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For a decentralized, embodied and iterative geography

Armelle Choplin
Translated by Alvin Harberts
This article is a translation of:
Pour une géographie décentrée, incarnée et itérative
Other translation(s):
Por una geografía descentrada, encarnada e iterativa

Full text

1In the absence of a spring sun, it is a dark sky that has been hovering over Europe for several weeks. This can be seen as a sad sign of current times, marked by the rise of populism in Europe... In this electoral period, extremist ideas are making headway, feeding on the fear of others, ignorance of the unknown and a pernicious and excluding territorialism. More than ever, geographers have a say, a duty to know and make known. It is therefore necessary to go and see what is happening in the rest of the world, in these ignored places, among these little-known populations which are nevertheless fully integrated into the world and into globalization.

2It is obvious that Europe and our societies only understand each other in terms of other areas, only in terms of their networking with other places, and in particular these more or less distant countries. However, shifting the focus and de-westernizing our thoughts is far from self-evident. The Indian historian Dipesh Chakrabarty (2000) proposed to "provincialize Europe" according to a subordinate and postcolonial approach. Geographers are invited to follow this logic, as they have always been interested in centres and peripheries. Faced with the increasing complexity of the world, it is important to go into these fringes, explore the interstices and reach the antipodes because it is here that new relationships with the world are emerging. These lost trading places at the crossroads of two paths, these secondary cities with names that are difficult to write and map, these grey-coloured cement suburbs are all discreet places of globalization, far from Wall Street and Davos, but fully connected to other places and to global trade.

3Behind these networks, roads and places, there are also and especially people who embody these places and links. In these fringes of the world, actors who are often not very visible animate, carry in their own way and demand globalization. Large traders, small entrepreneurs, day traders and intermediaries’ cross paths along these roads that connect Africa to China via the Middle East. With them circulate commonplace everyday objects such as smartphones, jeans or a cement bag. In these peripheries of the world, these objects and men are revealing of consumption patterns and aspirations. These men and women, these young and old, are neither footballers, nor migrants, nor even terrorists. They simply dream of living and raising their children in peace, and for some of them to do small business, to travel, to consume, a sign that we are part of this great all. Being a geographer means meeting these people, understanding their lived, practiced and imagined spaces, following them along these roads, travelling with them in buses and with their duly negotiated goods, in these territories that are by no means smooth and close to these borders where they sometimes face the State and its representatives in a brutal way.

4To understand the world, it is good to visit but perhaps even more so to revisit the places. Know these spaces, come back a few years later and no longer recognize them. Here's some information. Read the transformations in the landscape. To decipher social evolutions through the building of a city or the desertification of the countryside. Try to understand this world of small worlds that is undergoing brutal evolutions. The iterative approach is all the more important as these margins often constitute "adjustment variables/spaces" or "territories of exception", sold by a few influential politicians to the highest bidder investors, or completely neglected, left to their own fate and ruins. Returning to the monograph would be the solution, provided it is not limited to an obsessive and exhaustive study of the place. The iterative monograph should make it possible to understand this place in its time and in its world. We still have to be able to return to these places. This is not always allowed or easy, especially in areas of tension, such as the Sahel, now known as the "red zone", which is constantly expanding on the map of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A colour that implies danger for French nationals and agony of these territories for local populations....

5It is therefore within these fringes that something is happening today. Encounters, frictions, exchanges, lust or neglect... here is invented the world of tomorrow, the world with which Europe will have to deal, in openness and not closure, in knowledge and recognition.

6More than ever, a magazine like Cybergeo, with its readers and contributors, geographers of a day or a lifetime, has a major social role to play, by participating in this off-centre, embodied and iterative geography.

7May the dark clouds drift away, and spring finally brighten Europe.

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Electronic reference

Armelle Choplin, « For a decentralized, embodied and iterative geography », Cybergeo: European Journal of Geography [Online], Editorials, Online since 21 May 2019, connection on 29 May 2024. URL :

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About the author

Armelle Choplin

Université de Genève, Switzerland

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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