Geographies of responsibility

Doreen Massey
2004 Geografiska Annaler. Series B. Human Geography  
Issues of space, place and politics run deep. There is a long history of the entanglement of the conceptualisation of space and place with the framing of political positions. The injunction to think space relationally is a very general one and, as this collection indicates, can lead in many directions. The particular avenue to be explored in this paper concerns the relationship between identity and responsibility and the potential geographies of both. Changing identities Thinking space
more » ... lly, in the way we mean it here, has of course been bound up with a wider set of reconceptualisations. In particular it has been bound up with a significant refiguring of the nature of identity. There is a widespread argument these days that, in one way or another, identities are "relational". That, for instance, we do not have our beings and then go out and interact, but that to a disputed but nonetheless significant extent our beings, our identities, are constituted in and through those engagements, those practices of interaction. Identities are forged in and through relations (which include non-relations, absences and hiatuses). In consequence they are not rooted or static, but mutable ongoing productions. This is an argument which has had its precise parallel in the reconceptualisation of spatial identities. An understanding of the relational nature of space has been accompanied by arguments about the relational construction of the identity of place. If space is a product of practices, trajectories, interrelations, if we make space through interactions at all levels, from the (so-called) local to the (so-called) global then those spatial identities such as places, regions, nations, and the local and the global, must be forged in this relational way too, as internally complex, essentially unboundable in any absolute sense, and inevitably historically changing (Massey, 1994; Ash Amin in this volume). These theoretical reformulations have gone alongside and been deeply entangled with political commitments. What one might call the more general rethinking of identity engaged Geographies of responsibility Sept03 Vega for RAE submission (2).doc 2 with a number of currents, from a determination to challenge the hegemonic notion of individuals as isolated atomistic entities which took on (or were assigned) their essential character prior to social interaction, through re-evaluations of the formation of political identities, to the fundamental challenges presented by second-wave feminism and by some in post-colonial studies. For these latter groups, rethinking identity has been a crucial theoretical complement to a politics which is suspicious of foundational essentialisms; a politics which, rather than claiming "rights" for pre-given identities ("women", say, or gays, or some hyphenated ethnicity) based on assumptions of authenticity, argues that it is at least as important to challenge the identities themselves and thus -a fortiori -the relations through which those identities have been established. It is worth noting a number of points immediately. First, that although there are in the wider literature many disagreements about this, and many variations in emphasis, I take "identity" here, along with the practices of its
doi:10.1111/j.0435-3684.2004.00150.x fatcat:4hcd5f432nbntgfrqx3iptrmea