Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Using Literary Texts in Geography
Originator Liz Young
Department Geography Division, Staffordshire University, ST4 2DF
Tel. +44 1782-294018
Fax +44 1782-747167

This new module was first offered in October 1997 to level three undergraduates. The novels considered this year were: Hamilton-Paterson's 'Manila' (contemporary thriller set in Manila); Anchee Min's 'Red Azalea' (personal memoir of the Cultural Revolution in China); and Rohinton Mistry's 'A Fine Balance' (India in recent decades).

The module was a response to several issues. The learning experience of many students is becoming increasingly fragmented and frenetic. As modules and technologically driven teaching strategies proliferate, the student's learning experience changes and losses some of its most rewarding aspects. One of these is the sense of satisfaction that comes with the thorough familiarity, and hence sense of ownership, of whole books. Equally important is that as the consumption of 'readings' accelerates, the reflective process of reading and enjoying a compelling book is eroded. Learning is understood as yet another act of consumption rather than as a more engaging participatory practice whose enjoyment endures, is remembered and informs opinions and action.

This new module has several specific aims: to encourage students to read and sample the wealth of geographically relevant literature which exists but may not always be classified as such; to encourage students to reflect on the readings and the contrasts between places and people depicted therein and the social processes which constructed them and continue to reconstruct them; to encourage students to recognise that learning may be an engrossing and pleasurable experience; to initiate a new type of student engagement with 'geography'

On a practical note, as library resources are increasingly under pressure, and students stress levels increase, this module has the attraction of being 'self-contained', it does not necessarily require extensive library support. Pedagogically it is flexible. This semester I introduced the module by three relatively traditional lectures reviewing the 'cultural turn' in geography, the emergence of discourse analysis and the concepts of literary and scientific writing. The rest of our meetings have been student-led debates about the novels. Issues raised have included: hierarchies of power; social relations; structure versus agency debates; imagery and metaphors; the ability to 'know' 'others'; sexual relations as acts of resistance in the Cultural Revolution; the language debate in India; India's cultural heterogeneity. An alternative approach would be to establish student reading groups and distribute discussion suggestions to guide their explorations of the novels.

Student response so far has been positive. Several students said they never read novels but that were enjoying doing so. Mistry's novel, despite being by far the longest, has had rave reviews !


Literary texts

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Page created 22 December 1997
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