What kind of human geographer do you want to be? Justify by discussing the types of theoretical and social problem that you think are most relevant to the discipline today? Economic Geography has always been an integral part of human geography. ‘Economic geography is usually regarded as a subfield of the discipline of geography, although recently economists such as Paul Krugman and Jeffrey Sachs have pursued interests that can be considered part of economic geography’ (Clark et al, 2002).
Economic geography mainly represents two subfields which are closely associated to each other but they also have some major differences. Economic geography is first referred to as geographers who are working on spatial questions, with a synthetic approach from sociology, economics, political science, and history. Secondly, it is related to regional science with economists working on spatial models. In more recent years, economic geography has taken a step toward critiques of the Marxist social and economic theory.
This paper aims to investigate these theories and identify the types of theoretical and social problems that can occur within the discipline of economic geography, an area of particular interest to me. ‘The main trouble with theory is that people will insist on making such a song and dance about it, but…. the intention of theory is to make thinking easier, not more difficult. ’ (Shurmer-Smith, 2002). Theory is a fundamental part of any research and allows the researcher to construct the basis of their work.
Theory is required to make a sense of things no matter what discipline is being researched; theological models can be used and then linked with research in order to create a better understanding into the way things work. The way research is conducted and the questions that are asked during research are all based on the theory behind that subject. Historically human geography has always been influenced by changes in all aspects of the social sciences. It began as a very descriptive and ideographic discipline, but over time has gradually moved towards a more positivist methodology.
There have been many changes in the ways we perceive geography over the last sixty years and now geographers encounter a large range of methodologies and practices that are linked to complex theories and philosophies. Economic geography historically dates back to the times of European exploration, with an expansion in commercial geography from the mid-15th century. Knowledge of economic geography was first essentially descriptive, with a focus on the region and its economy, demography, and social characteristics.
A writer named George Chisholm wrote a paper called the ‘Handbook of Commercial Geography’ (1889); this was considered to be the first publication solely exploring the link between geography and economics. In the late 19th century, more economic geographers started to take into consideration the impact physical environments had on economic activity throughout the world. In the 1950s economical geography had a dual focus on regional synthesis; the construction of integrated descriptive accounts of specific regions and areas and also regional differentiation.
Economic geography became predominately positivistic, and was based on quantitative procedures and neoclassical economic principle. This was combined with the locational analysis of earlier theorists, which provided the dominant basis for the study of spatial organisation within the modern economy. During this period economic geography was basically just ‘industrial geography’ and it wasn’t until the later 1960s that geographers started to search for systematic locational patterns within the economic landscape.
This was triggered by the discovery of earlier location-theoretic models in combination with a view to make geography a spatial science. Some of these models included the Von Thunen (1826), Weber (1929) and Christaller (1933). During the mid-1970s economic geographers shifted from ‘neoclassical economics to political economics, with a heavy Marxian political economy influence’ (Harvey 1969). An example of this is the argument by Doreen Massey, who argued for a refigured industrial geography in which a central role was assigned for history and the social relations of production.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s Marxism within geography turned the attention away from a fascination with statistical laws of spatial distribution and industrial location, and highlighted the historical and material processes of uneven urban and regional development characterised by the crisis tendencies of capitalism. Marxist geography is a critical geography which utilizes the theories and philosophy of Marxism to examine the spatial relations of human geography.
In Marxist geography the relations that geography has traditionally analyzed; natural environment and spatial relations; are reviewed as outcomes of the mode of material production. To understand geographical relations, the social structure must also be examined; with Marxist geography attempting to change the basic structure of society. However Marxist geography's emphasis on constraints of structure upon human agency has been criticized extensively as deterministic; not allowing for the human agency and autonomy, whose action appears determined by capitalism's structural mechanisms in Marxist analysis.
Marxian economic geography was dominant between the early 1970s to the mid 1980s. This period saw more critical and politically orientated writings. The political critique of capitalism was regarded as the main goal of economic geography. During the 1990s, economic geographers started searching for new concepts and theoretical frameworks, to better fit the changed realities. (Michael Dear, 1988) argued that; ‘the discipline of human geography played a pivotal role in the social theory development, with its focus on the economic, political and social. Marxian economic geography began to gather criticism during the late 1980s, mainly because of the emergence of new postmodern philosophical movements. This raised questions over the subject’s validity. These new structures and movements meant that Marxist theory was seen to be incapable of incorporating the new ideas with economic geography. This made Marxian Geography one of the main losses during the shift from positivism to postmodernism within economic geography.
Economic Geography has changed dramatically over the course of the last sixty years. It now highlights and seeks a plurality of theories, a plurality of methods and has a goal of plurality in economic geography. During the transition between positivist economic geography and postmodern economic geography, there have been gains and losses. This period of transition has seen a regulation of theory and the creation of a networked society, allowing information to be shared and making it much more accessible.
Johnston (2004); identifies the ‘significance of individual’s networks, Also one of the major gains is the reassertion of regional and local economies. Another gain is the ‘cultural turn’ that occurred during the transition. ’ It created a rethinking of what is meant by economic compared with economy. It also transformed the way in which geographers are viewing the economy. This is a gain because it allows for progression within the sub-discipline, and this leads to a better understanding of the subject.
Culture is now a major driving force behind economics, and the cultural turn allowed geographers to see the ‘culturalisation of the economy’, this led to geographers being better equipped when study and researching the economy; which can only be seen as a gain. The methodologies that this transition has brought have been one of the great contributions of this approach. With the introduction of a range of new qualitative methodologies in order to accommodate these multiple voices allows us to identify the array of ‘stories’ that exist within the ‘economy’; and can be seen as a real gain.
Postmodernism allows the arguments of the multivocal to be heard and the multiperspectival, it also allows us to examine the positionality and authority of knowledge claims, whatever the voice and whatever the cultural background. With more voices, more opinions and a wider range of knowledge, makes the subject stronger rather than weaker, so must be seen as a gain. There was however one major loss, this was the loss of much of the positivist ideas and theories, many of which were valuable at the time, but became less relevant during the transition.
Hajer (1993): “The new environmental conflict should not be conceptualized as a conflict over a predefined unequivocal problem with competing actors pro and con, but it is to be seen as a complex and continuous struggle over the definition and the meaning of the environmental problem itself”. 'In the history of geography, the quantitative revolution was one of the four major turning-points of modern geography' it was caused by positivism its what has led to the changes 'In the history of geography, the quantitative revolution was one of the four major turning-points of modern geography' it was caused by positivism ts what has led to the changes 'In the history of geography, the quantitative revolution was one of the four major turning-points of modern geography' it was caused by positivism its what has led to the changes Recently the notion of the "death of postmodernism" has been increasingly widely debated; in 2007 Andrew Hoborek noted in his introduction to a special issue of the journal Twentieth Century Literature titled "After Postmodernism" that ‘declarations of postmodernism's demise have become a critical commonplace’ (Hoborek 2007).
A small group of critics has put forth a range of theories that aim to describe culture and/or society in the alleged aftermath of postmodernism, most notably Raoul Eshelman (performatism), Gilles Lipovetsky (hypermodernity), Nicolas Bourriaud (Altermodern), and Alan Kirby (digimodernism, formerly called pseudo-modernism). However, none of these new theories and labels has so far gained widespread acceptance, this making research increasingly difficult for geographers. Economic geography is the study of the widely varying economic conditions in spatial environments.
The economics of a geographical area can be influenced by various factors such as climate, geology, and socio-political factors. For example, a factor such as the geology of an area can affect the availability of resources and the cost of transportation. The climate can influence natural resource availability, working conditions and productivity. The social and political institutions that are unique to a region also have an impact on economic decisions. (Smith, 1998) supports this argument; ‘This can be contrasted with spatial economics or locational economics which looks at these questions from a microeconomic perspective.
Instead of ascribing locational decisions to geography, it typically uses more abstract variables like distance or travel time. Economic geography has fallen out of favour in recent decades with most economists switching to "spatial economics" methods. ’ This identifies a clear theoretical problem faced by geographers today, as many are switching to spatial economic methods. Economic geography shares with other branches of knowledge-economics, agriculture, geology, and history - the responsibility of studying economic life.
The peculiar contribution of economic geography is an understanding of the relation between natural environment and the economy. Formerly research explored regional differences, but in more recent times researchers have explored the causes of these regional differences in economic life. Economic activity is not evenly distributed across space. Economic activities can be found at ‘various levels of aggregation, the considerable variation in economic size of cities or regions at the national level, or the uneven distribution of wealth and production at the global level’ (Smith, 1988).
It is difficult to understand the reasons why location is linked with economic activity and a strong analytical framework is needed in order to investigate this. This is often difficult in economic geography. Quantitative methodologies are a powerful research technique in human geography that can provide valuable and accurate insights if used appropriately and with an understanding of the limitations. However, during the 1980s there was a downturn in the popularity of these quantitative methods.
This essay argues that the criticisms of quantitative methodologies were valid and necessary following geography’s quantitative revolution in the 1950s and 60s. However, subsequent developments that have addressed these criticisms have been ignored by critics. As a result, they run the risk of neglecting a powerful mode of research. Fotheringham et al (2000); identifies quantitative geography as ‘consisting of the analysis of numerical spatial data, the development of spatial theory or the construction and testing of mathematical models of spatial processes.
In the 1960s and 1970s a number of criticisms were mounted against use of quantitative methodologies in geography’ (Cloke et al, 1991, Johnston and Sidaway, 2004). Most of these were targeted at the positivist underpinnings of the approach. (Peet, 1998); expressed the ‘objective research, the lack of consideration of agency and structure, the imposition of the natural sciences approach, the assumption that social systems could be considered closed and the notion that statistical relation implied causal relation’.
The positivist claim that research should be value free was criticised by those who argued that this was not possible in social research. As researchers are part of society, their values, experiences and motives inevitably influence their research. Quantification was claimed to give a ‘false sense of objectivity by artificially separating the observer from the observed’ (Cloke et al 1991). Another criticism was the failure of quantitative techniques to appreciate the importance of structure and agency.
Quantitative researchers treated people as objects without any consideration of the values and meanings that make individuals human and the capabilities that they possess’ (Cloke et al, 1991, Smith, 1998). Concerns were raised that the complex economic, political and social structures that act on spatial patterns were not sufficiently taken into account by quantitative methodologies. ‘A purely quantitative approach, it was argued, looked at how things seemed to be rather than how they might be under different social conditions’ (Cloke et al 1991).
For some geographers the new quantitative approach seemed ‘socially and politically irrelevant’ (Peet 1998: 67). ‘The rush to quantitative methodologies in human geography in the 1950s and 1960s did not include sufficient consideration of the philosophical underpinnings of such approaches’ (Harvey, 1969). ‘The positivist assumptions that this approach was based were criticised in the late 1970s because human geography experienced a `cultural turn' and split and a number of models were needed in order to make an understanding’ (Peet, 1998).
However, it was argued that the criticisms over the use of quantitative methodologies should not be used to claim that such approaches have no role in human geography whatsoever; ‘Rather, it should be learnt from these criticisms that the approach must be used with care, guided by substantive social theory and with an understanding of the weaknesses. Researchers who use quantitative techniques today have acknowledged this and have adapted their use of these techniques’ (Robinson 1998, Poon, 2004). However this does not seem to have been recognised in geography more widely. Indeed, the debate on quantitative methodologies in human geography continues to be polarised between the supporters and opponents of such techniques’ (Fotheringham et al, 2000). ‘This dualism is not helpful; a focus solely on one approach is likely to result in weaker research’ (Christensen, 1982). Human geographers should be more open to breaching the quantitative/qualitative divide and take into account the changes in quantitative methodologies to allow them to conduct more accurate and meaningful research.
The problem with economic geography is it can be methodologically opaque. This is the reason economic geographers have always had problems regarding methods in their work. Economic geography has always been a fast moving discipline, due to the ever growing world economy, therefore with the so has the theoretical frameworks and research orientations. ‘The analysis of censuses and surveys, once the methodological norm in the field, is now a minority practice; formal modelling and sophisticated quantitative analyses are almost lost arts’ (Hamnett, 2003).
Meanwhile, ‘an array of new theoretical influences (feminism, regulationism, evolutionary economics, economic sociology and economic anthropology, nonrepresentational theory …) and substantive concerns (networks, cultural embeddedness, embodiment, governance, social reproduction …) have led economic geographers into new methodological territories’ (Hamnett, 2003). Case-study research in economic geography has now standard and a wide range of qualitative and intensive research methodologies such as in-depth interviews, ethnography, iscourse analysis, focus groups, participant observation, activist engagement are all in practise. During previous economic research, many of these approaches would have been considered invalid to economic geography. ‘This remarkable period of understated methodological proliferation has been a creative and productive one for economic geography as a field. A number of recent “state of the art” collections attest to the discipline’s rude health’ (Lee and Wills, 1997; Clark et al, 2000; Sheppard and Barnes, 2000).