By Tessa Nauta, Living Pasts student 2020-I

Being a geography student can be a little confusing sometimes. You learn so many things, yet ask yourself the question so every often: “But what will I do with all this information?”. Your knowledge will be put to the test when working with people from other disciplines, thus co-design forms. This blog post will discuss the role of being a geographer when working in an interdisciplinary team.

For most people, sooner or later they have to work together professionally with others. The amount of collaboration depends on someone’s character and if they are a social person, but also on whether or not their discipline has an established position in the academic world. Social geography has not been around for long. Around 1900, it was barely an established discipline at university. Alongside disciplines like anthropology, social geography has had quite the task of proving itself. Roughly a hundred years later, interdisciplinary work between disciplines is praised upon. But, like social-scientist Aafka Komter once said: “Interdisciplinary is a “hooray” word, a notion everyone is in favour of, while no one really knows what it entails” (de Pater, 2014). And through all the courses social geography has to offer about an array of subjects such as migration, geographical information systems, economy or politics, it is sometime hard to pin down what it is exactly geographers contribute.

Before this course, I often found myself unsure about what role exactly I’d
take in an interdisciplinary project. What is it that I, as a geographer, contribute? I of course look at space from a global perspective, or with “geographic glasses” as has been noted by every geographer ever. But, a geographic background can bring much more. During the bachelor, there is a lot of focus on developing skills such as writing, debates, videos or presentations. These are all valuable skills that not every bachelor teaches. Some mandatory courses include actual real life research or feature in-depth interviewing. Taking all of these skills and then adding the “geographic glasses”, this leads to an overall knowledgeable team player.

Of course, besides these factors, the individual plays a huge role as well. As a social geographer it is important to actually be social, since geography is not as individual as a very applied science that one can do all by itself. A geographer has to be communicative and be able to understand different perspectives. With all the knowledge about the world and the people living in it that a geographer has, they should be able to tie a lot of knots together.

During this course I found that harsh distinguishments between what exactly someone studies kind of flow into each other and that everyone takes up their own strengths in the project. Maybe I unconsciously wrote all my parts from a geographic perspective, or maybe the fact that I chose to take on the writing is due to my studies. In co-design, much more is valuable then just knowledge attained from studying. Whether or not someone has leadership or presentation qualities are just as important as being able to perfectly explain a certain model. Being able and open to learning new skills are crucial as well. Due to this course, I found myself learning about so much more skills, just because I had the opportunity to explore what I wanted and could do. Normally, I would just stick to the curriculum and do what is expected of me. This of course is very valuable as well, the geographical glasses have to come from somewhere, but co-design really focuses more on the individual and the skills you have instead of being just a student in a certain science discipline.

Even though some might say no one really knows what co-design entails, for me it definitely entails a “hooray”. In my opinion it lets you be more free to use your skills, there are less strict rules as to what you should do and how far you can steer away from that. In co-design, there is room for everyone’s input and there are a lot of skills that are deemed valuable. As a geography student (but as a student from another discipline as well of course), co-design and living pasts is an excellent chance to explore all the skills you have and maybe have yet to develop. It will for sure make you more confident in your competences and lets you appreciate those so often mentioned geographic glasses.

Literature reference:
De Pater, B. (2014). De ontdekking van de geografie. Perspectief Uitgevers: Utrecht.