Disciplining theory(?) – post-phenomenology(dot-org)

The website postphenomenology.org is an interesting resource, especially the bibliography compiled there (which perhaps implies an canon?), which got me returning to some thoughts I’ve had about how particular kinds of theory ‘travel’, how they co-opted and then, perhaps, disciplined. The website mentioned above is clearly, if not wholly explicitly, positioned within that interesting, apparently interdisciplinary, area of Science and Technology Studies – and one would think, then, that the reference list would take in a range of disciplinary debates, demonstrating how the ideas freighted by “post-phenomenology” have, perhaps, contributed to an interdisciplinary debate. Instead, it seem to me, the reference list demonstrates something like a kind of disciplining, whereby the journals and authors represented sit within what is de facto a particular field, potentially having not an open, interdisciplinary, debate but rather a fairly insular one. I don’t intend that observation as a slight to the compilers of what is a useful resource, I’m just interested in how the movement or spread of ideas can work – or, as Said says, how theory travels.

This cannot be uncommon, nor is it necessarily a normatively ‘bad’ thing. Recently I took part in a fascinating workshop on the generations of Southern theory – in relation to urbanism and in particular in relation to how this has historically played out through the empirical lens and academic institutions of South Africa. My colleague Clive Barnett highlighted that that set of debates has happened slightly differently (or perhaps not at all) in different but cognate disciplinary contexts. In the wake of Said and various others, Clive has, of course, written about such things – as have many others!

So, what should ‘post-phenomenological’ geographers do? Probably just carry on… One could try and forge the connections, but it of course takes effort and time etc etc. In the end, nobody ‘owns’ concepts and the theory will develop within different disciplinary contexts, albeit possibly siloed into particular journals and conferences. I suppose, it goes to show that when conversations become more than superficially interdisciplinary, taking in different points of view and contexts, it’s probably a precious moment…

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