Friday, September 9, 2011

Kristian Saguin

For Kristian, his journey as a geographer started since he was a child. Now, he is at the forefront of producing geographic knowledge (and geographies of knowledge). In this interview, Kristian shares his thoughts about life in the academe.

Basic Info
Name: Kristian Saguin 
Hometown: Legazpi City, PH 
Current City: College Station, TX, USA 
Profession / University: 
- Current Ph.D. student, Graduate Teaching Assistant and Fulbright Fellow at Texas A&M University working on my dissertation on the political ecology and commodity chains of aquaculture in Laguna de Bay
- Former Assistant Professor at the Department of Geography, University of the Philippines, where I taught for six years. 
Hobbies and other interests: travel, photos, landscapes, the sea, swimming, fish, science studies, social theory, world cinema, the humanities

Towards Your Geographic Career

As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I knew I wanted to be a geographer ever since I was seven or eight. As a budding nerd, I would take pleasure in poring over school library atlases and figuring out where things were located. I grew up learning to love traveling, knowing which places I was in, and being fascinated by their interconnections. When I was deciding on a university and a course to take, I could not see myself anywhere else except in Geography in UP. Along the way I also dreamt of being a doctor, a music DJ, and an astrophysicist, but none of them were anywhere near as fascinating to me as geography!

What has inspired you to pursue geography?
As with perhaps most of us, I thought geography was primarily about studying maps and places. Now that I am in the middle of pursuing my third geography degree, I am always surprised by the things and topics that geographers can and do study. My current research interests for instance range in scope from social theory, global political economy, agrarian household economics, limnology, and fish genetic manipulation, among other things. The holistic view of how things work across (and produce) spaces, scales, natures and relations has kept me interested in pursuing knowledge through the unique lenses that geography (or perhaps geographies) provides. Geographers, in their ability to link society, space and nature in very insightful ways, are also active advocates in a broad range of pressing issues that concern us at various scales.

Why did you take up Geography as your undergraduate degree? 
I love geography!

Upon finishing your degree, how was it stepping out to the “real world”?
It really was not as different as I built on and expanded the interests I developed in undergrad. A career in teaching and research was a logical extension of four years of undergraduate studying and learning.

Your Geographic Career
What would be your typical day at work? 
Life as a graduate student is pretty much composed of studying, attending classes, building my research, fulfilling other school duties, occasional socializing, and then more studying in the periods in between. While time is more flexible, every day is a work day.

What do you like most about your work? 
I enjoy reading and learning new stuff that challenge me intellectually and that help make better sense of the world around me, which can hopefully eventually help effect change.

What is/are the challenging parts of your work?
At the current stage of my research, the challenge is to develop a dissertation proposal that is not only theoretically and empirically original but also practically relevant and useful for addressing social justice concerns. As geographers, I feel we have the duty to ensure we do not directly or indirectly contribute to the further displacement, marginalization and oppression of people as a result of our work and research. On the contrary, geography can be at the forefront of change and the dismantling of unjust structures of status quo.

How is your background in Geography relevant to your profession today? 
I am still doing geography, in particular geographic perspectives on nature-society interactions.

What are some of the important things that you’ve learned in your years as an undergraduate student?
I learned that pursuing my passion for geography was the best professional decision I have made.

Lighter Side
What is your favorite geography subject? 
Field Methods in Geography

Where would you most like to travel?
All over the Philippines. I am also fascinated by countries like Turkey, Ethiopia, Mali, Mongolia, Bolivia, Algeria, Iran, and Kyrgyzstan (mostly because it is hard to spell).

If you were not a geographer, what career would you have chosen?
A career related to either film or fisheries
What book are you reading right now?
Fiction: Against the Day (Thomas Pynchon)
Non-fiction: Books for my upcoming exams!

What was the most interesting trip you have ever taken? Why?
Every trip is unique because every place is. I would say the one to Tunisia was noteworthy because I still cannot believe that I got there in the first place.

Final Thoughts
What current issue/world problem can geographers help solve?
There are many geographers practicing different geographies. Geographers can formulate different approaches to one problem. I am always wary and critical though of promises of win-win solutions. Advocating change for better and just socioecological arrangements begins with unpacking how the world works, and geographers can contribute to this in a variety of ways. Political ecology, the geography sub-field I am interested in, for instance, is dedicated to understanding and critiquing current commonsensical views of environmental issues, and proposing in their stead a deeper and contextualized examination of human-environment-development nexus.

What contributions could Filipino Geographers make or leave behind?
We need to examine what kinds of geographies we do and practice, why, and to what effect. As geographers and scientists, we should never be divorced from the power relations and the stuff of politics that operate within and around us.

What can we do, as geographers, to raise the profile of the discipline of Geography in the country?
I think the best way to promote geography is to pursue whichever geography we are interested in as well as we can, and to continue our passion for the discipline and its potentials.

What are the prospects for geography in the future?
As an academic discipline, geography has survived the uneasy coexistence of human and physical geography in one department. It has remained integrative and holistic despite broader trend elsewhere toward specialization. Geography will continue to redefine itself and geographers will remain self-conscious about exactly what geography is, what geographers do, and for whom – questions that have bugged the discipline and its scholars for generations!

What would be some life lessons you learned as a geographer? 
I have learned to see the bigger picture in any issue.

Any advice to aspiring geographers?
1. Do what you love and do it well. 
2. Reflect on why you do what you do and for whom. 

You can view Kristian Saguin's Geography Profile at the Texas A&M University website at