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humanistic geography

  An approach to human geography distinguished by the central and active role it gives to human awareness and human agency, human consciousness and human creativity. Humanistic geography emerged in the Anglo-American discipline during the 1970s and was advertised as offering \'an expansive view of what the human person is and can do\' (Tuan, 1976) and as an attempt at \'understanding meaning, value and [the] human significance of life events\' (Buttimer, 1979). At the time humanistic geographers often traced the roots of their concerns back to the French school of human geography, but Vidal de la Blache\'s writings bear many of the hallmarks of functionalism and of what Duncan (1980) called the \'superorganic\' that most humanistic geographers would presumably repudiate. Whatever the strength of the French connection, it was claimed that humanistic geography (especially where it was informed by symbolic interactionism) was also heir to the neo-Kantianism and pragmatism of Park and the Chicago school of sociology: \'Park\'s practical concerns clearly have immense contemporary relevance, offering the basis of a much-needed methodological armoury capable of sustaining the variety of humanistic philosophies currently pervading social geography\' (Jackson and Smith, 1984).

However profitably these twin legacies might be invested — and the others that might be discovered: the gentle anarchism of Kropotkin and Reclus, for example, or the sensibilities of Fleure and Herbertson — it is clear that the formalization and advance of humanism in Anglo-American geography sprang from a deep dissatisfaction with the \'new geography\' of the 1960s and its concerted reformulation of the discipline as spatial science. Humanistic geography shared in the critique of positivism and was for a time represented as \'a form of criticism\' through which \'geographers can be made more self-aware and cognizant of many of the hidden assumptions and implications of their methods and research\', rather than as a coherent and serviceable \'methodology for the “postbehavioural revolution” in geography\' (Entrikin, 1976).

Yet humanistic geography was always intended as much more than a critical philosophy. Insofar as it was also a rejection of the prevailing geometric paradigm in which men and women were assumed to respond passively to the dictates of universal spatial structures and abstract spatial logics, it was at the same time a claim for what its architects believed to be a \'truly human geography\' concerned with the social construction and experience of place, space and landscape rather than the spatial confinement of peoples and societies (see, e.g., Tuan, 1977). During the next ten years humanistic geography moved far from the base-line plotted by Entrikin, and drew its strength from two main sources.

The first source for humanistic geography was provided by the humanities, which Meinig (1983) characterized as \'that special body of knowledge, reflection and substance about human experience and human expression, about what it means to be a human being on this earth\'. He had most prominently in mind the study of literature and history, and made much of the interpretative sensibilities of scholars in these disciplines. The favoured methods were usually those of hermeneutics and mainstream historiography: a close and careful reading of texts in which geographers were urged to listen carefully to the murmur of voices in the cultural archive. This style of humanistic geography had such a close interest in the recovery of the sedimented layers of meanings and actions embedded in places and landscapes that it was in practice intimately associated with historical geography (Harris, 1978; Meinig, 1979). Many of its authors shared a deep concern with particularity and specificity, rather than with general theories of spatial organization, and often preferred to avoid any kind of formalization altogether. This diffidence was perhaps most obvious in humanistic geography\'s early engagements with literature (Pocock, 1981). Once humanistic geographers had recognized that the humanities could also be \'theoretical\' in at least some of their sensibilities, however, many of them started to work with concepts from literary theory and art theory (see art, geography and) to provide sophisticated readings of cultural landscapes as texts and as images (cf. Daniels, 1985).

The second source for humanistic geography was provided by the social sciences, where theoretical self-consciousness was always much more visible. To be sure, many writers insisted that there was literally a world of difference between the high-level abstractions of spatial science and its successor projects — so-called Grand Theory — and the more modest, \'grounded\' theories that they believed were more appropriate for humanistic inquiry (Ley, 1989). One of their central concerns was the clarification of the \'theoretical attitude\' itself through a critical reflection underwritten by phenomenology (Christensen, 1982). Empirical studies were often informed by conceptual frameworks derived from ethnomethodology and symbolic interactionism; their interpretative methods were typically those of ethnography (Smith, 1984; Pile 1991). This style of humanistic geography paid close attention to the social construction of places and the incursions of rationalized, even \'placeless\' landscapes into the social topographies of the lifeworld and the taken-for-granted world, so that it was closely associated with contemporary social geography (see, for example, Ley, 1978; Relph, 1981; Western, 1981; cf. placelessness).

Even as they formed, these two streams from the humanities and the social sciences braided into one another (see Ley and Samuels, 1978). One important series of cross-currents emerged in the 1980s out of an interest in historical geographies of class struggle, inspired by E.P. Thompson\'s avowedly socialist-humanist history and the central credo of historical materialism: namely, people make history (and geography) but not just as they please and not under conditions of their own choosing. Thompson\'s writings were distinguished by their elegance and attentiveness to the creative capacities of ordinary language to capture the ebb and flow of historical eventuation, and Thompson himself made no secret of his hostility to formal or \'high\' theory. And yet within the social sciences a parallel body of social theory was under construction that promised to illuminate the changing intersections between \'agency\' (the actions of men and women) and \'structure\' (the formations of capitalism). The stage was thus set for an encounter between historical materialism and humanistic geography in which the pivot was provided by what came to be called structuration theory (Gregory, 1981; Kobayashi and Mackenzie, 1989).

Another series of cross-currents emerged in the 1990s through the construction of a \'new\' cultural geography and the extraordinary growth of an inter-disciplinary \'cultural studies\', but these turned out to be much more turbulent for humanistic geography. The so-called \'cultural turn\' has made it immensely difficult to identify a distinctively humanistic geography, so much so that it would now probably be more meaningful to speak of various \'post-humanistic geographies\'. There has certainly been no shortage of \'posts-\', and many scholars who had been closely associated with the development of humanistic geography were subsequently drawn to postmodernism and even post-structuralism (see Barnes and Duncan, 1992; Duncan and Ley, 1993). Post-humanism, like the other \'posts-\', effectively radicalizes the prior term, so that many of the concerns of humanistic geography have undoubtedly helped to forge a generalized sensibility within the discipline at large. But in doing so those concerns have been subject to critical reflection and reformulation. There have been three main axes of critique:

First, a revivified history of geography has helped to rewrite the historiography of humanism. This has involved more than new interpretations of Vidal de la Blache or Robert Park (important though these have been). In particular, Cosgrove (1989) traced humanism back to the European Renaissance and showed that it was implicated in the very geometricization of knowledge which, in its modern geographical form, it sought to contest. The sovereign subject of Renaissance humanism was, significantly, European and male, and intellectual historians and literary scholars have provided artful demonstrations of the ways in which these (and other) cultural markings inflected the knowledges produced under its authorizing sign (cf. historicism). These revisionist historiographies have fed into:

Secondly, a powerful anti-humanism which has challenged the concept of the human subject that lies at the heart of humanistic geography. There had been an earlier and largely indecisive tussle over one version of anti-humanism, in which a deeply passionate critique of structural Marxism in human geography was met with a no less passionate response (Duncan and Ley, 1982; Chouinard and Fincher, 1983). But the rise of poststructuralism has had a far more decisive impact on the discipline. The central charge is that the subject of humanism was a fiction constructed through an ideology which suppressed the multiple ways in which human subjects are constructed: these erasures both promoted and privileged a white, masculine, bourgeois, heterosexual subject as the norm (Rose, 1993) (see also epistemology). It is plainly impossible to found a \'truly human geography\' on a series of exclusions, as the critique from feminist geography has shown, and in order to understand the complexity and heterogeneity of subject-formation many geographers have since been drawn to an exploration of the spaces within which and through which these processes literally take place: hence the project of \'mapping the subject\' (Pile and Thrift, 1995) (see also subject formation, geographies of).

Thirdly, humanistic geography is criticized for a superficial understanding of human action. Humanistic geography drew much of its intellectual power from its critique of another fictional subject: \'rational economic man\' who was located at the core of mainstream spatial science. Much of the reconstructive work of humanistic geography was predicated on the claim that the creativity and diversity of human agency could not be restricted to the operation of such a narrowly instrumental rationality; the purposes and meanings embedded in human action were not confined to a peculiarly economic, means-ends calculus of utility maximization. In substituting a richer range of motivations and satisfactions, however, humanistic geography typically retained a focus on intentions; even when conceptual space was made for the unintended consequences of action, as it was in structuration theory, it was still assumed that the origins of human action lay in human consciousness. In short, humanistic geography, like human geography more generally, drew back from an engagement with the unconscious. Perhaps this reticence was in part the product of the discipline\'s earlier forays into behavioural geographies which seemed to differ so little from the mechanistic models of spatial science (see Ley, 1981). Post-humanistic geography is increasingly informed by an interest in psychoanalytic theory (here too the intersections with feminist geographies are particularly significant), and thereby seeks to illuminate the ways in which desire and fantasy animate human action (Pile, 1996). (DG)

References Barnes, T. and Duncan, J., eds, 1992: Writing worlds: discourse, text and metaphor in the representation of landscape. London and New York: Routledge. Buttimer, A. 1979: Reason, rationality and human creativity. Geografiska Annaler 61B: 43-9. Chouinard, V. and Fincher, R. 1983: A critique of \'Structural Marxism and human geography\'. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 73: 137-46. Christensen, K. 1982: Geography as a human science: a philosophical critique of the positivist-humanist split. In P. Gould and G. Olsson, eds, A search for common ground. London: Pion, 37-57. Cosgrove, D. 1989: Historical considerations on humanism, historical materialism and geography. In A. Kobayashi and S. Mackenzie, eds, Rethinking human geography. London: Unwin Hyman. Daniels, S. 1985: Arguments for a humanistic geography. In R.J. Johnston, eds, The future of geography. London: Methuen, 143-58. Duncan, J. 1980: The superorganic in American cultural geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 70: 181-98. Duncan, J. and Ley, D. 1982: Structural Marxism and human geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 72: 30-59. Duncan, J. and Ley, D., eds, 1993: Place/culture/ representation. London and New York: Routledge. Entrikin, J.N. 1976: Contemporary humanism in geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66: 615-32. Gregory, D. 1981: Human agency and human geography. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 6: 1-16. Harris, R.C. 1978: The historical mind and the practice of geography. In D. Ley and M. Samuels, eds, Humanistic geography: prospects and problems. London: Croom Helm, 123-37. Jackson, P. and Smith, S.J. 1984: Exploring social geography. London and Boston: Allen & Unwin. Kobayashi, A. and Mackenzie, S., eds, 1989: Remaking human geography. London: Allen & Unwin. Ley, D. 1978: Social geography and social action. In D. Ley and M. Samuels, eds, Humanistic geography: prospects and problems. London: Croom Helm, 41-57. Ley, D. 1981: Behavioural geography and the philosophies of meaning. In K. Cox and R. Golledge, eds, Behavioral problems in geography revisited. London: Methuen, 209-30. Ley, D. 1989: Fragmentation, coherence and the limits to theory in human geography. In A. Kobayashi and S. Mackenzie, eds, Remaking human geography. London: Allen and Unwin, 223-44. Ley, D. and Samuels, M., eds, 1978: Humanistic geography: prospects and problems. London: Croom Helm. Meinig, D., ed., 1979: The interpretation of ordinary landscapes. New York: Oxford University Press. Meinig, D. 1983: Geography as an art. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 8: 314-28. Pile, S. 1991: Practising interpretative geography. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 16: 458-69. Pile, S. 1996: The body and the city: psychoanalysis, space and subjectivity. London and New York: Routledge. Pile, S. and Thrift, N.J., eds, 1995: Mapping the subject: geographies of cultural transformation. London and New York: Routledge. Pocock, D., ed., 1981: Humanistic geography and literature: essays on the experience of place. London: Croom Helm. Relph, E. 1981: Rational landscapes and humanistic geography. London: Croom Helm. Rose, G. 1993: Feminism and geography: the limits of geographical knowledge. Cambridge: Polity Press. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Smith, S. 1984: Practicing humanistic geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 74: 353-74. Tuan, Y.-F. 1976: Humanistic geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 66: 266-76. Tuan, Y.-F. 1977: Space and place: the perspective of experience. London: Edward Arnold. Western J. 1981: Outcast Cape Town. London: Allen & Unwin.

Suggested Reading Cloke, P., Philo, C. and Sadler, D. 1991: Approaching human geography: an introduction to contemporary theoretical debates. London: Paul Chapman; New York: Guilford Press, ch. 3. Kobayashi and Mackenzie (1989). Ley and Samuels (1978). Pile (1996), 45-70.



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