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cultural geography

  Currently one of the most vibrant and contested sub-fields within human geography, \'cultural geography\' has both a long scholarly tradition and multiple contemporary expressions. While much of human geography today might be characterized as \'cultural\' in focus and content, any single or univocal definition of \'cultural geography\' would be misleading. Despite attempts to resolve recent scholarly disagreement over its scope and methods (Foote et al., 1994) cultural geography today is marked by quite distinct theoretical positions and methodologies.

In Anglophone scholarship, the dominant theoretical tradition within cultural geography has until recently been American, dating from the early decades of the twentieth century; deeper origins may be traced to late nineteenth-century German anthropogeography, such as geographer Friedrich Ratzel\'s (1844-1904) interest in ecological relations between the physical surface of the earth and human cultures combined with the more ethnographic interest in localized human communities promoted by the anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942). The outcome in American geography was a scholarly project emphasizing the active role of human groups in transforming natural environments, interpreting and mapping the cultural ecologies which resulted. Thus, Cultural Geography in many American geography teaching programmes remained synonymous with Human Geography as a whole. The dominant early figure in this North American tradition was undoubtedly Carl O. Sauer whose own writings together with those of subsequent generations of students at Berkeley and other American universities, especially in the west and south, have dealt with a range of human interventions and transformations within the natural world, across regions at various spatial scales on the earth\'s surface.

Conventional themes of cultural geography have included plant and animal domestication; the spatial diffusion of domesticates, technologies and material practices; ecologies of fire and water engineering; modes of agrarian life and human conduct of all kinds that bears upon human occupancy and geographical diversity apparent in landscapes. Strongly critical of a prevailing environmental determinism, Sauer\'s early work was significantly influenced by studies of Native American and Hispanic cultures in the experience and aftermath of Anglo occupation in the American Southwest. From German geography Sauer adopted the concept of Landschaft, which he translated as landscape, outlining a methodology for cultural geography in his 1925 paper \'The morphology of landscape\' (Leighly, 1963). Working empirically and historically mainly in those parts of the Americas strongly influenced by Iberian colonialism, Sauer established strong traditions of field study, language learning and commitment to rural, traditional societies still strongly upheld within cultural ecology research.

Highlighting the impacts of modernization on traditional lifeways, the Sauerian project inevitably raised ethical questions about the impacts of human use of the Earth as a significant theme in cultural geography (cf. ethics and geography). Sauer himself increasingly came to believe that modernity made such impacts more and more destructive, both to what he took to be long-standing and relatively stable folk cultures and to natural environments themselves, and thus to sustainable cultural ecologies. His concern found expression in the conceptually adventurous and hugely influential Man\'s role in changing the face of the Earth (Thomas, 1956), which emerged from a conference for which Sauer had been the guiding spirit. Its essays and discussion pieces demonstrate the breadth of this American conception of cultural geography, its global commitment and Sauer\'s own resistance to many aspects of modern, urbanized life. Revivals of environmental concern in the early 1970s and again in the late 1980s have seen writers within geography and beyond turning to Sauer as a pioneer figure in global and local environmentalism, while the continued significance of this ecological concern is evidenced in a 1990 re-examination of the issues raised in Man\'s role … (Turner et al., 1990).

Despite the criticism from a \'new cultural geography\', the ecological and ethnographic tradition in American cultural geography has been reinvigorated by two streams of thinking in the 1990s. These are a recasting of the epistemological dualism of nature and culture upon which so much of the geographical tradition has conventionally been constructed (Livingstone, 1992), and the influence of post-colonial theory. The first of these impacts, strongly influenced by feminist theory, recognizes both the inevitable cultural appropriation and mediation of the natural world, and that human beings are themselves embodied agents through whom an active nature constantly works. Agency cannot therefore be securely divided between nature and culture, so that all environments and landscapes are co-productions of nature-culture (Latour, 1993; Demeritt, 1994), although conventional ecological theory is but one of a number of metaphors for examining such co-production. This insight is reinforced by the empirical recognition that virtually no ecology has remained uninfluenced by significant human activity, and that the global environmental impact of humans long predates modernity, extending over the Holocene (Roberts, 1998 [1989]; Simmons, 1989), raising questions of judgement that are more political and moral than objectively scientific (Lewis and Wigen, 1997; cf. moral geographies). This in turn may be related to the second recent influence on cultural ecology, insofar as a significant dimension of post-colonial theory is the belief that to represent colonized and supposedly \'aboriginal peoples\' within the language of stable, pre-modern \'folk cultures\' subsisting in ecological harmony with \'nature\', is itself a colonialist manoeuvre, effectively maintaining their status as passive victims of a continued cultural colonization (Gregory, 1994; Harris, 1996) rather than active agents in the evolution and contestation of their own cultural worlds.

Criticism of Sauerian concepts of culture and landscape was a starting point for what has come to be termed \'new cultural geography\' since the 1980s. Influenced by sociological critique within a British \'cultural studies\' tradition more concerned with space and spatiality than with environment and material landscapes, a number of geographers sought to ground a geographical concept of culture in social relations of production and reproduction (Cosgrove, 1983; Cosgrove and Jackson, 1987; Duncan, 1994). In fact, a series of texts in the late 1960s titled Foundations of Cultural Geography (Wagner, 1972) had already begun to address a number of issues such as culture and communication, symbolism and meaning in cultural landscapes, and Identity and territory which \'new\' cultural geographers were calling for in the 1980s, while Glacken\'s Traces on the Rhodian Shore (1967), an intellectual history of European ideas of environmental determinism, a designed earth and human agency in nature, anticipated current scholarly interest in cultural histories of geography and environmental thought (Livingstone, 1992). Nonetheless, much current work in cultural geography is more closely aligned to theory in the social sciences and humanities than to biology and the earth sciences. And while matters of critical contemporary concern are much more evident in cultural geography today, recognition of the importance of the past and the bias towards historically sensitive explanation remain common ground between its different traditions.

The \'cultural turn\' which has not only come to dominate social science and the humanities in the 1990s, but also penetrated ontological and epistemological debates within natural science itself, has encouraged a focus on culture as a signifying process of self, of social group formation, the creation of \'others\' and of worlds of experience. In this formulation, meaning is actively constructed, negotiated and contested, always constituted through the shared discourses of human and non-human agents. Such claims, closely aligned to postmodernist philosophies, challenge many of the conceptual categories of more conventional cultural geography, which has sometimes thus been figured as conservative and theoretically naive. The debate within cultural geography in the early 1990s produced powerful polemics between upholders of a Sauerian tradition which its defenders felt to have been maligned and misrepresented, and those promoting a more explicitly theorized and \'political\' cultural geography (Price and Lewis, 1993; Duncan, 1994). Rereading cultural geography, modelled on the collection edited by Wagner and Mikesell in 1962, which had defined the scope of cultural geography for its time, sought to give expression to both sides of this debate and to secure a resolution to what Duncan (1994) called the \'civil war\' in American cultural geography. The evidence of substantive scholarship rather than theoretical position papers in recent cultural geography suggests that the critique of \'master narratives\' of nature and culture has in fact significantly reconstituted the Sauerian project itself, while pure social construction in its turn has been undermined by arguments about non-human agency and a revived interest in the physicality and embodiment of human agency itself (cf. body, geography and). A convergence of practice, if not of rhetoric, is thus apparent, and while the American Journal of Cultural Geography retains a strong commitment to the research agenda initially set within the Berkeley school, Ecumene, one of a number of cultural geography journals launched in the early 1990s, has styled itself a journal of \'environment, culture and meaning\', thus making clear its commitment to an inclusive cultural geography and inviting theoretically informed, substantive contributions while avoiding explicit political positioning. A parallel French publication, Géographie et Cultures, also established in 1993, carries a broadly similar range of contributions to Ecumene, in each case extending from traditional studies of the visible form and morphology of cultural landscapes or the environmental impact of material cultural practices, to newer themes such as the representation of space and spatialities in literature, iconographic interpretations of topographic forms, memorialization in landscape and cultural hybridity and identity formation in the context of globalization.

New cultural geography has responded to an increasingly self-conscious cultural politics within contemporary social life, especially that of globalized western cities with their vibrantly mixed and hybrid populations, and to the growing demands from formerly subaltern groups that \'voices\' formerly excluded from consideration should find expression and effect. The view of culture as a relatively uniform and normative set of beliefs, values, attitudes, behaviours and artefacts has been revealed as sectionally biased by gender, class, ethnicity, age and bodily facility (cf. disability, geography and) in favour of specific groups, with a consequent shift in the geographies of culture and the cultural questions to be addressed by geographers. Since 1993, the journal Gender, Place and Culture has been a forum for research on gender-connected questions in cultural geography. Like Ecumene, the journal does not confine its contributions to geography, but is actively interdisciplinary within the scope of Cultural Studies, which themselves have shown increased sensitivity to matters of space and geographical context. At the same time, the vastly increased significance of consumption as an activity shaping individual and social life in the modern world allows growing numbers of individuals increased freedom to shape and reshape their identities in different times and places, for example through bodily appearance, sexuality, food or fashion choices, taste in music, entertainment or lifestyle, and to form voluntary associations with others who share such cultural identity. While geographically uneven in their impacts and socially unequal in their consequences, these same processes have led to increased transgression of cultural boundaries previously regarded as relatively fixed in space and stable over time and a growing experience and recognition of cultural hybridity. Cultural geography thus engages with transgressive and hybrid spaces in which cultures are negotiated, fluid and permeable, for example those of homeless, transient, sexually transgressive or postnationalist groups whose spatialities may be quite liminal within the dominant cultural realms previously the focus of geographical concern (Bell and Valentine, 1995; Pile and Thrift, 1995; Cresswell, 1996). Inevitably, such attributes to culture in the contemporary world have stimulated re-evaluation of past cultural geographies too, so that historical geography has also strongly embraced the \'cultural turn\'. This has involved recognizing the contextual, provisional and representational nature of historical sources, stimulating iconographic analysis of past places and landscapes and their representation, especially in maps, thus revitalizing the history of cartography. Emphasis on \'cultures of history\' has led to studies of public memory and heritage and some replacement of historical geography by \'geographies of the past\' (cf. monuments). Geographers\' re-evaluations of past cultural geographies have also been profoundly influenced by post-colonial theory, drawing upon ideas of \'Orientalism,\' \'imaginative geographies,\' and \'transculturation\' (Pratt, 1992) to complicate traditional narratives of cultural dominance and succession during the period of western imperial expansion (Driver, 1992; Gregory, 1994, 1995).

It could almost be argued that the \'cultural turn\' and the influence of postmodernism have so impacted upon human geography that \'all is cultural now\'. Some indeed have expressed concern that through its emphasis on cultural interpretation human geography risks losing sight of its former explicit concerns with economic, political and social questions. Yet contemporary trends in economy and society such as globalization, bringing peoples into ever closer and more immediate contact with one another, the growth and economic significance of such \'culture industries\' as advertising, the arts, sport and media in many economies, the social impacts of virtual space and information technologies, and the end of geopolitical domination by socio-economic ideologies, have all contributed to a material increase in the significance of cultural matters within human affairs at the turn of the millennium and account for the significant increase of interest in geographical questions of space, place and territoriality within Cultural Studies more broadly, promoting a two-way exchange of ideas and findings with cultural geography. Formal recognition by the International Geographical Union of the renewed significance of cultural geography was signalled in 1996 by the establishment of a Study Group to promote international scholarship in this area. The current pertinence of cultural questions in all parts of the world, for example in a western Europe dealing with issues of unification, non-European immigration and multicultural urban society (Claval, 1995), a former communist Eastern bloc dealing with revived ethnic Nationalism, or Islamic regions facing cultural critiques of modernity from religious groups, provides ample justification for this move, and evidence that cultural geography is a vital and productive expression of current geographical imagination and concern. (DEC)

References Bell, D. and Valentine, G., eds, 1995: Mapping desire: geographies of sexualities. London and New York: Routledge. Claval, P. 1995: La géographie culturelle. Paris: Nathan. Cosgrove, D. 1983: Towards a radical cultural geography: problems of theory Antipode 15: 1-11. Cosgrove, D. and Jackson, P. 1987: New directions in cultural geography. Area 19: 95-101. Cresswell, T. 1996: In place, out of place: geography, ideology and transgression. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press. Demeritt, D. 1994: The nature of metaphors in cultural geography and environmental history. Progress in Human Geography 18: 163-85. Driver, F. 1992: Geography\'s empire: histories of geographical knowledge; Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 10: 23-40. Duncan, J. 1994: After the civil war: reconstructing cultural geography as heterotopia. In K. Foote et al., eds, Re-reading cultural geography, Austin: University of Texas Press, 401-8. Foote, K., Hugill, P., Mathewson, K. and Smith, J., eds, 1994: Rereading cultural geography, Austin: University of Texas Press. Glacken, C. 1967: Traces on the Rhodian shore: nature and culture in western thought from ancient times to the end of the eighteenth century. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell. Gregory, D. 1995: Imaginative geographies. Progress in Human Geography 19: 447-85. Harris, C. 1996: The resettlement of British Columbia: essays on colonialism and geographical change. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. Latour, B. 1993: We have never been modern. New York and London: Harvester Wheatsheaf. Leighly, J. 1963. Land and life: a selection from the writings of Carl Ortwin Sauer. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Lewis, M. and Wigen, K. 1997: The myth of continents: a critique of metageography. Berkeley and London: University of California Press. Livingstone, D. 1992: The geographical tradition: episodes in the history of a contested enterprise. Oxford: Blackwell. Pile, S. and Thrift, N. 1995: Mapping the subject: geographies of cultural transformation. London and New York: Routledge. Pratt. M. 1992 : Imperial eyes: studies in travel writing and transculturation. London and New York: Routledge. Price, M. and Lewis, M. 1993: The reinvention of cultural geography. Annals, Association of American Geographers 83: 1-17. Roberts, N. 1998 [1989]: The Holocene: an environmental history, 2nd edn. Oxford: Blackwell. Simmons, I.G. 1989: Changing the face of the earth: culture, environment, history. Oxford: Blackwell. Thomas, W.L. 1956: Man\'s role in changing the face of the earth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Turner, B.L. II et al., eds, 1990: The earth as transformed by human action: global and regional changes in the biosphere over the past 300 years. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wagner, P. 1972: Environments and peoples. Foundations of cultural geography series. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. Wagner, P. and Mikesell, M., eds, 1962: Readings in Cultural Geography. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Reading: Duncan, J. and Ley, D., eds, 1993: Place/Culture/Representation. London: Routledge. Claval (1995). Cresswell (1996). Foote et al. (1994). Pile and Thrift (1995).



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