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Critical perspectives in human geography


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An introduction to key concepts and perspectives in human geography.

An introduction to key concepts and perspectives in human geography.

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  • Human Geography is the study of human uses and understanding of the world and the processes that have affected it. It focuses much more on the human activities than the physical environment, and tends to use much more qualitative research methods. When I talk to you on Wednesday about some research methods I’ll explore the idea more about the differences between qualitative and quantitative research/data.
  • As with terms like ‘society’ and ‘nature’, space is not a common sense external background to human action. Rather, it is the outcome of a series of highly problematic temporary settlements that divide and connect things up in to different kidns of collectives which are slowly provided with the means which render them durable and sustainable. Space is often regarded as the fundamental stuff of geography. Geographers are poor at defining space. The oxford dictionary defines space in two ways: A continuous extension viewed with or without reference to the existence of objects within it and Tthe interval between points or objects viewed as having one, two or three dimensions. The geographers prime interest is in the objects within the space and their relative positions, which involves the descriptions, explanation and prediction of the distribution of phenomena. The relationships between objects in space is at the core of geography. One thing that does seem to be widely agreed is that place is involved with embodiment. It is difficult to think of places outside of the body. Think, for example, of a country walk and place consists not just of eye surveying prospect but also the push and pull of walking up the hill and down dale, the sound of birds and the wind in the trees, the touch of a wall, or branch, the smell of trampled grass. OR think of a walk in the city and place consists not just of eye making contact with other people or advertising signs or buildings but also the sound of traffic noise and conversation, the touch of ticket machine and hand rail, the smell of exhaust fumes or cooked food. Once we start to think of place in this kind of way, we also start ot take notice of all kinds of things which previously were hidden form us. So for example there is now a thriving study of how sound and especially music conjures up place associations. And other sense too such as touch and smell are beginning to recieve their dues.
  • The term place, as geographer Tim Cresswell (1999) has observed ‘eludes easy definition’ . The concise oxford dictionary indentifies 20 meanings of the term and this semantic elusiveness is compounded by the fact that human geographers have used it in a variety of ways throughout the disciplines history. John Agnew (1987) writing many years ago, cut through this complexity to identify three principal meanings of the term in geographical discourse. These meanings remain in force today: Place as a location: a specific point on the earth surface A sense of place: the subjective feelings people have about places, including the role of place in their individual and group identity. Place as locale – a setting and scale for peoples daily actions and interactions Contemporary geographers argue that there is increasing interconnections between places while still insitilling that places are not somehow becoming more alike. Places in the contemporary world are clearly no longer separate. For instance, the bank where I deposit my money is but one in a local fragment of the global financial system while the apple I had for breakfast implicated me in a production network stretching back to an orchard in New Zeland. More over with interconnection also comes interdependence. For instance, barely a day passes without newspaper reports of job losses and job creation in places as diverse as Chicago, Culcutta or Cairo. Often, though not always, these changes local employment situations can be explained with reference to interplace competition for investment and markets. For example, if Calcuttan workers can make auto-parts more cheaply than labourer in Chicago, a firm like ford might favour an Indian auto parts supplier for its vehicles. In short, what happens then and there can have sharp consequences in the here and now. But if places are no longer separate, the more difficult argument to understand is that they somehow remain unique. No two places are quite the same, even in this era of globalisation – or so lots of geographers argued. Massey argues that geographers need to advocate the ‘progressive sense of place’ to people in the world at large. What she means is that geographers have a moral obligation to show people that their place-based actions and understandings make no sense without acknowledging all those things impinging on place from the outside. What’s ‘progressive’ about this, for Massey, is that it encourages an opens to the wider world, not a defensive putting up of barriers. WE must she says live with the incontrivertible fact that the global is in the local and vice versa. This is more than a merely academic observation. In a world of place difference, stressing what connects paces has real practical and political relevance. It can make all the difference between a world of inward looking rivalries and a cosmopolitan world where place differences are respected and places connections celebrated. As the world has changed, so too have human geographers conceptions of place. Human geographers have tried to rethink place in way that respects place differences while acknowledging heightened place interconnections and interdependencies. That is, places concieved as being unique rather than singular. We can rethink the definitions of place in order to show how local and non-local events and relations intertwine. The importance of a place conept that stresses how ‘outside’ processes impact on the ‘inside’ of places is that it challenges the idea that places and peoples in them can ever thrive by defensively putting up barrriers against non-local forces.
  • Within human geography, scale is typically seen in one of two ways: either as a real material thing which actually exists is the result of political struggles and/or social processes, or as a way of framing our understanding of the world. Many commentators have argued that contemporary economic, political, cultural and social processes, such as that of globalization, are rescaling peoples everyday lives across the planet in complex and contradictory ways. Thus we have seen the creation of supranational political bodies such as the European union at the same time that we have witnessed the devolution of some political powers from member states to regional bodies. Equally, we appear to be witnessing an increased homogenization and ‘Americanization; of global culture while, simultanesouly, we are seeing the growth of localist tendencies in many parts of the world among those who have sought to defend traditional ways of life. Such examples of an apparent simultaneous globalzation and localization of everyday life, together with myriad others like them have raised important conceptual questions about the rescaling of peoples lives and particularly about the relationship between what are often taken as the two extremes of out scaled lives, namely the global and the local. For instance, what does it really mean when we say that what started as a local family business has now grown to become a ‘global’ TNC? What exactly is the relationship between ‘global’ climate change and ‘local’ weather patterns. How is a global language such as English localized in different parts of the world so that British English, American English, Australian English, Indian English appear as quite distinct. There has been a debate in geography about whether scale is a real thing made through political and economic processes or is merely a mental device for imposing order on the world. This debate has considered scale din both topographical and topological terms – that is, scales are areal units and as parts of networks. More recently some have even called for the abandonment of the concept of scale entirely. There are at least six different ways in which geographers have thought about the relationship between the global and the local: The global and the local are not actually things but ways of framing situations The global and the local each derive meaning from what they are not The global and the local simply offer different points of view on social networks The global is local, scratch anything global and you find locality. For instance, multinational firms are actually multilocal rather than global. The local is global: the local is only where global processes ‘touch down’ on the Earths surface All spaces are hybrids of the global and the local: they are glocal Typically in Western though, the global has been thought of as more powerful and active than the local; the local is seen as small and relatively powerless. However, the local can serve as a powerful scale of political organization; the global is not a scale just controlled by capital, but those who challenge capital can also organize globally.
  • Although in its simplistic sense globalisation refers to the widening, deepening and speeding up of global interconnectedness, such a definition begs further elaboration. Globalization can be located on a continuum with the local, national and regional. At one end of the continuum lie social and economic relations and networks which are organized on a local and/or national basis; at the other end lie social and economic relations and networks which crystallize on the wider scale or regional and global interactions. Globalization can be taken to refer to those spatial-temporal processes of change which underpin a transformation in the organization of human affairs by linking together and expanding human activity across regions and continents. Without reference to such expansive spatial connections, there can be no clear or coherent formulation of this term...A satisfactory defintion of globlization must capture each of these elements’ extensity (Stretching), intensity, velocity, and impact. Globalization, its meaning and conceptual value, has long been contested within human geography. As probably the most fashionable concept of the 1990s and now the new millenium, the rhetoric surrounding academic and media uses of the term globalization make it easy to lose sight of its multifarious meanings. As Dicken argues, globalization is inherently geographical. Understanding globalization as a process requires us to consider the way space, place and time are configured an reconfigured as result of contemporary changes in technological, economic and political practices. For Taylor this is why geography and globalization are so intimately related: all processes o globalization have geographical dimensions. The geography in globalization. As Swyngedouw (1997) argues globalization is actually a local-global or ‘glocalization’ process. Instead of focusing solely upon the global as a scale, we also need to recognize the interconnections between different scales (local, regional, national and global’ and how these make up processes of globalization. The geography of globalization. Processes of globalization create new geographical patterns of flows and activity. For example, the New International Division of Labour reconfigures both the geography of manufacturing activities, but also, as a side effect, geographies of uneven development, poverty and wealth. Geography for and against globalization. Needless to say the concept of globalization has caused great debate within human geography and many other social sciences. But why do geographers have so much to say about globalization, good, bad or indifferent. Dicken argues that for geographers studying globalization, the basic aim is to analyse the processes of shaping and reshaping the global map. Globalization, then as a process is an ongoing syndrome. As held reminds us we should not accept this as an inevitable and logical proicess with a clear and identifiable outcome. Instead, globaliztion is contested whether with a clear and identifiable outcome. Instead, globalization is contested whether it be because of the positive or negative impacts on a country and its people or because of continued barriers to a world of global flows, whether these are national border, regulations, technological haps (such as internet coverage in Africa) or socio0cultural complexity (such as failure for a global consumer culture to emerge). The challenge for geographers is to understand how and why this all plays out over time and space to provide examples of the effects on people in their everyday lives.
  • Development in used in everyday speech to refer to change. This change is usually vierwed in positive terms. However, within geography, development usually has more specific meaning, referring to either national-levle processes of economic, political or social change resulting from intentional actions to improve the living conditions of poor or marginal populations. As well as being a process, development can also be defined as a state of being, usually applied to a country or region and implying high levels of urbanization, complex economic activitiy and standards of living. Such definitins are, however, not neutral, as they reflect particular ideologies which vary across time and spcae. Geographers have been involved in both reinforcing particular conepts of develoipment and revelaing the ways in which they are based on operation of power. Development is not a neutral concept. Its definition and use varies ver time and space. Development can be used to describe both general societal changesk particualry under capitalism, but has also been used more specifically inr elation to policy interventions in the global south. Defintions used different scales of analysis, in particular the local and the national. At each scale the importance of particular actors within development is stressed. These scales are not mutually exclusive.
  • Professor of Anthropology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY). A leading social theorist of international standing, he received his PhD in Geography from University of Cambridge in 1961. Widely influential, he is among the top 20 most cited authors in the humanities. In addition, he is the world's most cited academic geographer and the author of many books and essays that have been prominent in the development of modern geography as a discipline. His work has contributed greatly to broad social and political debate, most recently he has been credited with helping to bring back social class and Marxist methods as serious methodological tools in the critique of global capitalism, particularly in its neoliberal form. Harvey's early work, beginning with his PhD (on hop production in 19th century Kent), was historical in nature, emerging from a regional-historical tradition of inquiry widely used at Cambridge and in Britain at that time. Historical inquiry runs through his later works (for example on Paris). By the mid-1960s, he followed trends in the social sciences to employ quantitative methods, contributing to spatial science and positivist theory. Roots of this work were visible while he was at Cambridge. His Explanation in Geography (1969) was a landmark text in the methodology and philosophy of geography, applying principles drawn from the philosophy of science in general to the field of geographical knowledge. But after its publication Harvey moved on again, to become concerned with issues of social injustice and the nature of the capitalist system itself. Moving from Bristol University to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the USA, he positioned himself centrally in the newly-emerging field of radical and Marxist geography. Injustice, racism, and exploitation were visible in Baltimore, and activism around these issues was tangible in early 1970s East Coast, perhaps more so than in Britain. The journal Antipode was formed at Clark University; Harvey was one of the first contributors. The Boston Association of American Geographers meetings in 1971 were a landmark, with Harvey and others disrupting the traditional approach of their peers. In 1972, in a famous essay on ghetto formation, he argued for the creation of “revolutionary theory”, theory “validated through revolutionary practice”. Social Justice and the City (1973) expressed Harvey's position that geography could not remain 'objective' in the face of urban poverty and associated ills and it makes a significant contribution to Marxian theory by arguing that capitalism annihilates space to ensure its own reproduction. Limits to Capital (1982). LTC furthers the radical geographical analysis of capitalism, and several books on urban processes and urban life have followed it. The Condition of Postmodernity (1989), written while a Professor at Oxford,It is a materialist critique of postmodern ideas and arguments, suggesting these actually emerge from contradictions within capitalism itself. Justice, Nature and the Geography of Differencee (1996) focusses on social and environmental justice (although its dialectical perspective has attracted the ire of some Greens). Spaces of Hope (2000) has a utopian theme and indulges in speculative thinking about how an alternative world might look. His study of Second Empire Paris and the events surrounding the Paris Communee in Paris, Capital of Modernity is undoubtedly his most elaborated historical-geographical work. The onset of US military action since 2001 has provoked a blistering critique - in The New Imperialism (2003) he argues that the war in Iraq allows US neo-conservatives to divert attention from the failures of capitalism 'at home'. His next work, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), provides a historical examination of the theory and divergent practices of neoliberalism since the mid-1970s. This work conceptualizes the neoliberalized global political economy as a system that benefits few at the expense of many, and which has resulted in the (re)creation of class distinction through what Harvey calls "accumulation by dispossessionn". His most recent work The Enigma of Capital (2010) takes a long view of the current economic crisis. Harvey explains how capitalism came to dominate the world and why it resulted in the current financial crisis. He describes that the essence of capitalism is its amorality and lawlessness and to talk of a regulated, ethical capitalism is to make a fundamental error. He moved to the City University of New York in 2001 as a Distinguished Professor, now residing in its Department of Anthropology. He has spent most of his academic career in Anglo-America, with brief sojourns in France and a range of foreign visiting appointments (currently as acting Advisory Professor at Tonji University in Shanghai). He has supervised many PhD students. Several of these, such as Neil Smith, Richard Walker, Erik Swyngedouw, Michael Johns, Maarten Hajer, Patrick Bond, Melissa Wright, and Greg Ruiters now hold important academic positions themselves. Two constants in Harvey's life and work have been teaching a course on Marx's Capital , [3] and his support for student activism and community and labour movements (notably in Baltimore). Critical response to Harvey's work has been sustained. In the early years, there was little love lost between Harvey and proponents of quantitative and non-politicized geography, notably Brian Berry. Harvey's continued commitment to Marx has led to reappraisals and in some cases rejection by younger Leftist scholars. Harvey's books have been widely translated, particularly into Korean, Spanish, Japanese and Italian as well some into Arabic, Turkish, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, German, Chinese, Polish, Swedish and Romanian. He holds honorary doctorates from Roskilde (Denmark), Buenos Aires (Argentina), Uppsala (Sweden), Ohio State University (USA), Lund University (Sweden) and the University of Kent (UK). Among other awards he has received the Anders Retzius Gold Medal of the Swedish Anthropological and Geographical Societies, The Patron's Medal of the Royal Geographical Societyy and the Vautrin Lud International Prize in Geography (France). Capitalism is an economic systemm in which the means of productionn are privately owned and operated for a private profitt; decisions regarding supply, demand, price, distribution, and investments are made by private actors in the market; profit is distributed to owners who invest in businesses, and wages are paid to workers employed by businesses and companies. Neoliberalism is a market-driven approach to economic and social policy based on neoclassical theories of economics that stresses the efficiency of private enterprise, liberalized trade and relatively open markets, and therefore seeks to maximize the role of the corporate sector in determining the political and economic priorities of the state. Marxism - The critique of capitalismm — Marx argues that in capitalist society, an economic minority (the bourgeoisiee) dominate and exploitt an economic majority (the proletariat). Marx argues that capitalism is exploitative, specifically the way in which unpaid labour (surplus value) is extracted from the working class (the labour theory of value), extending and critiquing the work of earlier political economists on value. Such commodification of human labour according to Marx, creates an arrangement of transitory serfdom. He argued that while the production process is socialized, ownership remains in the hands of the bourgeoisie. This forms the fundamental contradiction of capitalist society. Without the elimination of the fetter of the private ownership of the means of productionn, human society is unable to achieve further development.
  • Transcript

    • 1. CriticalPerspectivesin HumanGeography
    • 2. Key Concepts: Space  The fundamental ‘stuff’ of geography  Geographers are poor at defining space  The geographers prime interest is in the objects within the space and their relative positions, which involves the descriptions, explanation and prediction of the distribution of phenomena. The relationships between objects in space is at the core of geography.
    • 3. Key Concepts: Place Eludes easy definition (Cresswell, 1999)  1) Place as a location: a specific point on the earths surface  2) A sense of place  3) Place of locale We can rethink definitions of place in order to show how local and non-local events and relations intertwine.
    • 4. Key Concepts: ScaleA real material thing which GLOBAL actually exists and is the result of political struggle NATIONAL and/or social processes, or as a way of understanding the world. REGIONAL LOCAL
    • 5. Key Concepts: Scale (continued) Six ways geographers have thought about the relationship between the local and the global:1) The global and the local are not actually things but ways of framing situations2) The global and the local each derive meaning from what they are not3) The global and the local simply offer different points of view on social networks4) The global is local, scratch anything global and you find locality. For instance, multinational firms are actually multilocal rather than global.5) The local is global: the local is only where global processes ‘touch down’ on the Earths surface6) All spaces are hybrids of the global and the local: they are glocalWhat do you think?
    • 6. Key Concepts: Globalisation The widening, deepening and speeding up of global interconnectedness Globalisation, its meaning and conceptual value, has long been contested in human geography. Globabalisation is inherently geographical. Globalisation is an ongoing process. Always contest and think critically about globalisation!
    • 7. Key Concepts: Development Like many concepts in geography is hard to define. Development is not a neutral concept. Its definitions varies over time and space. Society Change/Policy Intervention
    • 8. Ways of Knowing and Waysof Doing Students begin a research project in geography encounter a mind boggling array of methodologies and practices – link in complex ways to theories and philosophies. Philosophy is to research as grammar is to language…just as we cannot speak a language without certain grammatical rules, so we cannot conduct a successful piece of research without making certain philosophical choices.
    • 9. Philosophy and Language Philosophy helps to justify the answers to our research questions. There are vocabularies to learn for different vocabularies. Marxist geographers use terms like production, social reproduction, class Positivist Geographers use terms like paradigms, hypothesises, laws and verifiability Feminist geographers use terms like patriarch, bodies, sexuality.
    • 10. My approach: CriticalRealism Critical realism recognises that the world which the researcher observes undergoes a continuous process of interaction between structures and agency of relevant actors (Yeung, 1997). It argues that social structures are transformed and reproduced by social actors (1997). Critical realists favour qualitative research methods, recognising the downfalls of positivistic quantitative research. Under this view qualitative research provides a more in-depth understanding.
    • 11. Marxism Marxist geographers are interested in what the world is like and who makes it that way. Marx argued that each place and time is characterized by a predominant mode of production a socially organized way in which humans provide the material basis of their existence, by coordinating production with the social relations necessary to support it. Under capitalism, he argued, production of goods to support human life takes the form of commodity production.
    • 12. Influential Human Geographers David Harvey (1935-present) Worlds most cited academic geographer Attributed with the modern development of modern geography as a discipline. Video
    • 13. Feminism Concerned with improving womens lives by understanding the dynamics of women’s oppression and documenting resistance. Three key aspects to their research:  Gender as difference  Gender as a social relation  Gender as social construction
    • 14. Post-modernism Postmodernism is a reaction on modernism. It emphasises the unclearness, the fragmented, the multiformity, the missing of real conformity and of big ordering principles in society. There is not one universal truth, but there are multiple views or theories which always are bounded to place and time. Meanings are related to the given context.
    • 15. Post-colonial geographers “The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place of romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences . The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; ́ it is also the place of Europe s greatest and richest and of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other. In addition, the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experiences. Yet none of this Orient is merely imaginative. The Orient is an integral part of European material civilization and culture”. (Said, 1978)
    • 16. Post-structuralistgeographers For the structuralists the seeming chaotic and unpredictable character of social life is something of an illusion: ‘Beneath the level of perplexing and unique events are hidden generative mechanisms’. These ‘generative mechanisms’ are ordered, organized and patterned and are made up of a limited number of elements. The analyst is objective. ‘Structuralists see themselves as detached scientific observers who are discovering some kind of truth that is not apparent to social actors’.
    • 17. Task: Pick an approach: Find an example of apiece of geographical research or ageographer that uses this approach –Whatkinds of things do they research?