Articles | Volume 68, issue 1
30 May 2013
Interface |  | 30 May 2013

The reflexive turn in French and German-speaking geography in comparison

O. Graefe

Abstract. The papers presented by Bernard Debarbieux and Ute Wardenga at the symposium on "Les fabriques des `Géographies' – making Geographies in Europe'' and published in this thematic issue both take a historiographical perspective, which at a first glance seems evident. In order to understand how geography is thought about and practiced, the best is to look back on how these thoughts and practices have been respectively established and have evolved in the different national contexts. But at second glance, this historiographical perspective seems revealing regarding the status and the position of geography as an academic discipline. One can hardly imagine a symposium on the "making philosophy'' or "making physics'' in Europe privileging such a historiographical stance in order to illustrate and understand the differences and commonalities of a discipline in different countries today. Other disciplines might have favoured a dialogue on how a theory or a prominent author is received in order to excavate the differences or commonalities in a particular discipline of different countries. Such dialogues have been organized for example in Sociology with the exchange of approaches on Bourdieu published by Catherine Colliot-Thélène, Étienne François and Gunter Gebauer (2005). Another example and a reference of such dialogues is the famous debate on hermeneutics between Hans-Georg Gadamer and Jacques Derrida in the early 1980s.

The emphasis on the history (Debarbieux) and the way to write the history of geography (Wardenga) points out the difficulty of our discipline to position itself in academia, and reveals the crisis to which Wardenga refers to in her paper. As Ute Wardenga pointed out by quoting Jörn Rüsen, "genetical narratives'' are part of identity formation processes by "mediating permanence and change to a process of self-definition'' (Rüsen, 1987, cited by Wardenga, this issue). Both presented papers expose in different but complementary ways this identity formation of geography as a distinct discipline on the national scale in France (B. Debarbieux) and on a more international scale (U. Wardenga). The first analyses the conceptualization of space, the nation and the national territory by French geographers, while the second reflects upon the internationalization of the historiography of our discipline, meaning the way history is written and not the history itself. The underlying question here is the specificity of geography in Germany or in France and what their relationships are with other geographies, i.e. in how far they are influenced by or reject ideas and methodologies especially (but not exclusively) from Anglophone geographers.