Human Geography Summit

As the calls for papers for the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers in Los Angeles next April fly backwards and forwards, I thought readers would be interested in another meeting (and, for the most part, another geography).

The Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA) – which describes itself as ‘a non-partisan information based organization dedicated to the promotion of innovative ideas in public service and defense’  and which ‘is not affiliated with the US government or any branch of the Armed Services’ – is holding a Human Geography Summit in Washington DC, 12-14 November 2012.  Subtitled ‘Maximizing force efficiency through intelligence in the human domain’, the brochure explains:

“The environment in which we operate is complex and demands that we employ every weapon in our arsenal, both kinetic and non-kinetic. To fully utilize all approaches, we must understand the local culture and history; Learn about the tribes, formal and informal leaders, governmental and religious structures, and local security forces. We must understand how the society functions so we can enable [Iraqis] to build a stable, self-reliant nation.” 

This Summit will bring to light the future of the Human Domain in warfare and opportunities for Military and Industry cooperation and coordination.

Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (OIF & OEF) in Iraq and Afghanistan created a need for a fundamental shift in the way we fight wars. It became very clear very quick that conventional warfare was doomed to failure in this particular set of operations. We were being beaten by an unconventional force that had no state backing and did not play by the rules.

In order to adapt, many hybrid theories of war have been thought up and put into place. Throughout this, one aspect that was previously overlooked has come to the fore front. Knowing who you are fighting and where you are fighting. Not simple identification and geographic data, but personality profiles, daily schedules/routines, language/dialect, cultural identities, weather patterns, market places, potential hideouts, and places of cultural and religious significance. Truly understanding the enemy, how they differ from the civilian population they are embedded in and what will make our forces either comply with their culture or blend in as they do.

The Summit will be preceded by a ‘Social and Cultural Human Geography and Intelligence Focus Day’ with four specialist workshops:

  • Maintaining connections with the local population in support of operationally directed research
  • Thinking like the Natives: Cultural immersion for US Special Operations
  • Understanding the local culture and history of Target Populations
  • Cultural and Economical Human Geography: a case study

The Summit will include presentations from the US Army Geospatial Center, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency,the US Army Corps of Engineers, Human Terrain Systems (US Army) and US Northern and Southern Commands.

You’ll also have the chance ‘to meet, network and engage with top government and industry professionals in the human geography space’ (sic) – a steal at $1,598 (military) or $1,835 (industry).  Uniform or business casual.

It’s thirty-odd years since Yves Lacoste insisted that La géographie, ça sert, d’abord, à fair la guerre (1976) and, as Gavin Bowd and Daniel Clayton show in “Geographical warfare in the tropics: Yves Lacoste and the Vietnam War”, he knew what he was talking about (he was also the editor of Hérodote, left): their remarkably rich essay was published in Early View by the Annals of the Association of American Geographers earlier this year.  As I say, another geography.

But these are not matters of disciplinary history alone; that is, of course, important – the terrific work of  Trevor Barnes in particular has done much to illuminate the entanglements of modern geography in the Second World War and the Cold War – but it’s also vital to pursue the ways in which geographical knowledges and practices continue to enter into the conduct of war and military violence.  In 1963 William Bunge and Bill Warntz started work on a book to be called Geography: the innocent science, a prospectus for their vision of the ‘new geography’ as spatial science.  It was far from innocent, to be sure, and in his later work – notably the Nuclear War Atlas but also what he called his ‘peace book’, Fitzgerald: geography of a revolution – Bunge displayed another side to his radical temper.  But what Trevor calls ‘the mangle’ between power and knowledge, geography and war, still includes the models and methods of spatial science – and it evidently also mangles much that lies far beyond them.

2 thoughts on “Human Geography Summit

  1. Pingback: A call to arms | geographical imaginations

  2. Pingback: On the road – and off it | geographical imaginations

Comments are closed.