Noel Castree reviews Reading Kant’s Geography

In the Annals of the Association of American Geographers (requires subscription). Some bits:

This excellent book, which oozes scholarly seriousness from start to finish, offers something new to philosophers and geographers alike. It focuses on Kant’s extensive lecture notes about the world’s various places, peoples, landscapes, and environments. Those unfamiliar with his career will be surprised to learn that Kant lectured on geography more than any other topic. The famously sedentary philosopher, it seems, was enormously interested in the world beyond Königsberg. This fact is potentially significant. Unless Kant regarded his philosophical and geographical teachings as somehow separate (which seems unlikely), there might be a profound link between the two. Although that link could well be a one-way path (with the geographical child playing second fiddle to the philosophical parent), it is equally plausible that the connection worked in both directions. Most Kant scholars have paid little attention to Kant’s course on geography, whereas most geographers (at least in the Anglophone world) have assumed that Kant made only a few abstract comments about space and, these aside, had little else to say about geography. Reading Kant’s Geography will serve to edify both groups, especially the former (as explained shortly)…
There is a pleasing consistency to Reading Kant’s Geography for which the editors and contributors must be congratulated. Despite involving nineteen different authors and two translators, all the pieces are intellectually rich, carefully argued, well structured, and written in crisp English. There was clearly a collective desire to ensure that this book met the highest scholarly standards. SUNY Press has also done an excellent presentational job: From the dust cover to the font choice to the extensive endnotes and beyond, the book makes you want to pick it up and dive right in…
I enjoyed the three geographers’ essays immensely. The Church and Withers contributions help us see a little more clearly how, respectively, academic geography was defined in its early years and how the Enlightenment project was both about geography and itself had a geography. Harvey’s essay speaks to the interdisciplinary project of creating concepts, values, and ideals that can simultaneously unify and differentiate humanity in ways that ensure social justice without extinguishing liberty. As someone who is interested in but not terribly au fait with Kant’s major intellectual contributions, however, I found the essays by the philosophers rigorous but not especially relevant to the questions and concerns that preoccupy me. Reading Kant’s Geography comes across mainly as a book by and for Kant scholars, for better or for worse. Until more scholars in geography begin to take Kant more seriously (emulating Church, Withers, and Harvey, as well as Stuart Elden), this book is likely to find little traction in our neck of the academic woods. It remains the case, too, that Kant has something of a bad name in geography, at least among those influenced by Marxism (it is worth recalling that Harvey and Neil Smith have both castigated academic geography’s neo-Kantianism in years gone by). Still, this book sets a high-quality threshold for others to cross should they, in the future, seek to further explore the terrain covered in Reading Kant’s Geography. Also be advised that the paperback version (at one third the price of the cloth edition) should be available by the time this review is published.
This entry was posted in Books, David Harvey, Immanuel Kant, My Publications. Bookmark the permalink.

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