TOK: Geography Reflections

TOK: Geography Reflections

This page provides a more focused selection of TOK reflections that have a geographical focus. Each reflection suggests a knowledge question linked to a real life situation, which is resourced and often linked to an individual or debate issue. There is an element of controversy in most of these reflections, which may help students develop their own questions on the reflection. Following the resource there are a number of further knowledge questions provided.

1. Knowledge Question: To what extent is spatial intelligence a ninth way of knowing?

Maps from Memory

Real Life Situation: Howard Gardner - Multiple Intelligences

Howard Gardner (1991) of Harvard University identified 8 intelligences. One intelligence was visual-spatial. This learning style thinks in terms of physical space. They learn visually through organizing ideas spatially. They learn through shapes, designs and graphics. Visualize places and the connections between them.

Further Knowledge Questions:

  1. What is spatial intelligence?
  2. What is a way of knowing?
  3. Is spatial intelligence a way of knowing places, features and characteristics of places and the connection and routes between places?

2. Knowledge Question: To what extent does the beauty and scale of landscape impact on National/Cultural Identity?

Iceland Landscape                                                                                  Image Credit: Max Rive

Real Life Situation: Iceland Landscape and Culture

Iceland’s unique environment is equally matched by its distinctive folklore which is rich in tales of aquatic monsters, ghosts, spirits, elves and trolls. During the long dark nights of Icelandic winters, storytelling was the chief form of entertainment with each region having its own treasure trove of colorful legends passed down over the centuries through oral and written traditions.

Despite today’s globalized world of modern age technology and electronic media, there are ancient folklore beliefs that are alive and well in Iceland. Surveys show that more than half the nation believes in elves and ‘hidden people,’ or at least don’t deny their existence.                                                                                                                                            Iceland Travel Website

Special saga tours - saga as in story, that is, not over-50s holidays - show us story-plaques on public buildings.

Dating from the 13th Century, Icelandic sagas tell the stories of the country's Norse settlers, who began to arrive on the island in the late 9th Century.

Sagas are written on napkins and coffee cups. Each geyser and waterfall we visit has a tale of ancient heroes and heroines attached. Our guide stands up mid-tour to recite his own poetry - our taxi driver's father and grandfather write biographies.

Public benches have barcodes so you listen to a story on your smartphone as you sit.

                                                                                                                                                          BBC News, Rosie Goldsmith

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. To what extent does landscape inspire the arts?
  2. Do countries that lack inspiring landscapes struggle to establish national identity?
  3. To what extent do countries lacking inspiring landscapes find cultural compensation in other aspects of national identity?

3. Is there ever a level playing field for intercultural exchange?

Real Life Situation Chimamanda Adichie TED Talk

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. What is intercultural exchange and intercultural learning?
  2. To what extent is intercultural exchange influenced by preconceived positions of power from both groups
  3. To what extent does power prevent intercultural exchange?

4. 'Conscious decoupling' or 'conscious coupling' of youth and space

Bike Crews: Huck Magazine

Real Life Situation: Bike Crews

Bike crews are pulling off death-defying stunts in London's rush-hour traffic. To the public, it's a spectacle of recklessness. But for the cyclists, these mass ride-outs are a means of survival.

It’s a bright summer day in central London and a swarm of tourists are snapping selfies overlooking the River Thames. Out of nowhere, hundreds of teenage boys on bikes flood onto London Bridge from the south.

Spreading out across all lanes, they block traffic and throw their front wheels defiantly up to the sky. A few riders break away from the group, jumping the barrier between lanes before wheelying their way down the wrong side of the road, swerving at the last moment to avoid oncoming vehicles.                                                                                                             Full Huck Article

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. To what extent does society establish equitable access to space for youth culture?
  2. To what extent does urban space experience a segregation of space in terms of youth culture?
  3. In what ways does youth culture claim urban space?

5. Is education and capitalism joined at the hip?

Real Life Situation: Richard Wolff on Yale University

No courses at Yale troubled Yellen or myself with any analyses of how exploitation lies at the core of capitalist production. We were never taught that the majority of industrial workers produce more value for employers than what employers pay them. We were prevented from encountering arguments examining how this idea of "more" (or, in economic terms, of a surplus) contributed fundamentally to the systemic inequalities that define capitalist societies.

No irritating Marxism was allowed to disturb the deep, unquestioned political tranquility that professors embedded in Yale's graduate economics curriculum. The celebration of the free competitive market, although often extended rhetorically to the free marketplace of competing ideas, was suspended in the case of Marxian concepts and analyses of capitalist economies. The latter were systematically excluded at Yale as at most US universities then and ever since: no free marketplace of ideas there.

The Guardian: Janet Yellen and I were taught to revere capitalism. But it's a failing system, by Richard Wolff

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. What is capitalism and what are its alternatives?
  2. Why is capitalism to the exclusion of any other, the only economic model to be seriously examined in education?
  3. Whys does society entrust so much faith in capitalism?

6. To what extent can democracy really combat climate change?

Trailer poster for the new Al Gore film

Real Life Situation: Al Gore: An Inconvenient Sequel

“To fix the climate crisis we need to fix democracy”.

"Well, big money has hacked our democracy even before Putin did. And it accompanied the transition from the printing press to television, when all of a sudden candidates – especially in the US – were made to feel they have to spend all their time begging rich people and special interests for money so they can buy more TV ads than their opponents"

Interview with Mark Maslin from The Independent

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. What is democracy's role in combating climate change?
  2. What is the relationship between government and corporation?
  3. To what extent will national interests always come first?
  4. To what extent is short-term politics preventing action on climate change?
  5. What real power does the UN actually have to combat climate change?

7. How data predicts the future: Is there really a population time bomb?

Real Life Situation: Dr Hans Rosling and Gapminder Data

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. What is the population bomb?
  2. How does tracking long term population data help us to predict future change?
  3. To what extent is there an optimistic outlook for world population in the data?
  4. To what extent is there uncertainty on future world population?

8. To what extent do hierarchical models reflect political power not economic development?

The Rostow Model

Real Life Situation: Walt Rostow and the Stages of Growth Development

Rostow's model is one of the more structuralist models of economic growth, as suggests a linear and hierarchical pathway to modernization and development through 5 stages of industrialization.

"Under what impulses did traditional, agricultural societies begin the process of their modernization? When and how did regular growth become a built-in feature of each society? What forces drove the process of sustained growth along and determined its contours? What common social and political features of the growth process may be discerned at each stage? What forces have determined relations between the more developed and less developed areas; and what relation if any did the relative sequence of growth bear to outbreak of war? And finally where is compound interest taking us? Is it taking us to communism; or to the affluent suburbs, nicely rounded out with social overhead capital; to destruction; to the moon; or where?"

Rostow asserts that countries go through each of these stages fairly linearly, and set out a number of conditions that were likely to occur in investment, consumption, and social trends at each state. Not all of the conditions were certain to occur at each stage, however, and the stages and transition periods may occur at varying lengths from country to country, and even from region to region.                                                                                                                                                   Source: Wikipedia

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. What are hierarchical models?
  2. What is modernization and to what extent does its meaning stem from a Western lens?
  3. To what extent does Rostow's model serve the interests of the industrialized?

9. To what extent are the Sustainable Development Goals a waste of time and money?

Real Life Situation: Bjorn Lomborg

"Today’s global development agenda is trying to be all things to all people. The Millennium Development Goals worked because they were few in number and sharply focused. By contrast, the MDGs' successor, the Sustainable Development Goals, comprise an eye-popping 169 targets, which means there is no focus at all...

Over the next 15 years, the Sustainable Development Goals will influence more than USD 2.5 trillion of money in development aid and trillions more meant to help reduce poverty, hunger and disease, and improve education and the environment. Bangladesh, along with all other nations, now has to decide where to spend scarce resources to do the most good. And clearly not all of the many, many UN targets are equally good, smart or effective"

                                                                          Bjorn Lomborg:

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. What are the SDGs and what is their background?
  2. What are the challenges of meeting the SDGs?
  3. To what extent could we argue the SDGs are not a smart use of development aid?
  4. To what extent are the SDGs another example of the loss of nationhood and sovereignty?

10. Does technology reduce our way of knowing?

Truck gets stuck following GPS

Real Life Situation: Technology and Ways of Knowing

In the photo above a truck driver following his GPS became stuck in a narrow side street. Click the photo to see the photo from behind. With GPS units replacing maps could it be argued that we lose our memory of spatial connections. Is spatial intelligence reduce? In this example the way of knowing in terms of intuition has clearly not been used. How does the internet impact our memory? What other historical technologies have impacted our memory? What will the future economy and work place be like with advanced technologies. What intelligences will become more important in our future economy?

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. What technologies will disrupt our ways of knowing?
  2. Does GPS prevent us from knowing where we are?
  3. Is this potential loss of knowing simply another example of evolutionary development?

11. Change the debate, save humanity not the planet!

Real Life Situation Author and Scientist James Lovelock

James Lovelock, the pioneering scientist and environmental guru who came up with the Gaia theory of the Earth, believes it could be time for humanity to “save ourselves” – rather than the planet.

Writing in a forthcoming collection of essays by leading thinkers, called The Earth and I, Professor Lovelock warns that life on Earth is quite close to coming to an end, at least on a cosmic timescale.

As an “elderly biosphere”, the Earth is susceptible to diseases – such as climate change caused by humans.

But Professor Lovelock, whose Gaia theory transformed the way we view the world but is an unlikely environmental hero given his support for nuclear power, the chemical industry and MI5, says talk of trying to “save the planet” is “surely hubris”.

The book features a number of scientists such as quantum physicist Professor Lisa Randall, Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, Professor Edward Wilson, a biologist known as the “father of biodiversity”, and Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel.

It has been written not in an attempt to increase the sum of human knowledge, but to help ordinary people understand “who we are, how we live and where we might be going”, according to the publisher Taschen.

Full article: The Independent

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. What is the Gaia hypothesis?
  2. How does the Gaia hypothesis influence our way of knowing?
  3. To what extent is the conservation crisis just the result of a poor marketing campaign?

12. Vegans on the March!

BBC news item on the conflict between Vegan activists and farmers

Real Life Situation: Alison Waugh Trainee Farmer

Watch the video by clicking on the image above. Alison as a trainee farmer, along with other individuals in the farming community are increasingly feeling threatened by animal rights activist groups. A rapidly growing movement of veganism in the UK is increasing the pressure on the farming industry. The vegan movement associated with peace threatens to break away from core values. Is this driven by a blurring of the lines or is it a  natural bi- product of popularism?

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. What is veganism?
  2. is veganism and animal rights activism the same thing?
  3. Is violence a bi-product of activism?
  4. Is farming an unethical industry or is the debate misrepresentative?

13. The Myth of Trophic Cascades in Yellowstone National Park

Real Life Situation: The Reintroduction of Wolves to the Yellowstone National Park

After the successful reintroduction of the wolves, beginning in 1995, it seemed like the landscape changed and did a complete 180 from where it had been heading. More wolves meant less elk, and the elk that survived spent less time eating because they were keeping an eye out for wolves. The surviving trees weren’t being eaten as much, so they started to grow taller and to spread.

As the trees grew taller, birds returned to nest in them. Finally, the beaver came back as well, and started building dams that drew fish and even more water and trees back to the area.

It seemed like just the simple act of adding in one key species—wolves—allowed the system to return to normal.

This is the story that became popular in the years right after the wolf release. Unfortunately, things aren’t often what they appear to be, and the Yellowstone wolf reintroduction story is no exception.

Full Article: Untamed Science

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. What is a trophic cascade?
  2. What are the challenges in methodology of testing the evidence ofr trophic cascades?
  3. What factors influenced the acceptance of the trophic cascade in the Yellowstone National Park?
  4. To what extent is this example worrying for the conservationist community?

14. To what extent is Agribusiness engaging in a proxy war on nation states?

Real Life Situation: Vandana Shiva

Dr Vandana Shiva is an Indian scholar, environmental activist, food sovereignty advocate, and anti-globalization author.

Further Knowledge Questions

  1. What is Agribusiness and what is their role in food supply?
  2. Why is the available data on food production and agricultural yield in India so complex?
  3. To what extent is agribusiness a cause of food insecurity?
  4. Dr Vandana Shiva refers to the organic agricultural movement as 'moving ahead', agribusiness and the interviewer suggest a 'movement back'. To what extent is this debate an example of Western thinking and power dominance
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