Cloke, P.

Cloke, Paul (1956 –)

Professor of Human Geography at the University of Exeter, England, having previously worked in geography departments at Lampeter, Wales, and Bristol, England; by the early 1990s Martin Bodman identified Paul Cloke as an emerging ‘master weaver’ in human geography, a phrase used to characterize people having a significant influence within the discipline. Bodman argued that Cloke was one of a group of human geographers emerging as major influences in the second half of the 1980s, linked in large part to the rise of political economy and social/cultural perspectives. Cloke has certainly acted as a spokesperson for such perspectives, although it should be noted that he was publishing highly influential studies from the late 1970s, the majority of which were, by his own admission, set in quite different traditions of human geographical research.

Paul Cloke has suggested, in his ‘autoethnography; published in 1994’ that his student experiences and early years as a lecturer in human geography were very much conditioned, ‘‘almost surreptitiously,’’ by prevailing orthodoxies present in the period and places he inhabited. He argues, for instance, that in his undergraduate degree he was ‘‘introduced persuasively to the notion of progress through planning to a better, more efficient world.’’ As he later reflected, this modernistic viewpoint was normalized within his geographical education, and indeed was of considerable significance in his PhD and related research on rural planning, as demonstrated in work such as Key Settlements in Rural Areas and An Introduction to Rural Planning which had clear applied and normative elements. These emphases were not only present with the work of his teachers and supervisors, but were also evident more widely in the 1970s and early 1980s when notions of ‘applied geography’ and ‘applied rural studies’ were frequently advanced. These approaches emphasized linking academic work with practical applications, commonly advancing these arguments in conjunction with ‘scientistic’ understandings of geography and logical positivist epistemologies and ontologies. These features can all be identified within Cloke’s early writings, which he has argued were prompted and legitimatized by the then prevailing culture of social science which valued the employment of statistical methods. Cloke, who is now widely associated with the use of qualitative research methods, has expressed some reservations about his early research, although one of its products – the ‘index of rurality’ – remains widely cited and emulated.

During the course of 1980s, Paul Cloke can be seen to have become increasingly critical of the positivism and modernism in which he had been immersed. Books such as Rural Planning: Policy into Action? and The Rural State? reveal an increasing questioning of the effectiveness and impartiality of state activities such as planning, which was linked to adoption of a political economy perspective. A clear expression of this position was given in Cloke’s 1989 contribution to New Models in Geography, where at the same time the positivism of rural studies is challenged and the benefits of applying a political economy perspective responsed. Among the themes identified as being of key significance to rural geographers was that of the relation between capital accumulation/restructuring and state/society relations. The late 1980s and 1990s saw Cloke pursue these issues through research on the iteration of economic restructuring and social class recomposition in rural areas, the role of planning within a capitalist state, the privatization/de regulation of the state, the commoditization of the countryside, and social marginalization and exclusion.

Paul Cloke has explained that although he was at this time establishing ‘‘forthright political economic accounts,’’ he actually had a number of concerns about them, including their apparent undermining of rurality as an analytical concept; economic and political reductionism; and the conflation of political economy with Marxism. These concerns surfaced in research during the early to mid 1990s which, in various ways, sought to knit political economy together with recognition of the cultural and experiential dimensions of rural spaces, a project which he characterizes as an ‘enculturing political economy’.

Cloke’s endeavors can be seen as part of, and indeed contributing to, more general ‘cultural turns’ in rural and human geography, as well as a response to personal life/research experiences. In respect to his research, his turn toward culture was undertaken in large part through continuation and transformation of work influenced by political economy: economic restructuring, for instance, became linked to and modified by concepts drawn from regulation theory, which in turn was employed in studies of social marginalization and poverty; this work, as well as the studies of social class and commodification, became focused on symbolic representations, as indeed did research on social marginalization and exclusion. This last strand of work also evidenced a clear desire to give voice to experiences, concerns, and identities of rural people, particularly those experiencing some form of marginalization. In making such arguments, Cloke’s work resonated quite directly with postmodern ideas, particularly as advanced in rural studies in relation to the study of ‘neglected rural others’.

The movement from a political economy to a post modern perspective has not been universally welcomed and, indeed, Cloke has repeatedly withdrawn from complete embrace of postmodernism, expressing unease about its political and policy implications; the degree to which it adopts a moral understanding which views itself as being above social interest; the implicit privileging of certain lines of difference and identity over others; and superficial and/or inappropriate engagements with research subjects. Such reservations were by no means unique in geography, although Paul Cloke has come to address these issues in a varied and distinctive manner.

Paul Cloke

A major strand of Cloke’s work since the late 1990s has been further investigation of the experiential and cultural dimensions of social marginalization in rural areas. This has been pursued primarily through research on homelessness which has highlighted the presence yet apparent invisibility of rural homelessness. The research addresses many of the problematics identified in Cloke’s enculturing of political economy, although a new concern with ethics emerged both in relation to the conduct of this particular research and with regard to research in human geography more generally. Cloke has differentiated between human geographies ‘of the other’ and ‘for the other’, suggesting in an essay entitled ‘Deliver us from evil?’ that while it may be relatively easy to identify work which expresses an abstract intellectual fascination with others and otherness, ‘‘it is far more difficult to discover in contemporary human geography as a whole a sense for the other which is emotional, connected and committed.’’ The former human geography exhibited the problematic features of postmodernism identified previously, while the latter, he suggested, ‘‘may necessitate a prompting of the moral imagination which includes political, ethical/spiritual constellations of issues such as charity and
agape, and evil.’’

Use of terms such as ‘spirituality’, ‘agape’, and ‘evil’ reveal a recasting of many concerns previously expressed in political economic terms into a language of ethics. In part, this can be seen as an acknowledgement of his longstanding Christian faith, whose influence throughout his work is discussed in his autoethnography, although he states that his argument is not that of ‘‘the proselytiser’’ but rather that geographers from all manner of faiths and perspectives need to engage with such issues. He has highlighted similarities between secular social theory and Christian concepts such as charity and agape, as well as between the ethos of care for the homeless among Christian and non Christian charitable organizations. He has also conducted work on ‘ethical consumption’. This work, as well as his most recent work on homelessness, has transcended his earlier focus on rural space. This feature is also evident in research on the agency of nature which has emerged since the mid 1990s. This research has not only made links to questions of ethics but also drawn extensively on post structuralist ideas of relational agency and performativity, as well as notions of socionatural hybridity and non human actants drawn from actor network theory.

As has been highlighted within many disciplinary histories, insight and influence do not necessarily proceed through research writings alone and can advance through a variety of means. As noted earlier, in his autoethnography, Cloke articulated a variety of personal and contextual influences on his research, and these and new influences have certainly contributed to subsequent developments in his work. For instance, Paul Cloke has illustrated interconnections between his professional and personal life expressed through his engagement with Khayelitsha township, in South Africa. While connected closely with his academic work on ethics and otherness, and with his reading of philosophical and theological discussion of Christian concepts such as charity and agape, Cloke’s account also reveals the significance of personal friendships and how his love of playing music and soccer informed his engagement with people in Khayelitsha (Figure 1).

In terms of his academic influence, it is important to recognize that since 1985 Paul Cloke has been the founding editor of the Journal of Rural Studies, which has been an extremely significant agent in the articulation of international rural research from a plurality of perspectives. Another important source of academic influence is undoubtedly through teaching, both in person and through the production of teaching texts. He has been influential through both routes, having produced a series of highly popular textbooks and, as a series of students would testify, a popular and inspiring teacher. His enthusiasm and passion is infectious and he also finds time to interact with people in a very personal way. Furthermore, just as Cloke himself has identified a range of influential collaborations and personal interactions that have influenced the development of his work, so many contemporary geographers would acknowledge that their work has been influenced by formal and informal interaction with him. This is certainly the case for this author.