Perspectives on Geography and Learning

Authored by: Johanna L. Waters

The Routledge International Handbook of Learning

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  May  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415571302
eBook ISBN: 9780203357385
Adobe ISBN: 9781136598562


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Geographical perspectives on learning encompass a diverse and seemingly divergent set of literatures. This chapter attempts to outline some of the more prominent ways in which the concept of learning has recently entered debates within the discipline of geography. First, the chapter examines discussions of learning found within the sub-discipline of economic geography. This is represented in the work of key individuals such as Ash Amin (2003), Meric Gertler (2001, 2003), Michael Storper (2003), Kevin Morgan (2004) and, more recently, James Faulconbridge (2006, 2008) and Sarah Hall (2009). It revolves around some core ideas, such as the importance of physical proximity in the production of ‘tacit knowledge’, ‘learning regions’, and the capabilities of knowledge to disseminate over space. A central concern of this literature is the relative importance of face-to-face interaction and exchange for learning within firms. Second, I consider the links drawn between knowledge, learning and international migration by Allan Williams (2006, 2009). Williams's work asks whether or not the international mobility of individuals can facilitate and/or inhibit learning through knowledge creation and transfer. Third, the chapter examines extant scholarship on the material spaces in which learning occurs and knowledge is produced and exchanged – such as classrooms, homes, workplaces and laboratories. Educational theorists and geographers are working together to produce new understandings of spaces of learning (such as Edwards and Usher, 2008; and Kraftl, 2006), whilst historical geographers are interested in the role of space and place in the geography of science (e.g. Livingstone, 2003; Powell, 2007; Withers, 2007). This leads me on to a fourth area in which geographers have engaged with ‘learning’ (perhaps more indirectly) and this is around geography and education. Geographers' recent preoccupation with education has been less focussed on the process of learning per se, and more concerned with eliciting the meanings attached to formalised, institutionalised forms of learning, and the credentials that result from these. There is a significant and burgeoning interest in geography and education, as seen in the work of Tim Butler (2003): Francis Collins (2008): Clare Holdsworth (2009): Kris Olds (2007) and Molly Warrington (2005): to name but a small handful of geographers engaging with this issue. Some of this work makes an explicit link to international mobility and education and could therefore be seen as a useful bridge between these ideas and those of Allan Williams and around learning and migration. What can be gleaned from this brief introduction is that, although ostensibly different, these literatures in fact have a great deal in common, despite a general lack of dialogue between them. They span a range of sub-disciplines, including economic, cultural, social and historical geography. In this chapter, I endeavour to provide a reasonably comprehensive overview of this. In so doing, I suggest some ways in which they might productively be brought together.

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