Theorising place as a geographic institution (17142)
Public policy decisions frequently involve considerations of space, place, relationality, and materiality even though geographic reasoning, knowledge, methods and expertise are rarely acknowledged in the decisions. This raises a question about geography’s relevance as a discipline to inform public policy, a topic of regular interest among geographers. Drawing on my academic and public sector experience as a geographer and “policy maker” in environmental management and sustainable development in Canada and Australia, I share my views on why geographers in policy making roles find it difficult to make geography relevant to their public sector work and I raise the question of whether we can make better use of apolitical geographic reasoning to solve public policy problems inside the public sector.
My main finding is that when confronted with public policy problems in which markets, regulation and science cannot be relied on singularly for an explanation of a problem or the recommendation of a solution it is invariably evidence from place-based reasoning across a range of factors that combine many different influences at a location that offers the most amenable resolution. This geographic reasoning leads me to theorise place as a geographic institution in which different meanings about place are transacted. Theorizing place as a geographic institution has the potential to provide geographers with more confidence in the specificity of their analysis, particularly uncovering policy relevant meanings of geographic subject matter – the spatial, relational and material aspects of a contextualised geographic institution. My argument is developed further through a retroactive perspective on some public policies I have worked on in the public sector.