“If we are to solve the major societal problems we face, simple answers are no use. We have to deal with the complexity,” says professor.
“We wanted to be problem-oriented,” says Professor Jørn Cruickshank at the University of Agder (UiA).
And by mentioning problem orientation, you, dear reader, may have lost the thread already.
But hang in there.
Professor Jørn Cruickshank at the University of Agder (UiA) believes that human geography as a subject is actually solution-oriented.
And solution-oriented sounds good, almost like a vision of a better future.
The problem is, however - and there we have a "problem" again - the problem is that in real life, problem and solution go together.
Together with Professor Jørund Aasetre, Cruickshank has edited the book Innføring i samfunnsgeografi (Introduction to human geography).
Across 324 pages and 14 chapters, 20 of the country's foremost human geographers present examples of various problems in society that need solutions. Many of them are dilemmas where the choice seems to be between plague and cholera.
“We have tried to show how human geographical thinking and research can contribute to solutions in several areas,” Cruickshank says.
Questions about the use of natural resources, cities and residential areas are debated daily in the media. According to the professor, this new introductory book provides multiple approaches to such challenges.
Rather than focusing on terms and concepts and theories and methods, Cruickshank and his co-editor have emphasised good examples and smart analyses.
“Concepts and theories are introduced along the way,” he says.
The researchers analyse the adverse effects of global meat production, among other things. They describe how we can create green jobs in the heavily industrialised Vestland region. And they show what happens when common land owned by the local people in Skjåk is turned into a national park.
“The challenges in modern society are complex, whether we are talking about energy shortages, social differences or global warming. For a social scientist it is tempting to approach complexity by simplifying, but society is not simple,” Cruickshank says.
According to the professor, it is too simple to treat capitalism only as a threat to culture, for example. It is also a simplification to claim that we must produce more energy since there are energy shortages.
“Society is not well served when social science offers too simple analyses. Science then leaves the really important matters to those in society who already have power, centrally and locally,” he says.
Take the problem of how we are going to solve the climate crisis, how we as a society are going to balance global concerns against local challenges. Simple solutions may be easy. It is relatively easy to develop and adopt global sustainability goals. Nor does it require much effort to adopt these goals at national and local levels.
Even models and guidelines for how to reach the goals are relatively easy to create. And local bureaucrats can nod affirmatively to plans from the central authorities.
“It is when ordinary politicians in towns and districts try to decide where to place a wind turbine or toll booth that the real battle comes. That is when we have to balance local culture and considerations for local value creation against climate considerations and global energy needs,” he says.
Social geography does not skip over this complexity but tries to develop an overview and help sort problems and possible solutions.
Cruickshank believes that social geographers do not have to leave the balancing up to politicians or local pressure groups.
“It is in the interplay between global phenomena and local resources and cultures that the battle is fought, and in that area we all need to manoeuvre wisely,” he says.
This is where he believes geography as a subject discipline comes into play. Human geography at its best can produce knowledge that helps us understand a little more of the complexity and helps us manoeuvre smartly.
“Social scientists can delve into the complexity, outline the background and issues, help sort challenges and point to possible solutions,” he says.
Innføring i samfunnsgeografi is a textbook for student teachers and geography students at universities and university colleges as well as teachers in upper secondary schools.
But the professor won’t object if bureaucrats, politicians and other societal actors also want to familiarise themselves with the material. Societal problems cannot be solved by the human geographer alone.
“We have to solve societal problem together,” Cruickshank says.