The politics of polyphony: on reconfigurations in geographical authority

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Questions of representational politics and poetics have increasingly come to occupy something of a central place in contemporary re-visionings of the human geographical imagination. It has been widely suggested that any 'new' human geography will require 'new' textual strategies for representing its subject matter. In what follows I look at one of these suggested 'new' textual strategies; one emphasizing the need for multifibred, multivocal texts, a form of composition which, using a term borrowed from the fields of music composition, novel writing, and most recently anthropology's so-called 'new ethnography', has been labelled as 'polyphonic' in character. I am rather ambivalent about the usefulness of such calls for polyphony in human geography. So in the first part of the paper I trace out what the term has been used to mean in the cultural fields from which it has been borrowed, and, quite deliberately putting aside my rapier-like academic cynicism, I try to highlight and enthuse about some of the possibilities polyphonic practices elsewhere might suggest for human geographers. In the second half of the article I try to think through more critically some putative objections to the calls for and the actuality of polyphonic texts; objections which I think serve to emphasize that newfound sensitivities to textual poetics in no way dissolve the problematic politics of representation, but instead reconfigure them, in this case around power relations of cultural capital.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)527-549
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1992

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