geographic research and analysis – what Geography is and does. Yet this shift in the racial and gender composition of the field is often not fully reflected at key sites and moments, including the composition of and attendance at conference panels, inclusion in syllabi and special issues, citations, and the hiring, evaluation, and promotion of faculty.

All of these sites of ongoing discrimination are critical locations for intervention. In response to colleagues who for years have asked us to consider these issues, and reflecting critically on our own experiences and participation, we wish to focus on one: the composition of and attendance at panels and sessions at the annual AAG meeting. We think it’s time to make some commitments. With session organizing already underway, but the deadline still well off, we commit to making the lineup of presenters in our panels and sessions as inclusive as possible, and invite others to do the same. And when the meetings begin, we commit to broadening the sessions we attend. We think this is especially important for those of us who are senior scholars, and that doing so will make for a better discipline and for better scholarship.

Making this more than a rhetorical commitment will require collective work. Many of you are already organizing AAG panels more representative of the changing composition of the field. But if this is a new project for you, here are some ways we might collectively tackle it:

  • If you are writing a CFP, consider explicitly encouraging alternative perspectives in your CFP, or adjusting the topical focus to broaden its appeal.
  • If you are organizing a session and don’t know the excellent women and people of color who could contribute to it, advertise the session widely and ask around: we are advocating relevant and broadening intellectual fit, not tokenism. Consider inviting a woman or person of color to co-organize with you.
  • If you are responding to a CFP, encourage topically-appropriate female and/or scholars of color to join you in submitting abstracts.
  • And when you plan your conference itinerary, commit to attending sessions that include speakers and perspectives that may challenge your ideas and your professional practices.

We realize that if many of us begin following these suggestions it could potentially create an increased burden on women and people of color who often already do more than their share of service. Yet a major part of our argument is that there is already more diversity in Geography than many in the discipline realize, and many scholars would prefer to decline an invitation than be overlooked for a session for which they are an excellent fit. We also recognize that in some cases our efforts to create more inclusive sessions may fail. That does not excuse us from trying: if we change the composition of our panels, and think critically about those we attend, we will be one step closer to changing the power dynamics in our discipline.

Finally, we recognize that this proposal is only a very partial fix. Race and gender are just two of a number of pertinent axes of power and exclusion, including class, sexual orientation, disability, and language. And, as we note above, the composition of conference sessions is just one site among many at which these dynamics play out in academic disciplines. Our hope with this proposal is to jumpstart changes in our collective expectations for session organization that can form the basis of wider challenges to the operation of structural power in Geography, and in academia more broadly.



Bruce Braun, University of Minnesota

Sapana Doshi, University of Arizona

Julie Guthman, UC Santa Cruz

Rebecca Lave, Indiana University

Becky Mansfield, Ohio State

James McCarthy, Clark

Sharlene Mollett, University of Toronto

Tracey Osborne, University of Arizona

Scott Prudham, University of Toronto

Morgan Robertson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Wendy Wolford, Cornell



Majed Akhter, Indiana University

Ishan Ashutosh, Indiana University

Association of Pacific Coast Geographers Women’s Network

Teo Ballve, Colgate

Jessica Barnes, University of South Carolina

Oliver Belcher, Oulu University

Jess Bier, Erasmus University

Trevor Birkenholtz, University of Illinois-UC

Anne Bonds, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Rachel Brahinsky, University of San Francisco

Jennifer Brewer, University of New Hampshire

Elizabeth Brown, San Francisco State University

Ryan Burns, Temple University

Bram Buscher, Wageningen University

Lisa Campbell, Duke University

Ed Carr, Clark

Jennifer Casolo, Universidad Rafael Landivar

Tina Catania, Syracuse University

John Paul Catungal, UBC

Fletcher Chmara-Huff, Temple University

Jessie Clark, University of Nevada-Reno

Dan Cockayne, University of Kentucky

Chris Coggins, Bard College

Mat Coleman, Ohio State

Rosemary Collard, Concordia

Ian Cook, University of Exeter

Nick Crane, Ohio Wesleyan University

Julie Cupples, University of Edinburgh

Martin Danyluk, University of Toronto

Hugh Deaner, University of Kentucky

Jessica Dempsey, University of Victoria

Sara Diamond, University of Texas

Jose Diaz-Garyua, University of Louisville

Lindsey Dillon, UC Davis

Mona Domosh, Dartmouth

Lorraine Dowler, Penn State

Amelia Duffy-Tumasz, Rutgers University

Patricia Ehrkamp, University of Kentucky

Jody Emel, Clark

Salvatore Engel-DiMauro, SUNY New Palz

Caroline Faria, UT Austin

Matthew Farish, University of Toronto

Michael Finewood, Pace University

John Finn, Christopher Newport University

Carolyn Finney, University of Kentucky

Levi Gahman, University of the West Indies

Emily Gilbert, University of Toronto

Lauren Gifford, University of Colorado-Boulder

Banu Gokariksel, University of North Carolina

Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, American University

Graduate Student Affinity Group of the AAG

Noella Gray, University of Guelph

Kirsten Greer, Nipissing University

Trina Hamilton, SUNY University at Buffalo

Allison Hayes-Conroy, Temple University

Rich Heyman, UT Austin

Nik Heynen, University of Georgia

Eric Huntley, University of Kentucky

Josh Inwood, University of Tennessee

Adam Jadhav, Panchabhuta Conservation Foundation

Mark Kear, University of Arizona

Eje Kim, Gyeongin National University of Education, S. Korea

Brian King, Penn State

Sarah Knuth, University of Michigan

Mary Lawhon, Florida State University

Diana Liverman, University of Arizona

Jessa Loomis, University of Kentucky

Elizabeth Cedar Louis, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Jenna Loyd, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Nerve Macaspac, UCLA

Geoff Mann, Simon Fraser

Deborah Martin, Clark

Kathleen McAfee, San Francisco State University

Katie Meehan, University of Oregon

Emily Mitchell-Eaton, Syracuse University

Sarah Moore, University of Wisconsin

Carrie Mott, University of Kentucky

Emma Gaalaas Mullaney, Bucknell University

Dustin Mulvaney, San Jose State University

Lisa Naughton, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Abigail Neely, Dartmouth

Ingrid Nelson, University of Vermont

Leonie Newhouse, Max Planck Institute

Richard Nisa, Fairleigh Dickinson University

Elsa Noterman, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Patricia Noxolo, University of Birmingham

Kris Olds, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Elizabeth Olson, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Arnisson Andre Ortega, University of the Phillipines

Natalie Oswin, McGill University

David O’Sullivan, UC Berkeley

Stefan Ouma, Goethe University, Frankfurt

Aparna Parikh, Penn State

Kate Parizeau, University of Guelph

Eric Perramond, Colorado College

Curtis Pomilia, University of Kentucky

Carolyn Prouse, UBC

Anne Ranek, University of Arizona

Malini Ranganathan, American University

Douglas Richardson, Association of American Geographers

Paul Robbins, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Ben Rogaly, University of Sussex

Heather Rosenfeld, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Simon Runkel, University of Heidelberg

Scott Salmon, New School

Graciela Sandoval, Texas State University

Richard Schein, University of Kentucky

Anna Secor, University of Kentucky

Eric Sheppard, UCLA

Jamie Shinn, Texas A&M University

Rachel Silvey, University of Toronto

Gregory Simon, University of Denver

Rachel Slocum, School for International Training

Sara Smith, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Matthew Sparke, University of Washington

Ang Subulwa, University of Wisconsin-Osh Kosh

Farhana Sultana, Syracuse University

Juanita Sundberg, UBC

Kaitlin Tasker, University of Texas-Austin

Jim Thatcher, University of Washington-Tacoma

Deborah Thien, California State University Long Beach

Sarah Turner, McGill University

Margath (Maggie) Walker, University of Louisville

Margaret Walton-Roberts, Wilfred Laurier University

Case Watkins, Louisiana State University

Marion Werner, SUNY University at Buffalo

Michael Widener, University of Toronto-St George

Peter Wilshusen, Bucknell University

Matt Wilson, University of Kentucky

Keith Woodward, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Richard Wright, Dartmouth

Lauren Wustenberg, McGill University

Melissa Yang Rock, SUNY New Palz



Flipping your students the bird by flipping your classroom

One of the most memorable classes I took in college was a history course for which we read fifteen book-length histories of the French Revolution. What stuck with me from that course was the incredible range of interpretations and explanations the authors put forward, based on quite different data drawn from the same set of events. Clearly, there was no such thing as “the facts” or the true story of the French Revolution. That class has been much on my mind lately as I decide whether and to what extent to engage with my university’s recent push to “flip” classrooms.

Indiana University is blessed with a core of superb staff members at the Center for Innovative Teaching & Learning (CITL). As the Director of Undergraduate Studies in my department and a committed teacher, I work with CITL staff regularly, and am continually impressed by their intelligence, dedication, and patience. So when CITL begins promoting something, I give it careful consideration; very often I put it to work in my classes.

Lately, CITL staff have begun advocating a sweeping overhaul of teaching approaches on campus. The basic premise of “flipping a class” is that time in the classroom is precious and should not be “wasted” on content delivery. Instead, students should be responsible for mastering course material on their own. Class time should be spent on group work and problem solving, on learning to think like a scholar.

I find some parts of this model compelling. In particular, the focus on teaching students to think like a historian, a mathematician, or a geographer is deeply appealing as it seems likely to produce both a more respectful classroom, premised on students’ competence, and a more engaging one. Where I take issue is with the deeply conservative, positivist treatment of “content.” Advocates of flipped classrooms typically argue that there is no content professors can deliver in a classroom that students cannot find on their own via a brief google search. Perhaps this is true for the second law of thermodynamics, or for a definition of irony. But even a basic familiarity with historiography (or with epistemology more broadly) will tell you that there are many ways to cut through the same material, and that that interpretation matters. The claim that students can find all the content they need is premised on the assumption that content is fixed, not importantly conditioned by processes of selection and interpretation. This strikes me as at best naïve, and at worst as actively anti-intellectual.

I also question the claim that students can unproblematically master course content on their own if we “hold them responsible” for doing so (I leave a critique of this form of neoliberal responsibilizing to you). In my experience as a teacher, and from observing a flipped classroom, only the strongest students “master” course content on their own. The students with less background in the field and/or less preparation for college invariably need additional help with the basics. And without a rudimentary grasp on course materials, these students are left bewildered and frustrated as they are plunged into group exercises whose basic premises they do not understand. The small group I observed within a flipped classroom, for example, very politely explained to me that they had no idea what they were supposed to be doing either in that day’s group work or on their larger project, that they hated the course, and that signing up for it was the worst mistake they had made in college. Many of my colleagues found a similar combination of bewilderment and resentment in the small groups they observed. Some of the small groups were clearly swimming purposefully and confidently towards their goal, but just as many were treading water, and others were sinking fast. Clearly this is not the outcome for which advocates of classroom flipping hoped.

The challenge, then, is to rescue the progressive aspects of flipped classrooms from the politically retrograde consequences of its positivist view of knowledge and its abandonment of all but the strongest students. Teaching students to think like scholars is a lovely goal; leaving most of them to flail is not.