The Complex Politics of Relevance in Geography


Program on Political and Economic Change, Institute of Behavioral Science, 487 UCB, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309-0487, e-mail: (Staeheli); Department of Geography, 144 Eggers Hall, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244-1090, e-mail: (Mitchell).


As a discipline, geographers have debated what it means to make research relevant. In this article, we argue that the issue of what makes research relevant cannot be separated from the questions of why research should be relevant, how research becomes relevant, the goals of research, and for whom it is intended to be relevant. In this sense, the determination of relevance is a social and political process. We make this point through an evaluation of various writings on relevance, editorials that have appeared in the Newsletter of the Association of American Geographers, and through interviews with researchers. We argue that relevance can be intended, but that commitment to relevant research requires a long-term view and an appreciation for the indirect pathways of relevance.