GEOGRAPH SU17: Q&A with Joshua Inwood

Summer 2017 Newsletter
Monday, October 16, 2017 - 2:45pm

Joshua Inwood

Joshua Inwood joined the Department of Geography in July 2016 as an associate professor and has a joint appointment as a senior research associate with the Rock Ethics Institute.

Q: What first inspired your scholarly interests in issues of place, social power, and inequality?
JI: I have always been interested in issues of justice and inequality, but it wasn’t until I got into graduate school and I began reading and thinking about social relations and the making of space and place that I realized how the organization of space and place is central to not only understanding inequality, but also how we might address structural inequality. In looking back, I will also say that September 11, 2001 was also transformative. I really like to listen to music while I work, and I was listening to the radio when I heard an announcement that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I thought, “wow, that is too bad” and I went to class. Two hours later, when I walked out of the classroom, people were crying and saying that we were under attack and that planes were flying into buildings all over the country. I ran back to the department where everyone was huddled around a little portable television in the office, and the world had completely changed. It was a terrible time, but it was also a time of a political reawakening on university campuses and you really had to pick a side and try to work for the world you wanted, not the one we necessarily had.  

Q: What then led to the more concrete and specific research on the emergence of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in the United States?
JI: It was kind of an accident. I was (and still am) interested in the writings and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr., and in particular his vision of economic and racial justice. He often wrote and talked about the idea of The Beloved Community—an idea of community that stands in opposition to the way we currently organize ourselves and is an attempt to address economic and political inequality. Anyway, I was calling around to a bunch of Beloved Community Centers across the United States and trying to get a sense of the way these centers were related to King’s ideas. I called up a Beloved Community Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, and they told me about a truth commission that they had participated in and had recently wrapped up.  I recall thinking that I usually pay attention to these kinds of things, but that I had not heard about the Greensboro Truth Commission, so the following weekend I got into my old truck and drove from Auburn, Alabama to Greensboro to see what was going on. I discovered that a number of communities were engaged in a version of what went on in Greensboro, so I decided to research the process. Since I have written about the idea of Peace Geographies and I am committed to peace, the process that went on in Greensboro connected with my own research and political interests. It made a lot of sense to work on the project.

Q: How does focusing your scholarship on those who have been marginalized and terrorized affect you, and what challenges do you face in this area of inquiry?
JI: Given my identity, I enjoy a tremendous amount of privilege and so the challenges I face engaging in this research are pretty small in terms of the challenges that are faced by the communities I work in.

Q:  How are we continuing in 2017 to defend segregationist spaces and practices?
JI: That’s a good question. There are so many examples today: the prison-industrial complex, the way we police communities, the continued economic inequality, the growth of white supremacist violence directed towards minority populations in the United States, and continuing controversies over our landscape and the taking down of Confederate memorials throughout the South.  Race has always been central to the workings of the United States, but in the wake of the most recent election, we have seen a fairly robust uptick in violence directed towards minorities in the United States. There is no question—at least in my mind—that when political leaders engage in the kind of latent and sometimes not-so-subtle appeals to the worst legacies of U.S. history that there is going to be a backlash against minority populations. It has almost always worked that way and unfortunately, I am afraid we are witnessing the tip of a very large iceberg and we are going to see more attacks like we recently witnessed in Portland and on the campus of the University of Maryland.

Q:  What’s next on your research agenda?
JI: I recently received (with co-author Derek Alderman) a National Science Foundation grant to look at the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the way they used geographic data to plan, execute, and engage in civil rights struggles throughout the United States, but in particular in the South. While many people assume that the civil rights struggle was the result of unplanned events, the reality is that SNCC was highly organized and used a wide variety of data to plan the civil rights struggle. SNCC, for example, had its own research arm and that engaged in a deep analysis of segregation in the United States and in the South in particular.
I just got back from visiting the Ella Baker papers archive in New York and archives at New York University and I am really, really excited about what we are finding. I think we have an opportunity to contribute to a broadening of the idea of geospatial intelligence to include a range of activities and events that are not normally associated with the craft, and I hope that we will be able to explore how the study of civil rights needs to be a central focus of geography.