The decline of geography in academia is easy to understand: we live in an age of ever-increasing specialization, and geography is a generalist's discipline. Imagine the poor geographer trying to explain to someone at a campus cocktail party (or even to an unsympathetic adminitrator) exactly what it is he or she studies. "Geography is Greek for 'writing about the earth.' We study the Earth.""Right, like geologists.""Well, yes, but we're interested in the whole world, not just the rocky bits. Geographers also study oceans, lakes, the water cycle...""So, it's like oceanography or hydrology.""And the atmosphere.""Meteorology, climatology...""It's broader than just physical geography. We're also interested in how humans relate to their planet.""How is that different from ecology or environmental science?""Well, it encompasses them. Aspects of them. But we also study the social and economic and cultural and geopolitical sides of--""Sociology, economics, cultural studies, poli sci.""Some geographers specialize in different world regions.""Ah, right, we have Asian and African and Latin American studies programs here. But I didn't know they were part of the geography department.""They're not."(Long pause.)"So, uh, what is it that do study then?
What all of this suggests is that we need a more complex understandingof identities. If we identify on the basis of race, class, sexuality, orgender alone we cannot make sense of the ways these identificationscombine and change over time. The used-to-be-working class nowprofessional woman, the woman of mixed racial parentage who appearswhite, the divorced mother who is now a lesbian, the former lesbian whois now straight, or the former lesbian who is now a man. Identities arealways in motion; they are mobile (Ferguson, 1993). This is particularlythe case for those who have been placed in identity categories that do notquite seem to fit; it is also true of many more of us, in varied ways. Justask our current President, whose own origin story, of which he has spokenand written eloquently, is exceedingly complex. We need, I believe, aconception of identities that embraces this complexity, that takes intoaccount temporality and also specificity.