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  Concerned with the universal and the general. The term derived from neo-Kantian epistemology, and most notably from an 1894 address by the philosopher Windelband, who used it to signify one of two possible goals of concept formation:

The theoretical interests associated with nomothetic concept formation highlight those common qualities of objects of experience that lead to the formulation of general laws of nature. The process is one of continual abstraction in which the special qualities of an object are filtered out and the object is seen as a general type that exists with certain relations to other, general types. (Entrikin, 1991)Windelband contrasted this with idiographic concept formation, which is concerned to achieve a complete understanding of the individual case (see also Kantianism).

The term gained currency in geography after the middle of the twentieth century, in the wake of the Hartshorne-Schaefer exchange over exceptionalism, when the proponents of spatial science claimed that geography should be directed towards the formulation (rather than simply the application) of scientific theories and laws. Guelke (1977) saw that mid-century debate as being \'of crucial importance in changing the direction of research … away from any consideration of the unique\' and towards the search for general laws of spatial organization (see Golledge and Amedeo, 1968). Much of that search, itself part of the formalization of positivism within geography, took place within the existing framework of location theory; but its rapid extension into the very centre of the discipline and its displacement of more traditional objectives soon produced a host of claims that geography should be concerned with intrinsically spatial theory if it was to be a distinctive science. Harvey\'s Explanation in geography (1969) thus concluded that \'by our theories you shall know us\'. The status of many of these laws and theories was often qualified (see instrumentalism), and their autonomy was challenged by those who thought that \'the spatial position\'s aim of prying apart a subject matter from the systematic sciences by arguing for spatial questions and spatial laws does not seem viable\' (Sack, 1974a, 1974b). Even so, these efforts were a vitally important input to the development of space-time forecasting and also a formative influence on the growth of a greater theoretical awareness within the subject. Today that awareness rarely hinges on any ideographic-nomothetic distinction: interest in the philosophy of realism and in the development of various forms of a contextual approach to human geography, together with a critique of Grand Theory and an interest in situated knowledges, has produced a much more nuanced understanding of both the powers and the limits of \'theory\'. (DG)

References Entrikin, J.N. 1991: The betweenness of place: towards a geography of modernity. London: Macmillan. Golledge, R.G. and Amedeo, D. 1968: On laws in geography. Annals of the Association American Geographers 58: 760-74. Guelke, L. 1977: The role of laws in human geography. Progress in Human Geography 1: 376-86. Harvey, D. 1969: Explanation in geography. London: Edward Arnold. Sack, R. 1974a: Chorology and spatial analysis. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 64: 439-52. Sack, R. 1974b: The spatial separatist theme in geography. Economic Geography 50: 1-19.

Suggested Reading Entrikin (1991), 93-8. Guelke (1977).



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