Thinking Geographically Space, Theory and Contemporary Human Geography

Thinking Geographically

Space, Theory and Contemporary Human Geography

Phil Hubbard

Rob Kitchin

Brendan Bartley

Duncan Fuller




The Tower Building, 11 York Road, London SE1 7NX
15 East 26th Street, New York NY 10010

First published 2002. Reprinted 2005


Thinker Profile Boxes vi

Preface viii

Theorizing Human Geographies

1. Introducing Theory 3

2. A Brief History of Geographic Thought 22

3. New Theories, New Geographies? 57

Practising Theoretical Geographies

4. Geographies of the Body 97

5. Geographies of Text 124

6. Geographies of Money 146

7. Geographies of Governance 175

8. Geographies of Globalization 204

9. Final Words 233

References 241


  Our experiences as university teachers have revealed two shared observations. First, the majority of undergraduate geography students have an aversion to studying theory and do not understand or appreciate its importance. Tacts' about the world, it seems, are fine, but ideas about the way the world works are less approachable, more slippery and more difficult to comprehend. As such, students often claim to prefer the empirical to the theoretical, the observable world to an abstract world of ideas and propositions. Second, and related to this, encouraging students to 'think geographically' can be a difficult and often thankless task, made all the more arduous by the lack of accessible texts that spell out clearly to students the value of theory and why they should (and need to) engage with it. A more common approach is for texts to write of theory only in the abstract, fastidiously cataloguing the history of different schools of thought but rarely showing how such ideas impinge on the practice of creating geographical knowledge.

  Thinking Geographically has been written to address both of these observations. Simply stated, our aim is to demonstrate why addressing theory is important by showing how it shapes the production of geographical knowledge. In a wider sense, we want to enthuse and encourage students to engage with different ways of 'thinking geographically', and for them to recognize the importance of theory in the 'doing' of geography. Consequently, our prime objective has not been to write a text describing a 'history of geographic thought' or to provide an expansive overview of contemporary philosophical traditions in human geography — it is not an attempt to provide a comprehensive and authoritative 'God's-eye' view of the entire spectrum of contemporary geographic thought; nor is it a biography of the discipline's evolution, noting the collaborations and confrontations between different individuals that have characterized its chequered history. Instead, it seeks to explain why an understanding of theory and its history is an important, necessary and stimulating part of being a geographer. Consequently, we have adopted a different structure from other texts that aim to communicate geographic theory to students, one that is not primarily organized around abstract discussions of the philosophical nuances of schools of thought (what Gregory, 1997, terms the 'ologies' and 'isms' approach). Rather, we have divided the book into two key sections, each written to be accessible to undergraduate students.

  In the first section, Theorizing Human Geographies, we seek to provide a general overview of the role of theory and the different theoretical traditions in human geography. In the first chapter we introduce theory and the production of knowledge, discuss its value in a geographic context and provide initial illustration of the ways in which different concepts - space, place and nature - can be thought about in radically different ways. Taking a broadly historic perspective, Chapter 2 provides a concise introduction to the different theoretical traditions that have shaped Anglo-American human geography in the post-war period, exploring how different theories of space have been developed at different times, and demonstrating how these theories have been informed by wider academic ideas and fashions. By outlining the changing lineaments of human geography we show that the way geographers think has always been evolving (and contested), but that certain ways of thinking have become associated with particular types of geography (as well as particular geographers). This is followed in Chapter 3 by an introduction to some of the emerging concepts that are shaping the discipline today and are likely to inform the production of geographical knowledges at the start of the twenty-first century. In combination, the chapters show geography to be a discipline that is ever-evolving and derivative in its borrowing of theoretical constructs from other sciences, social sciences and humanities.

  In the second section, Practising Theoretical Geographies, we illustrate how different theoretical approaches have informed the study of five concepts - the body, text, money, governance and globalization - which are at the heart of economic, social, cultural and political geography. While far from an exhaustive list of key geographic concepts, each of the five chapters is intended to show how the theories and ideas introduced in the first half of the book have been practised by geographers as they study particular concepts and write particular geographies. While the focus is primarily on geographical scholarship, the chapters endeavour to show how concepts derived from other disciplines have been invoked and developed by geographers, using appropriate case studies and examples to clarify the distinctive contribution of particular ideas in producing geographical knowledge. Individually, each of our chapters thus demonstrates that key issues in economic, social, cultural or political geography can be theorized from a variety of radically different and competing approaches, while, collectively, they demonstrate that to 'think geographically' is inevitably to take theory seriously. This means that, although the first section and second section can be read independently, they are designed to 'talk' to one another, to create a dialogue between theory and practice and (ultimately) to problematize that distinction.

  In order to illustrate our arguments and provide entry points to particular literatures, we have included brief profiles of a number of theorists and their work throughout the book (highlighted in Profile boxes). We acknowledge that our choice of thinkers is selective, especially if it is accepted that ideas cannot be solely attributed or reduced to one thinker since they emerge from complex academic and institutional networks of interaction. Given the limitations of space, however, we have restricted our choice of profiles to people whose ideas are exemplary in relation to our case studies and who are acknowledged to have expanded the theoretical horizons of human geography in some way. Some may feel that these boxes do scant justice to the complexity and scope of the work completed by these thinkers, yet that was not our intention. Rather, it is simply to introduce readers to these thinkers, providing brief biographical details, a summary of their theoretical influence on geography and (crucially) a guide to some accessible (English-language) readings that might lead to a more nuanced understanding of their ideas. This introductory tone is one we seek to maintain throughout the book, with references used sparingly so that readers may be steered towards some of the more widely available, accessible and recent texts that explore ways of thinking geographically. We can only hope that the book inspires people to do this further reading.
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