I have spent a great deal of time talking about geographical approaches so far and thought it would be useful to look at geography in a bit more detail. What is geography?
To borrow the approach that Bonnett (2008) takes, geography is about this:
Figure 1: The Planet Earth (Pixabay)
At the simplest level, Figure 1 is the perfect representation of geography. It is about the planet Earth, it’s environments and it’s peoples. This can also be seen in the very root of the word geography. While addressing the same question of what is geography, Cloke et al (2005: viii) return to the Greek origins of geography as “to write (graphien)” and “the earth (geo)”. While this may be clear enough, it is also incredibly broad. Could it not be argued that every discipline is associated with our planet in some way? This is further complicated by the fact that geography holds and shares thousands of concepts with other sciences, humanities and social sciences. With this in mind, it is important to ask what is the geographical approach?
In my opinion, the answer is simple. It is space. Thrift (2008: 85) argues that space is the “fundemental stuff of geography”. Unfortunately space as a concept is multidimensional, multifaceted and complicated. I think this needs a post in itself, but for now I turn to a horrific simplification of Thrift’s introduction to space in the context of ‘modern’ geography which sees four spaces:
First (empirical) space: The tangible, physical space that people measure and map.
Second (mental) space: The mental space that people live, interact and move within.
Third (imaginative) space: The symbology and imagery people use to register the spaces around them. (culture)
Fourth (place) space: The embodiment of space. Where people confirm and naturalise the existence of certain spaces
I could go on to look at this in much more detail, but for now I think that establishes enough to move on to look at geography as a discipline. It can be argued that as discipline, there are two distinct areas to geography: the human and the physical. While I hate to simplify things too much, most geographers experience this distinction throughout their studies and in some cases it is almost a divide. If I had to draw a crude distinction between the two, I would argued that physical geography takes a positivistic/scientific to the earth. It focuses on a spatial and temporal understand of Earth’s hydrosphere, biosphere, atmosphere, and lithosphere. While this may seem the familiar territory of other disciplines, Bonnett (2008) suggests that “geology, climatology, ecology, environmental science and a number of human sciences evolved from geography”. While there is still much to unpick, I want to focus on human geography as it is my area of interest.
Human geography focuses on a spatial and temporal understanding of Earth’s people, their cultures, development, economies, interactions with the environment, histories and politics. The knowledge produced by human geography varies from the positivistic to the postmodernist and this has changed through time as the discipline has gone through many turns. In this case I thought human geography is based overviewed by looking at a typical textbook: Introducing Human Geographies (Cloke et al, 2005). This morning I quickly mapped out the foundations, themes and issues that fall within human geography and this is the result:
Figure 2: Overview of Human Geography based on Cloke et al (2005)
The beauty of geography is that there are many different interpretations and to some extent, it is a personal construction. Indeed, I think all geographers need to have their own personal statement for what geography is and I am glad I’ve started to write mine down. I think that is perhaps as good an overview of human geography that I can achieve before 9:30am on a Sunday morning. There is still a lot to explore, but I think this is a good start! I have purposefully left it at a mind map as I think it is a more powerful symbol of human geography for me than a series of paragraphs. Indeed – I should perhaps develop the above mind map to further explore geography…
Hope that is interesting 🙂
Bonnett, A. (2008) What is geography? Sage: London.
Clifford, N., Holloway, S., Rice, S. P. and Valentine, G. (2008) Key concepts in geography. Sage: London.
Cloke, P. J., Crang, P., and Goodwin, M. A. (Eds.) (2005) Introducing human geographies. Oxon: Routledge.
Thrift, N. (2009) Space: the fundamental stuff of geography. In N. J. Clifford, S. L. Holloway, S. P. Rice and Valentine. G (Eds.) Key concepts in geography. Sage: London. 85-96.