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  Theories — sometimes called \'meta-theories\' — which seek to answer \'the question of what the world must be like for knowledge to be possible\' (Bhaskar, 1978; cf. epistemology). Bhaskar contends that \'every account of science presupposes an ontology\' and distinguishes three broad ontological traditions within the philosophy of science:

Classical empiricism, in which \'the ultimate objects of knowledge are atomistic events\'. From this perspective, Bhaskar claims, \'knowledge and the world may be viewed as surfaces whose points are in isomorphic correspondence\': there is a direct, one-to-one relation between them (see also positivism).

Transcendental idealism, in which the ultimate objects of knowledge are artificial constructs — models and idealizations — imposed upon the world. From this perspective, \'knowledge is seen as a structure rather than a surface\', but a structure which is constituted by the thinking subject (see also Kantianism).

Transcendental realism, which regards the ultimate objects of knowledge as \'the structures and mechanisms that generate phenomena\' and which are intransitive in the sense that \'such objects exist and act independently of their identification\'.

Bhaskar himself endorses the third and claims that a concept of ontological depth — of \'the multi-tiered stratification of reality\' — is indispensable for the natural, the social and the human sciences (Bhaskar, 1979). An outline example is given in the first figure: thus analysis conducted under the sign of realism is directed towards the elucidation of structures which possess specific \'causal powers\'; these powers are realized under specific conditions through mechanisms that generate a pattern of empirical events. This is the barest of skeletons, however, and Keat and Urry (1981) emphasize that a realist philosophy in this general sense does not provide \'a ready-made social ontology and a set of substantive theoretical propositions about the social world\'. One possible — and still highly simplified — mapping of this model is shown in the second figure (Gregory, 1985). It is important to understand that, from this perspective, \'it is not the character of science that imposes a determinate pattern or order upon the world; but the order of the world that, under certain determinate conditions, makes possible the cluster of activities that we call “science”\' (Bhaskar, 1978; see also Bhaskar, 1986).

{img src=show_image.php?name=bkhumgeofig50.gif }

ontology 1: A realist ontology: structures, mechanism and events (after Sayer, 1984)

{img src=show_image.php?name=bkhumgeofig51.gif }

ontology 2: Realism and strategies for geographical enquiry (Gregory, 1985, p.72)

Although Bhaskar intended to explore the possibility of naturalism within the human and social sciences, and in this sense moves in a radically different direction from Husserl and his followers, a recognition of the fundamental and foundational role of ontology is also the starting-point for phenomenology. Within human geography Pickles (1985) has drawn upon Husserl\'s writings to indicate the importance of regional ontologies for the \'grounding\' of empirical inquiry. These \'regions\' are not those of regional geography: the object of the exercise is to identify, through philosophical reflection, spaces (\'regions\') in which particular knowledges are made possible. Pickles particularly wanted to challenge research programmes that \'impose constructions on phenomena without the careful and necessary prior clarification, through descriptive phenomenology, of the domain of the phenomenon under consideration\'. In the case of human geography, so he claimed, those who were committed to spatial science had \'unreflectively adopted an ontology of physical nature as the fundamental and underlying logic of geographical discourse and inquiry\'. In his view, this physical ontology was derived from a Kantianism which stood in the closest of associations to Newtonian conceptions of space, and for this reason took \'human spatiality to be the same as, or a modification (or distortion) of, the spatiality appropriate to the physical world\'. Pickles accepted that \'if spatial organization and interaction, conceived geometrically, are fundamental, and if the ontology of material nature and Newtonian space on which they are predicated is unquestioned, then modelling such spaces is an exercise in social physics\' (see also macrogeography). But if this implication is rejected, as Pickles insisted it should be, then \'it becomes necessary to rethink not merely methodology but also ontology: to fashion a place-centred ontology of human spatiality for a geographical human science\'.

It is precisely this task that was taken up by Pickles\'s colleague Schatzki (1991) in his account of \'spatial ontology\'. He drew on Heidegger (rather than Husserl) to distinguish between objective space (which is composed by or contains \'objects\' including human beings) and social space, which he conceived as the opening and occupation of sites for human existence: of places which are the preconditions for particular human activities to (literally) take place. This is a profoundly ontological claim, for Schatzki is arguing that \'human existence ipso facto constitutes a space\', that \'human agency is always embedded within a space which it shapes and is shaped by\', and it is within this social space (not \'objective space\') that overlapping and hierarchical webs of interconnection are inscribed to constitute \'social reality\' (see also existentialism).

Other writers have been equally critical of spatial science and made similar claims about the importance of social space and spatiality, but by no means all of them would accept the foundational claims advanced above: in particular, postmodernism, post-structuralism and pragmatism have all encouraged a profound scepticism towards foundationalism. Perhaps the most provocative departure from the \'depth ontologies\' proposed by Bhaskar and Sayer, and from the distinctively \'human and social\' spatialities pursued by Pickles and Schatzki, is the so-called weak ontology that Thrift (1996) places at the centre of non-representational theory. It is only a departure of sorts; as Thrift concedes, it owes something to Bhaskar\'s more recent writings and to Heidegger\'s phenomenology of \'dwelling\', and works — subversively — in the space between them. Its implications, in consequence, may turn out to be extremely radical and far-reaching. Unlike realism, for example, it provides a \'flattened\' ontology and so underwrites a new analytics of the surface: non-representational theory, Thrift (1998) explains, is anchored in an -irreducible ontology of fluid encounters, juxtapositions and divergences, a fibrous, thread-like, capillary space-time. And unlike humanistic geography\'s appropriations of phenomenology, weak ontology replaces the separations between \'culture\' and \'nature\' by incorporating non-human actants of all kinds into the world in which human beings have to go on. As Whatmore (1998) shows, this project is nothing less than an attempt to \'re-cognize\' the human by fabricating — both intellectually and practically — \'hybrid geographies\' (see also actor-network theory): but it is also an attempt to establish an avowedly political and ethical ontology. (DG)

References Bhaskar, R. 1978: A realist theory of science. Brighton: Harvester. Bhaskar, R. 1979: The possibility of naturalism: a philosophical critique of the human sciences. Brighton: Harvester. Bhaskar, R. 1986: Scientific realism and human emancipation. London: Verso. Gregory, D. 1985: People, places and practices: the future of human geography. In R. King, ed., Geographical futures. Sheffield: Geographical Association. Keat, R. and Urry, J. 1981: Social theory as science, 2nd edn. London: Routledge. Pickles, J. 1985: Phenomenology, science and geography: spatiality and the human sciences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Sayer, A. 1984: Method in social science: a realist approach. London: Hutchinson. Schatzki, T. 1991: Spatial ontology and explanation. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 81: 650-70. Thrift, N. 1996: Spatial formations. London: Sage. Thrift, N. 1998: Steps to an ecology of place. In D. Massey, J. Allen and P. Sarre, eds, Human geography today. Cambridge: Polity Press, 295-322. Whatmore, S. 1998: Hybrid geographies: rethinking the \'human\' in human geography. In D. Massey, J. Allen and P. Sarre, eds, Human geography today. Cambridge: Polity Press, 22-39.

Suggested Reading Bhaskar (1979). Pickles (1985). Schatzki (1991); Whatmore (1998).



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