Key Texts in Human Geography


Edited by: Phil Hubbard, Rob Kitchin & Gill Valentine

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    Ben Anderson is Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Durham, UK

    Jonathan Beaverstock is Professor of Economic Geography, Nottingham University, UK

    Noel Castree is Professor of Human Geography, University of Manchester, UK

    Martin Charlton is Senior Research Fellow, National Centre for Geocomputation, National University of Ireland, Maynooth

    Neil Coe is Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Manchester, UK

    Tim Cresswell is Professor of Human Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

    Sarah Dyer is Lecturer in Human Geography, Oxford University, UK

    David Gilbert is Professor of Urban and Historical Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

    Michael F. Goodchild is Professor of Geography, University of California, Santa Barbara, US

    Susan Hanson is Professor of Geography, Clark University, US

    Phil Hubbard is Professor of Urban Social Geography, Loughborough University, UK

    Ron Johnston is Professor of Human Geography, Bristol University, UK

    John Paul Jones III is Professor of Geography, University of Arizona, US

    Philip Kelly is Associate Professor of Geography, York University, Canada

    Satish Kumar is Lecturer in Human Geography, Queen's University Belfast, UK

    Alan Latham is Lecturer in Geography, University College London, UK

    Bo Lenntrop is Emeritus Professor, Department of Geography, Stockholm University, Sweden

    Robyn Longhurst is Professor of Geography, University of Waikato, New Zealand

    Claudio Minca is Professor of Human Geography, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK

    Nick Phelps is Reader, Bartlett School, University College London, UK

    Martin Phillips is Reader in Social and Cultural Geography, University of Leicester, UK

    John Pickles is Earl N. Phillips Distinguished Professor of International Studies, University of North Carolina, US

    David Seamon is Professor of Architecture, Kansas State University, US

    Jo Sharp is Senior Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Glasgow, UK

    Jacob Sowers is a doctoral student in the Geography programme, Kansas State University, US

    Nick Spedding is Lecturer of Geography, University of Aberdeen, UK

    Andy Wood is Associate Professor of Human Geography, University of Kentucky, US

    Keith Woodward is Lecturer in Human Geography, University of Exeter, UK


    The editors want to express their gratitude to all the contributors for responding so positively to their invitation to contribute to this volume, and for working to tight deadlines. We also wish to thank Robert Rojek for his patience and encouragement whilst we bought this project to completion.

    Among our contributors, Susan Hanson wishes to acknowledge discussions with Sophie Bowlby and Megan Cope on Geography and Gender. Ron Johnston wishes to thank Les Hepple, Tony Hoare, Kelvyn Jones, Charles Pattie and Eric Pawson for valuable discussions of his essay and comments on draft versions. Nick Phelps would like to thank Doreen Massey, Philip Cooke and Mick Dunford for providing further background on the radical economic geographical scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Satish Kumar acknowledges assistance from Niall Majury, Nuala Johnson, Diarmid Finnegan and Harjit Singh in rehearsing the account of capitalism, neo-liberalism, and dialectics that underpins his chapter, and also thanks David Zou for assistance in bibliographic compilation. Phil Hubbard also wishes to thank all members of the Loughborough University Department of Geography reading group for sharing their thoughts on David Sibley's Geographies of Exclusion.

    © 26.1 ‘Ceci n'est pas I'espace’ Massey, Doreen. For Space. SAGE, London 2005.

    List of Figures and Tables

    • 8.1 The primary circuit of capital accumulation 65
    • 9.1 Senses of first and second nature in uneven development 75
    • 26.1 ‘Ceci n'est pas I'espace’ 225
    • 9.1 Smith's logico-historical construction of the production of nature 73
    • 9.2 The production of scale within capitalist production 77

    Editors' Introduction

    PhilHubbard, RobKitchin and GillValentine
    Why Key Texts?

    Geography, like all academic disciplines, is never static, with geographers always seeking to either extend and consolidate particular ways of thinking and doing or to develop new understandings of the unfolding relationship between people, place and environment. Far from being a discipline preoccupied with the mere accumulation of facts about the world, geography is a discipline where our understanding of the world is constantly being evaluated in the light of new ideas and thinking, with empirical projects always informed by notions that some forms of knowledge and ways of knowing may be more productive or valid than others. Empirical studies of what appears to be happening in particular contexts thus build up into wider theoretical accounts that, in turn, drive new explorations of how people, place and environment are entwined in complex and relational geographies. Without this diversity of thought and sense of progression – i.e. the idea that we are moving towards a more productive understanding of the way the world works – geography would long ago have become an intellectual backwater, rather than the vibrant, vital and varied discipline that many currently believe it to be.

    This book is based on the premise that texts play a crucial role in this story of disciplinary development. More specifically, it works with the assumption that particular texts can be read and interpreted as symptomatic (and perhaps totemic) of key transitions in the ways that we think, practise and write geography. The widest possible definition of a geography text might include conference papers, journal articles, book chapters, literature reviews, working papers, online articles, monographs, student textbooks, dictionaries, encyclopedias, readers, gazeteers, maps, and atlases. All of these may, in different ways, presage important shifts in the way geography is conducted. Yet in this volume we want to focus on one particular kind of text: the book. More specifically we want to hone in one type of book – the authored monograph.

    Despite some concern in the discipline that publishers are less and less willing to publish monographs, preferring instead to publish student-oriented texts like this one, we focus here on authored monographs for two principal reasons. First, while most monographs are empirical – in the sense they seek to describe or map a particular aspect of the world – many also make important theoretical statements about the way that geographical knowledges should be constructed and disseminated. For many, this is the acid test of a geographic research monograph: for a book to make a contribution that furthers the discipline, it needs to spell out possible routes towards a more relevant, ethical or viable geography by advocating a particular approach to its subject matter. As such, monographs seek to transform geographical thinking and praxis through a sustained engagement with, and exploration of, a set of theoretical ideas as well as the detailing of particular empirical ‘facts’. They are often books with Big Ideas and Big Ambitions, and if their thesis gains currency they become key reference works which are mined, re-worked and critiqued by subsequent generations. Authored texts thus become foils that stimulate new ideas and thinking. This is not to say that research articles, chapters, edited books, etc. do not make similarly important contributions to debates concerning disciplinary progress. Indeed, papers in journals may often stimulate important changes in the disciplinary landscape by providing rapid dissemination of research findings. Yet we would argue that authored books often become the key milestones in disciplinary histories in ways that articles rarely do because they allow authors to connect disparate empirical and theoretical elements to develop a wider, more systematic and rigorous argument about the way the world works.

    Second, we focus on authored monographs because students are often referred to these ‘key texts’, encouraged to engage with them in order to understand particular modes of thought and the history of the discipline and to reflect on the ideas contained within them with respect to shaping their own geographical thinking and praxis. Many courses on the histories and philosophies of geography are in fact stories in which key authored texts are given due prominence, with these key works deemed to have punctuated geography's histories. From the perspective of the present, a retrospective reading of these works is often encouraged as a way of understanding how we got to where we are today. Making oneself familiar with key texts is part of any geographical education – for many educators, ‘thinking geographically’ is something that only emerges from critical reading and re-reading of geography's ‘ur-texts’. Contemporary libraries, we note, are often all-too-ready to dispose of older books to make way for new tomes, but most retain those volumes which educators suggest are ‘classics’ which students will always need to return to.

    This brief discussion indicates that this volume is necessarily restrictive in its definition of what a ‘key text’ is. Not only do we ignore papers, chapters, edited collections, readers and conference presentations, we also disregard a number of important student-oriented textbooks. Ron Johnston (2006) argues that textbooks are particularly important in institutionalizing particular approaches to geography, given that they often proclaim to be ‘objective’ or authoritative introductions to the discipline. Although we would not necessarily disagree, given that such volumes are written to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible, we feel there is little need to provide a guide to such texts. Nor do we consider some of the important histories of the discipline (Johnston's, 2005, Geography and Geographers – now in its fifth edition – being a prime example, alongside Peet's, 1998, Modern Geographical Thought, or Cloke, Philo and Sadler's, 1991, Approaching Human Geography) for the same reason. Other books that have gone through multiple iterations, and have hence been integral in policing the boundaries of the discipline, are also precluded from consideration here (e.g. the Dictionary of Human Geography, now in its fifth edition, the Companion Encyclopedia of Human Geography, now in its second, the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, and so on).

    By focusing on specific authored texts we are accordingly not trying to suggest other types of text are insignificant in shaping geographical thought. Yet we feel that, by their very nature, the type of books we focus on here were often written for an academic peer audience rather than a student one. For the uninitiated, many appear remarkably dense, use difficult language and work through complex theory and unfamiliar examples, and are not accessible in the same way that a textbook might be. Many talk to debates and social-economic contexts that have long since disappeared or are only just coming into being, or refer to events or processes that would only be known to those who have grown up in particular contexts. In a sense, this is precisely why lecturers are often keen to refer their students to these texts – they want to challenge them, encourage them to develop their skills of critical reading and appreciate the impact of particular thinkers and ways of thinking on the practices of geography.

    This given, Key Texts provides an introduction to 26 books that we argue have made a significant impact on the theoretical underpinnings and praxis of human geography in the last 50 or so years. The book's ambition is two-fold. First, it aims to serve as a primer for students, introducing them to specific monographs, exploring the nuance of the authors' arguments and explaining why they should take the time and trouble to engage with the text itself rather than summaries provided in textbooks. To that end, each of the entries in this volume is an interpretive essay that highlights: the positionality and biography of the author(s); the significance of the text in relation to the geographical debates and issues current at the time of writing; the book's main arguments and sources of evidence; its initial impacts and reception; how the book was subsequently critiqued, evaluated and incorporated into the geographical imagination; and how the book changed – and continues to influence – the practices of geography.

    Secondly, the book seeks to contribute to ongoing debates over the production of geographic knowledge by posing some important questions of what constitutes a ‘key text’. It is of course crucial to ask why some books become privileged, and to consider how disciplinary histories become written around key texts as well as key thinkers (see Hubbard et al., 2004). In recent years scholars interested in the history of geographical knowledge production have come to argue that geographical endeavour occurs in a highly diversified landscape, shaped by issues such as educational training, personality and location, friendships and collegiality, disciplinary gatekeeping and access to disciplinary networks, prevalent trends and vested interests, and wider debates on the relevance and value of the academy and the funding of higher education. In other words, it has become recognized that geographic scholarship is shaped by multiple factors, some personal, cultural and social, and some that are more political and economic in nature (Barnes, 2002). While the academy is a place of collegiality and collaboration, it can also be a competitive environment with most academics working both for themselves and their institutions as they seek to acquire kudos, funding and intellectual respect. In the UK, for example, departments are in competition with one another under the influence of a Research Assessment Exercise which is focused on research outputs. The influence of RAE culture on the shape and form of institutional geography is still to become clear, yet the potential to be identified by one's institution as a ‘research inactive’ academic creates immense pressures to work in particular ways, and to work to identified assessment criteria.

    These diverse factors shape what kinds of ideas and praxis become mainstream, and, in turn, influence who become recognized as the key thinkers in a discipline (though, as the exchange in Environment and Planning A 37: 161–187, illustrates, there are certain dangers in trying to name those who are most influential in the discipline). However, as debates about English language and Anglo – American dominance in the production of geographic knowledge have highlighted, knowledge production has both a history and a geography, with some scholars located in key centres, others on the periphery (see Berg and Kearns, 1998; Garcia-Ramon, 2003; Kitchin, 2005; Paasi, 2005). As such, it is important to acknowledge that the production of geoographical knowledge is messy, contingent, relational and political, meaning that any history of the discipline needs to be written in ways that are cognizant of such politics. Key Texts is no exception.

    The authors of the entries in this volume were not asked to explicitly address such issues, but often raise questions of authority, privilege and hierarchy in their contributions. As many acknowledge, it is seldom the case that a book becomes significant because of sheer good fortune. Rather, a book catches and helps further promote the zeitgeist of a particular moment, crystallizing the authors' thoughts at the time, and often many other peoples', working within and outside the discipline. Indeed, it is likely that many conference papers and journal articles preceded the publication of a ‘key text’, especially given how long books take to write. And it is often the case that other related or similar books appeared at roughly the same time. What distinguishes a ‘key text’ – a book that was taken up or ‘enrolled’ within dominant disciplinary networks – is that it said something significant that had widespread appeal and which challenged its readers to think differently about the world. It simply did not repeat arguments emerging within the journal literature, it extended these, amplified them and illustrated them with rich empirical material. Of course, other books might have been saying similar things, but were perhaps saying them less well, with less conviction or were promoting slightly different viewpoints. And while the book's content is the crucial factor determining its reception and uptake, there is no denying that issues of authorship and authority are also significant. In short, it matters who wrote the book. Some books are highly anticipated given their author's existing reputation; others emanate from unheralded sources but become best-selling works. Most, however, are published to indifference, and never achieve anything more than modest sales: the ability of an author to promote their books through their other activities and networking can be vital in ensuring a book has a shelf-life.

    What is clear is that some books emerge to become ‘classics’ within the discipline. The authors of such books may (reluctantly or otherwise) become gatekeepers within the discipline – recognized as ‘key thinkers’ – in the sense both they and their books are held up as promoting a particular way of doing geography. As such, many of the entries in this volume highlight interesting debates about the politics of geographical knowledge production. So too does our choice of key texts. In making the difficult choices we have made about which books are worthy of consideration, we realize that we are not simply reflecting established knowledges, we are actively perpetuating particular value claims about whose views matter, and which books should be read. That given, we are certain that the books we exclude will be as significant for some readers as the books we include – and we hope that these exclusions are interrogated as meaningfully and productively as was the case for the companion work for this text – Key Thinkers on Space and Place (see especially the review forum in Environment and Planning A 37: 161–187). Given the controversy that our selection will undoubtedly excite in some quarters, it is hence necessary to spend some little time outlining the criteria for selection that we have employed in this volume.

    Which Key Texts?

    When drawing up a list of some of the most important texts in human geography, we are forced to make some difficult decisions as to what we understand the boundaries of human geography to be. Indeed, even if we are happy to exclude key texts in physical geography (the subject of a volume yet to come?), there are certainly books on the relation of the physical and human world that have been significant in changing the purview of geographers and their understanding of what the subject matter of the discipline might be. There is also the vexed question of what distinguishes a geographical text from other kinds of text, given many key interventions in debates over space and place have been made by those who do not identify as geographers or claim to be writing for a geographical audience. The boundaries between human geography and planning, urban studies, history, anthropology, sociology, philosophy and area studies have often been highly porous and geographical thinking has certainly borrowed and benefited significantly from texts written by those located in other disciplines.

    Given these fluid and indistinct boundaries, our first criterion for selection was to consider only books written by people who self-identified as geographers, and were writing, first and foremost, for a geographical audience. This is to take a narrow view of the discipline, perhaps, but is in keeping with one of the most widely accepted (if hoary) definitions of geography: that is, geography is what geographers do. Secondly, we limited our choices to books published in English in the last 50 years. While this is a somewhat arbitrary cut-off date, there are good reasons for supposing that students will be most frequently steered towards these texts: many recent, student-friendly histories of the discipline tend to start with the post-war shift from regional description to a theoretically inclined spatial science tradition (i.e. what is commonly referred to as the ‘quantitative revolution’); students are most likely to be steered to books whose ideas still have currency in contemporary debates (and these tend to be the most recently published); many university libraries simply do not have an extensive catalogue of books dating back to the pre-World War Two years, and students undertaking courses in Anglophone countries often lack an advanced proficiency in languages other than English that would prevent them from engaging with non-English texts.

    Within these broad parameters, we still faced difficult decisions about what constituted a ‘key text’ and which ‘key texts’ to include. One strategy to aid our selection might have been to consult the citation rates for different books (i.e. the number of times a book has been referred to in other books and articles). There is some tradition of using citation analysis to identify the ‘weavers and makers’ of human geography (e.g. Bodman, 1991), and online databases and search engines (Google ScholarTM or the ISI Indexes) certainly facilitate such analyses. Yet not all such analyses are robust and reliable, and we should remain mindful that not all citations are favourable. Equally, some books appear to be more cited than read (a charge made in at least one of the chapters in this volume), and self-citation can often inflate the apparent importance of a given text. Suffice to say, most of the books in this volume are well-cited (some more so than others), but not all of the most cited books in geography are included here.

    Another way of honing in on the key texts within the discipline might have been to select the best-selling texts. However, for a variety of reasons, sales might not be a good indicator of significance. As we noted above, textbooks, especially those designed for ‘introduction to human geography’ courses, tend to have significantly more sales than research monographs. This is because monographs are generally targeted at the author's peer group rather than student masses, and so might have limited sales. They might, however, have hundreds more citations than a textbook which sold in far higher numbers (suggesting that they sway more influence). Further, geography books seldom (if ever) break into the best-seller charts, with few geographers ever having adopted the position of a genuine ‘public intellectual’ (see Ward, 2006; Castree, 2006 on public geographies). Some texts may well achieve sales beyond geography, reaching student and academic audiences in cognate disciplines, but very few break through to ‘discerning’ public audiences in the same way that, for example, historical or archaeological books currently do in the UK. This does not mean that the key texts we profile have not sold well, with some featured here having gone to multiple editions and repeat print runs. Irrespective of this, we would claim that the acid test of a key text is not its popularity or citationality, but its longevity; that is to say that their impact is best measured in terms of their influence on subsequent texts.

    While mindful of citations, sales, and longevity, we chose to narrow our selection further by consulting with colleagues from across human geography as to what books they felt merited inclusion based on their experience as researchers and teachers. From that extended list we whittled the books down to the publisher's limit of approximately 25 (given page length constraints). Here, we tried to provide a regular temporal spacing of books, including texts published within each decade; to include texts that were important within specific sub-disciplines as well as human geography as a whole; and to include texts that engaged with and promoted the many ‘-ologies’ and ‘-isms’ that have permeated recent geographical thought. We also took the decision to try to include some quite recent books that we feel have the potential to become ‘key texts’ given their initial reception and how quickly their ideas have permeated the discipline.

    This then is not a random selection of books. It is a set of books that we believe are worth reading, either individually or collectively. Each book has made an important intervention not just within a given sub-discipline (e.g. urban, rural, social, economic, political, historical or cultural geography) but shaped the wider practices and imaginations of human geography. Indeed, if one were to critically read all the books included in this volume, one would have a very good grasp of geographical theory and practice over the past 50 years. It is nonetheless a subjectively derived list and we would in no way claim it is the list of the most influential books in human geography. Other geographers would have of course drawn up their own lists and may be distraught to find some of their favourite texts excluded here (possibly including their own books!) They will no doubt suggest that our list bears the imprint of our own particular exposure to geography through Anglo-American traditions, our own research interests and expertise, our own peer networks – all of which might have impinged on our judgement as to which books have exercised most influence on geographical thought. This is unavoidable, not least because any book published prior to 1990 pre-dates our professional experience in the discipline (indeed the earliest books were written before all three of us were born!). But, for all its flaws, we feel that the 26 entries in this book do some kind of justice to the diversity of human geography practised in the last 50 years, with each having ‘pushed the envelope’ intellectually, methodologically and philosophically, shaping the landscape of human geography as we see it today.

    How to Use This Book

    The most important thing to stress about this book is that it is not intended to substitute for an engagement with the text itself. While each entry provides a synopsis of the book in hand, it is necessarily brief, and often glosses over the nuance of the book's argument in the interests of identifying its essential arguments. The book is designed to be a primer, to be read alongside the text, and seeks to encourage a critically informed engagement and exploration of the intricacies of each book. Each of our entries thus provides useful background context that might help the reader understand the situation within which a particular text was written (i.e. the wider social and political conditions that prevailed at the time, as well as the disciplinary preoccupations which prompted the authorship of that volume). It also considers how the book was received by the wider academic community, noting the way that the book was reviewed and how people reacted to the ideas being forwarded. In many cases, the entry also documents how people engaged with the ideas and took them forward in different ways. Accordingly, each entry considers the way in which the book affected and shaped the geographies that succeeded it, through a critical appraisal of the book's key thematic concerns, its particular approach and espousal of specific philosophies of geographic knowledge production.

    Those asked to write chapters for this volume were asked to do so because we felt they would be able to offer a critical, reflective and balanced assessment of the text in question. Inevitably, many of our authors have written about a book that has profoundly shaped their own life as a geographer, perhaps influencing their own approach to the discipline. Some are explicit about this, and provide a highly personalized account of how the book influenced them; others are less forthcoming, and instead try to produce an account in which their own opinions are harder to discern. But in either case it is highly unlikely that the authors have produced an unbiased interpretation, with most likely to be predisposed towards (or, occasionally, against) the book they are considering. This is unavoidable: as we have stressed, there is no such thing as an objective assessment, and there is no one who is in a position to ultimately determine the value of a text. What therefore needs to be remembered is that each of our entries comes with a point of view that you, and your tutors or colleagues, might not share.

    Our hope is thus that this book will prove a useful companion for students seeking to engage with geography's rich histories (and not a crib that will dispense with the need to actually read each book in question) and might provide a useful template for how students might critically engage with texts in general (indeed a useful exercise is for students to undertake critical reviews of texts not included in this volume). The bibliography that closes each entry consequently offers numerous departure points for further explorations of the text and its author, and throughout we include frequent cross-references to other entries in this volume (as well as the companion text, Key Thinkers on Space and Place). As we suggested above, when we commissioned people to write the entries in this book, we chose people who we felt might have a close knowledge or perhaps even affinity for the book in question. Each is also knowledgable about the place of the book in the wider disciplinary landscape and in the ‘geographical tradition’. Yet we implore students not to take their views for granted, as their summation is not necessarily the one that other geographers might make. Perhaps their reading contradicts your own, or comes to different conclusions. Any one of the books featured here is open to multiple readings, and sometimes even readings that the author never intended. Such is the polysemous nature of text. In the final analysis, we hope that this book provokes people to read and re-read these texts, subject them to discussion and interrogation, and form their own situated interpretations. Perhaps, in time, these engagements might even stimulate the production of new key texts! Whatever, we hope Key Texts is a useful and stimulating text that is much, much more than a lesson in geographical navel-gazing and nostalgia.

    Secondary Sources and References
    Barnes, T. (2002) ‘Performing economic geography: two men, two books and a cast of thousands’, Environment and Planning A34: 487–512.
    Berg, L.D. and Kearns, R.A. (1998) ‘America unlimited’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space16: 128–132.
    Bodman, A. (1991) ‘Weavers of influence: the structure of contemporary geographic research’, Transactions, Institute of British Geographers16: 21–37.
    Castree, N. (2006) ‘Geography's new public intellectuals’, Antipode38: 396–412.
    Garcia-Ramon, M.D. (2003) ‘Globalization and international geography: the questions of languages and scholarly traditions’, Progress in Human Geography27: 1–5.
    Hubbard, P., Kitchin, R.M. and Valentine, G. (2004) Key Thinkers on Space and Place. London: Sage.
    Johnston, R.J. (2006) ‘The politics of changing human geography's agenda: textbooks and the representation of increasing diversity’, Transactions, Institute of British Geographers31: 286–303.
    Kitchin, R. (2005) ‘Disrupting and destabilizing Anglo-American English-language hegemony in geography’, Social & Cultural Geography6: 1–15.
    Paasi, A. (2005) ‘Globalization, academic capitalism and the uneven geographies of international journal publishing spaces’, Environment and Planning A37: 769–789.
    Review Forum: ‘Key Thinkers on Space and Place’, Environment and Planning A37: 161–187.
    Ward, K. (2006) ‘Geography and public policy: towards public geographies’, Progress in Human Geography30: 495–503.

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