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  A specific series of representations, practices and performances through which meanings are produced, connected into networks and legitimized. Different fields and disciplines have worked with different, usually more detailed definitions of \'discourse\' (see Mills, 1997), but in the most general terms something like this definition seems to have the most currency within human geography. The following, more particular, characterizations can be derived from it (though by no means all scholars would accept every one of them):

Discourses are heterogeneous: discourses are not the product of a single author, and neither are they confined to (for example) literary texts, or archives, or scientific statements, but instead travel through different domains and registers and carry multiple meanings and implications.

Discourses are regulated: discourses have coherence and systematicity, though they may be (and usually are) contradictory, and are marked through their own \'regimes of truth\' that police the boundaries between inside and outside — to legislate inclusions and exclusions — and to establish criteria of acceptability.

Discourses are embedded: discourses are not free-floating constructions but are materially implicated in the conduct of social life; they are embedded in institutions and subject-positions but typically cut across and circulate through multiple institutions and subject-positions.

Discourses are situated: discourses always provide partial, situated knowledges, and as such they are always characterized by particular constellations of power and knowledge and are always open to contestation and negotiation.

Discourses are performative: discourses have (variable) meaning, force and effect; they constitute the \'objects\' of which they speak and enter into the (variable) constitution of \'the social\' and \'the self\' (cf. performativity).

Most of these characterizations derive from post-structuralism. Taken together, they enable us to understand \'how what is said fits into a network that has its own history and conditions of existence\' (Barrett, 1992). Such a discursive network also has its own geography and a central concern of critical human geography is to elucidate the connections between power, knowledge and spatiality.

These ideas have been particularly helpful for a revivified history of geography. No longer content with a recitation of \'founding figures\', a succession of \'schools\' or a parade of paradigms, some scholars have sought to recover the production of geographical knowledges as discourses. This has allowed a much more heterogeneous conception of the field to emerge. There has been a lively debate about intellectual histories that limited their accounts to a nominally \'scientific\' view of geography and excluded travel writing, for example, even though these discourses intersected with \'scientific\' discourse in complex ways (Blunt, 1995). There has also been considerable interest in specifying the complicity of human geography in the discourses of colonialism and imperialism (see post-colonialism) and in exposing the ways in which the most powerful, socially sanctioned and institutionalized geographical knowledges (those that constituted \'the discipline\') virtually effaced the part played by non-western subjects in their production and erased the traces of their supposedly \'marginal\' knowledges (Barnett, 1998). These are matters of more than historical interest, however, and theories of discourse have played an important part in exposing the asymmetries of power that are inscribed within contemporary geographical discourses (notably ethnocentrism and phallocentrism), elucidating the role of rhetoric — and of poetics more generally — in legitimizing intellectual practice (Crush, 1991) and in allowing ideology to congeal as \'unexamined discourse\' (Gregory, 1978).

These are also matters of more than academic interest. Discourses shape the contours of the taken-for-granted world: they \'naturalize\' and often implicitly universalize a particular view of the world and position subjects differentially within it. Theories of discourse have thus greatly enlarged the interpretative horizon of human geography, where they have been used to explore (for example) the performative function of representations of space within legal discourse (Blomley, 1994) or the ways in which rival discourses about work and the workplace shape local labour markets and economic landscapes (Herod, 1998). They also occupy a central place within studies of subject-formation (see subject-formation, geographies of). (DG)

References Barrett, M. 1992: The politics of truth: from Marx to Foucault. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Barnett, C. 1998: Impure and worldly geography: the Africanist discourse of the Royal Geographical Society, 1831-73. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 23: 239-52. Blomley, N. 1994: Law, space and geographies of power.New York: Guilford Press. Blunt, A. 1995: Travel, gender and imperialism. New York: Guilford Press. Crush, J. 1991: The discourse of progressive human geography. Progress in Human Geography 15: 395-414. Driver, F. 1992: Geography\'s empire: histories of geographical knowledge. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 10: 23-40. Gregory, D. 1978: Ideology, science and human geography. London: Hutchinson; New York: St. Martin\'s Press. Herod, A. 1998: Discourse on the docks: containerization and inter-union work disputes in US ports, 1955-1985. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 23: 177-91. Mills, S. 1997: Discourse. London and New York: Routledge.

Suggested Reading Barnett (1998). Mills (1997).



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