Iterative parallelism as research praxis: Embracing the discursive incommensurability of scholarship and everyday politics

Olivia R. Williams, Joseph Pierce

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Discussions of geography's role outside the academy have tended toward arguments for greater public relevance, either by revising the discipline's empirical foci, or by adopting more public-oriented or activist approaches to research. While we are sympathetic to these ideas, we see an inherent tension between the discursive goals of academic scholarship and the everyday political world beyond it. Political discourse makes productive use of signifiers for which multiple meanings already exist, and gains power by exploiting their ambiguity. Academic discourse, on the other hand, seeks to clarify meanings through definitions and carefully delimited empirics in order to elucidate new ideas. We argue that the recognition and appreciation of these divergent discursive goals can serve efforts to make geographic scholarship more widely relevant if scholars make academic contributions iteratively parallel to political ones, rather than attempting to blend the two as a simultaneous practice. Scholarship that works to produce and utilise analytical terms of art within scholarly discourses to more accurately describe political processes can enable new critiques and the imagination of new political possibilities that are difficult to conceptualise from within everyday political discourses. The most strategic way for a scholar to make a political intervention, however, is to frame the suggestion within existing political discourses. Therefore, contributions in each discourse serve specific, unique purposes. The two discourses can also usefully play off of each other. When new political practices arise in the everyday political realm, new research projects can usefully evaluate their impacts to inform further suggestions for political interventions. We elucidate these ideas in three principles to guide an academic praxis of iterative parallelism for scholars interested in making political impacts alongside their scholarship.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-228
Number of pages7
Issue number2
Early online date17 Feb 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


  • Impact
  • Participatory research
  • Policy relevance
  • Public geography
  • Scholar activism
  • Social relevance


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