Geo: Geography and Environment. Open.

November 2014 has seen the celebrations for the 8th annual Open Access Week, seeking to promote open access as a new norm. It has also featured the announcement of the Anthropocene as the theme for the 2015 Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) annual conference in Exeter. Both raise questions of the relations between academic communities and academic communication, and the links between the practices of naming and the practices of research. These further prompt the question: why Geo? And why now?

Geo is the fourth geography journal, encompassing the breadth of the discipline, published by the RGS-IBG, in association with Wiley[1]. It joins three other successful Society journals, all established in different contexts, which, at their launch, drew different relations between academics, audiences, publishers and the learned society.  The Geographical Journal was launched in 1831 as the main forum for news from the RGS. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers was set up in 1935, facilitating academic communication amongst the growing group of university-based geographers.  Area followed in 1969, as a newsletter for the Institute of British Geographers (IBG), with the primary remit to share research group news.  All three have changed substantially as the institutions (RGS and IBG) have merged and evolved, and they now contribute in distinctive and complementary ways to further the work of the RGS-IBG, serve the community of academic geographers and connect readers in cognate disciplines, policy communities and the wider audience for geographical research.

These echoes appear in their names as well as their printed forms. The Geographical Journal was the regular and official record of a learned society, which both carried, and at times challenged, the structures privileging certain groups to produce authoritative geographical knowledge.  Transactions indicates the processes of exchange within an increasingly professionalised of scholarly community, building up Schools of Geography in universities in the UK. Area indicates location, but also a space allocated for a specific purpose: in this case the growing vibrancy of the research groups of the IBG, working in different sub-disciplinary areas. The scope and remit of these journals and the RGS-IBG have changed enormously since these publications were first introduced, nonetheless the geographical imaginaries in these journal titles say much about the changing sites of knowledge production and the means through which research has travelled to shape the complex disciplinary conversations that constitute Geography.

Geo joins this trajectory, but its launch indicates the landscapes of academic publishing are shifting once more.  The name Geo points towards at least three different aspects of these transformations. First, there is its own contemporary moment in the increasing ubiquity of ‘geo’ as a locational prefix to be found in the everyday landscapes of data production, circulation and dissemination. This appears in generic terms, such as the geotagging of data, geospatial analysis, or the potentials of the geoweb; but it also points to more proprietary practices such as ‘geofencing’, or popular pursuits like ‘geocaching’. It is a term which is both associated with and overspills geography’s disciplinary identity. There are a series of epistemic, as well as political, social and economic questions about how these now routinely recorded traces of location are mobilised, accessed and analysed by a wide variety of private and public institutions.

Second, in its earlier usage, and also indicated by the longer title Geography and Environment, there is the ontological aspect to the prefix of Geo in referring to the earth. This also derives its meaning in combination, drawing attention to the ways in which the materiality of earthly processes are increasingly recognised as critical constituents across both physical and human geography. This leads to renewed debates over disciplinary identity, as geography considers its position in relation to the emergence of the ‘Anthropocene’, as well as animating new questions, as a ‘geological turn’ takes root in previously disparate sub-disciplinary areas, like geopolitics or geoaesthetics.  There is more than disciplinary identity at stake in these questions. The proliferation of sites making up the distributed experiments of unintentional, and intentional, planetary geo-engineering raise significant challenges for the place, theory and practice of geographical debate.

Thirdly and finally, the title was almost an acronym; but not quite. Whilst Geography and Environment Open would have bought the two parts of the title together and made the ambitions of this first fully open access journal published by the RGS-IBG unmistakable, we held back on this point. We recognise facilitating the transition from these first steps in open access to more fully open participation across academic communities is going to be a complex part of conversations initiated by and in this new journal. But, there was a sense that as moves towards open access publishing gather pace, internationally and across interdisciplinary contexts, the explicit designation of ‘open’ in a journal title would quickly become redundant. Here we would draw attention to the recent provocations to the geographical community in Jenny Pickerill’s commentary on open access.  She concludes we need to both recognise that publishing is always political and to experiment with what works best in a period of rapid change.

We are looking forward to publishing our papers in progress and to new submissions which pick up questions over data, that progress debates over the geo, and that demonstrate how experiments with open access can contribute to new institutional norms promoting the productive redistribution of expertise.

Gail Davies, co-Editor

[1] The RGS-IBG also publishes the cross disciplinary journal WIRES Climate Change in association with Wiley and the Royal Meteorological Society.

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