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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Jazeel, T. & McFarlane, C. The limits of responsibility: a postcolonial politics of academic knowledge production. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 2010;35:109-124.

Author(s) from Durham


A range of recent debates in geography have considered responsibility and/or critical practice, including the connections between knowledge production, ethics and politics. Taking our cue from these debates, this paper explores the question and limits of responsibility in research across a global North–South divide. Emerging from reflections on our own research projects, we interrogate a central challenge of postcolonial knowledge production by examining two limits to, and constraints upon, responsible knowledge production across the global North–South: abstraction and representation, and learning. First, we argue that the forms of distancing that can inhere in abstraction risk sidestepping the concerns of 'the field' by decontextualising places/constituencies/ideas. This involves considering the representational economies at stake in negotiating slippages of distance or practices of learning. We argue in favour of creative and generative representations that might be produced through more participatory and uncertain practices. Second, we explore an ethical and indirect conception of learning as a basis for alternative modes of engagement with communities and researchers in research practice. In making this argument, we do not offer a kind of formula for responsibility in research nor do we argue simply for research to be more 'relevant'. Instead, and alert to our own positions of privilege, we seek to draw attention to these two limits to responsible praxis in the academic knowledge production process precisely because they can act as important registers for thinking through the politics of conducting research between different and sometimes co-constituting cultures of knowledge production.


Reprinted in Gregory, D. and Castree, N, (2012) 'Human Geography'. Volume 1. Sage: London, 257-284.

Department of Geography