Critical geography

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Critical geography takes a critical theory (Frankfurt School) approach to the study and analysis of geography. The development of critical geography can be seen as one of the four major turning points in the history of geography (the other three being environmental determinism, regional geography and quantitative revolution). Though post-positivist approaches remain important in geography the critical geography arose as a critique of positivism introduced by quantitative revolution.

Two main schools of thought emerged from human geography and one existing school (behavioural geography) which made a brief comeback. Behavioural geography sought to counter the perceived tendency of quantitative geography to deal with humanity as a statistical phenomenon. It flourished briefly during the 1970s and sought to provide a greater understanding of how people perceived places and made locational decisions and sought to challenge mathematical models of society, in particular the use of econometric techniques. But the lack of a sound theoretical base left behavioural geography open to critique as merely descriptive and amounting to little more than a listing of spatial preferences.

Radical geography emerged during the 1970s and 1980s as the inadequacies of behavioralist methods became clear. It sought to counter the positivist quantitative methods with normative techniques drawn from Marxist theory: quantitative methods, it argued, were not useful unless alternatives or solutions were given to problems.

The final and, arguably, most successful of the three schools was humanistic geography, initially formed part of behavioural geography but fundamentally disagreed with the use of quantitative methods in assessing human behaviour and thoughts in favour of qualitative analysis. Humanistic geography used many of the techniques that the humanities use such as source analysis and the use of text and literature to try to ‘get into the mind’ of the subject(s). Furthermore, Cultural geography revived due to humanistic geography and new areas of study such as Feminist geography, postmodernist and poststructuralist geography began to emerge.

Critiques of Critical Geography

One criticism of critical geography is from an article by Haverluk et al., who argue that critical geopolitics as a theoretical discourse contains several major flaws, citing critical geography and particularly critical geopolitics as unnecessarily self-marginalizing due to scholars' "intentional isolation"[1] from any perceived power structures, rendering it a small and insular field with little utility or influence outside of the academy.

There are at present relatively few other critiques of the fundamental assumptions or normative biases of critical geography. While many academic geographers hold the predominance of critical geography in a positive light, this leaves substantive gaps in contemporary geographic literature that might address critiques of critical geography, or argue from alternate paradigms or theoretical stances. At present, critical geography occupies something of a hegemonic place in Geography as a field, with few genuinely competing schools of thought.

See also


Further reading