In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geographers and Ethics

  • Introduction
  • Feminist Ethics

Geography Geographers and Ethics
Luke Dickens, Iain Hay
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0223


Alongside the incorporation of moral and ethical philosophy into geographical thought (see our linked Oxford Bibliographies article Geography and Ethics), there runs a parallel and equally important set of debates focused on how geographers might enact and inhabit ethical practices through their work. These concerns have had a major influence on the development of geographical research methodologies, while opening up significant new terrain for ethical reflection about the conditions under which geographical knowledges and subjectivities are produced, and the intellectual and material spaces through which they circulate. Foundational in this regard has been the considerable influence that Feminist Ethics have had on showing that ways of knowing the world are necessarily produced through differently situated and embodied positions in the world. Resonating across subsequent developments, including significant steps toward a long-overdue reckoning with colonial and imperial power structures, these strands of Ethics in Emerging Geographies have advanced understanding of the intersecting forms of social difference that shape our ethics, politics, and pursuit of justice, as well as the motivations, perspectives, and experiences that inform notions about what it might mean to be a critical geographer in the contemporary academy. Recent developments also include challenging established distinctions between “researcher” and “researched” through calls for participatory ethics, and contemplating how research both with and by children, Indigenous societies, or marginalized groups might recast ethical approaches and procedures. Geographers, particularly those working with notions of embodiment, emotions, and affect, have experimented with new understandings of ethics beyond traditional forms of moral philosophy and the normative. These various waves of ethical praxis have increasingly challenged, recast, and fragmented established modes of doing geography, often by asserting non-Western intellectual visions of the world and engaging with posthuman philosophies in ways that recenter perspectives from the Global South and in the context of the Anthropocene. At the same time, a whole raft of critical questioning and discussion has sought to unsettle the everyday Ethics of Geographical Practice: concerning, for example, geographical writing, publishing, and citational cultures; the conduct of teaching, learning, and education; and notions of collegiality, care, and collective endeavor. Much of this work has called into question the motivations for scholarship and the very purpose of the academy itself. Nonetheless, such important provocations seem to have resulted in a stronger sense of what really matters and what is ultimately at stake in our everyday geographical practice. We would like to thank the generous response from an anonymous reviewer, whose constructive and encouraging feedback helped finalize this bibliography.

Feminist Ethics

Feminist scholars have had an enormous influence on the ways geography and cognate disciplines approach the ethical dimensions of research, as well as teaching and wider academic practice. The now de rigueur account taken of the pivotal differences that subjectivity, positionality, reflexivity, embodiment, and emotion have on “situating” the production and circulation of specific geographical knowledges derives in no small part from this pioneering work. Drawing upon humanistic and critical traditions, early works such as Stanley and Wise 1993 articulated a “feminist ethic” as a robust challenge to the assumed objectivity, neutrality, and scientific rationality of much positivist social science research at the time. Such accounts left little room for doubting the underlying power relations of the research process, and the fundamental “messiness” of conducting research by and with real human beings in the social world. Key works by geographers followed from the early 1990s, including Moss 1993, England 1994, McDowell 1997, and Valentine 2003, each placing a central focus on feminist research practices in human geography and with much attention paid to the ethics of fieldwork encounters, bodies, and emotions. Raghuram, et al. 1998 articulates such themes specifically in terms of their applicability for supporting student research. While many works at this time emphasized qualitative methodologies, others directly sought to reclaim more overtly “scientific” methods and fields. Whatmore 1997 for example pioneered a feminist approach to science and technology in geography through a consideration of situated ethics and hybridity. As such perspectives became more central to the practices of geography and related fields, several exemplary methodological textbooks emerged centered on a distinctly feminist ethics, including Bondi, et al. 2002 and Miller, et al. 2012. With the wider turn toward emotional and affective geographies (itself led by feminist scholarship), recent works such as Laliberté and Schurr 2016 have continued to advance a feminist ethics in the discipline.

  • Bondi, Liz, Hannah Avis, Ruth Bankey, et al., eds. Subjectivities, Knowledges, and Feminist Geographies: The Subjects and Ethics of Social Research. London: Rowan & Littlefield, 2002.

    Landmark collection with a central focus on feminist ethics. Deals with a range of feminist theorizations of subjectivity and space, directed toward transforming the production of geographical knowledges within and beyond the academy. A collaborative writing project by a network of largely British and American feminist geographers. Original edition.

  • England, Kim V. L. “Getting Personal: Reflexivity, Positionality, and Feminist Research.” The Professional Geographer 46.1 (1994): 80–89.

    Essential reference that reflects on the many ethical questions that arise through dialogical researcher/researched relationships in the field. Establishes a distinctly geographical slant on feminist ethics by demonstrating how knowledge production is always situated and necessarily incomplete.

  • Laliberté, Nicole, and Carolin Schurr. “Introduction.” In Special Issue: The Stickiness of Emotions in the Field. Edited by Nicole Laliberté and Carolin Schurr. Gender, Place & Culture 23.1 (2016): 72–78.

    Introduction to a special issue that seeks to reinvigorate feminist practices of reflexivity and positionality through critical engagement with the “emotional entanglements” of contemporary geographical fieldwork. Feminist ethics and power relations are central elements of this piece and the five subsequent papers on the theme.

  • McDowell, Linda. “Women/Gender/Feminisms: Doing Feminist Geography.” Journal of Geography in Higher Education 21.3 (1997): 381–400.

    Excellent critical assessment of feminist scholarship since the early 1980s by a leading British geographer in the field. Outlines the key tenets of an emerging feminist method for doing geographical research.

  • Miller, Tina, Maxine Birch, Melanie Mauthner, and Julie Jessop, eds. Ethics in Qualitative Research. 2d ed. London: SAGE, 2012.

    Engaging edited textbook that provides comprehensive coverage of the key ethical considerations that arise when conducting qualitative research. A must-read, with a distinctly feminist perspective throughout.

  • Moss, Pamela. “Focus: Feminism as Method.” The Canadian Geographer/Le Géographe Canadien 37.1 (1993): 48–49.

    Introduction to an early thematic focus on feminist qualitative methodologies. Ethical philosophies and principles are central to the discussion, in various ways, across this and three subsequent papers in the same issue.

  • Raghuram, Parvati, Clare Madge, and Tracey Skelton. “Feminist Research Methodologies and Student Projects in Geography.” Journal of Geography in Higher Education 22.1 (1998): 35–48.

    Useful discussion piece on pedagogical implications of feminist methodologies, politics, and ethics, both in terms of supporting student research and improving institutional structures.

  • Stanley, Liz, and Sue Wise. Breaking Out Again: Feminist Ontology and Epistemology. London: Routledge, 1993.

    Originally published in 1983, this ground-breaking book by two British sociologists challenged patriarchal claims to truth and knowledge within positivist approaches. Responding to the apparent contradictions with academic feminism remaining dependent on knowledge hierarchies in the following decade, the second edition included a sustained and careful articulation of a “feminist ethic,” which had an enormous influence on the uptake of qualitative methodologies in the critical social sciences including human geography.

  • Valentine, Gill. “Geography and Ethics: In Pursuit of Social Justice Ethics and Emotions in Geographies of Health and Disability Research.” Progress in Human Geography 27.3 (2003): 375–380.

    Review piece dealing with ethical-political debates centered on feminist geography’s early engagement with emotions and embodiment. Focusing on the challenges when working with participants experiencing disabilities or impairments provides an important, critical lens on the potential for putting the principles of an “enabling geography” into practice.

  • Whatmore, Sarah. “Dissecting the Autonomous Self: Hybrid Cartographies for a Relational Ethics.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 15.1 (1997): 37–53.

    An innovative paper drawing on the conceptualization of “hybridity” within science and technology studies in order to pose ethical questions about the limits of autonomous bodies and subjects. Argues for a relational ethics in geography, on the basis that bodies and subjects are increasingly networked and distributed by industrial technologies.

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