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David N. Livingstone


A Mapping Mission

Moral geography.

Adjectival geography is flourishing. Even a casual perusal of recent works by geographers discloses an imaginative array of modifiers appended to the noun. To take a random sample, geographies are variously "hybrid," "malevolent," "phobic," "consuming," "embodied," "virtual," "sensuous," "extraordinary," "dissident," and "lost."1 Literary critics, cultural historians, cognitive psychologists, poets, and many more are likewise attracted by the newfound fertility of the geographical lexicon. So in recent years we have been introduced to geographies that are "tender," "cosmopolitan," "fabulous," "neural," "romantic," "distracted," "imperfect," and "Gothic."2 It's all a long way from physical, or regional, or economic geography. Yet however much some of it may smack of postmodern faddism, the recent work that has been done to elucidate the geographies of identity, or genetics, or art, or writing has raised new and important questions about the role of space and place in human life.3

Now we have an exploration of 19th-century Protestant missionary expansionism along the American frontier couched in the language of yet another species of adjectival geography—"moral geography," a suite of related ideas already well-established in the modern geographical vernacular whose history discloses a number of distinct threads. For some the rubric of this novel discourse is largely derived from the interventions of Michel Foucault, for whom surveillance, discipline, and punishment are inherently spatial projects. In Foucault's telling, such venues as asylums and clinics, prisons and hospitals, confessionals and courtrooms give spatial expression to the moral management of society, and it is for this reason that he insisted that the analysis of power is the analysis of spaces.

There is certainly much to this diagnosis. Medical, legal, and ecclesiastical venues have the power to draw boundary lines between the sick and the well, the mad and the sane, the innocent and the guilty, the ...

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