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radical geography

  A term introduced in the 1970s to describe the increasing volume of geographical writing critical of spatial science and of positivism as the philosophy which dominated the discipline\'s research methods then. The critique began within the contemporary liberal concerns of society, but later coalesced around a belief in the power of Marxian analyses (Peet, 1998; see Marxian economics; Marxist geography) and focused on the pages of Antipode: a radical journal of geography (founded in 1969 but with little Marxist material in its earliest issues, and with more focus on race than class).

By the late 1980s, Walker (1989a, p. 620) concluded that what he termed \'left geography\' had \'edged towards the mainstream\' of the discipline\'s work: it can, he contends, \'claim a good deal of credit for broadening the intellectual respectability of the geographic enterprise outside the discipline in recent years, and can claim a measure of intellectual leadership and even hegemony within certain geographic subfields\': according to Peet (1998, p. 109), \'Radical and Marxist geography responded to the political events of the 1960s and early 1970s in ways which transformed the discipline.\'

Origins of the radical geography movement can be traced to concern in the late 1960s, especially in the USA, over three political issues — the Vietnam war, civil rights (especially of American blacks) and continued pervasive poverty and inequality at all spatial scales, all of which were stimulating social unrest. Out of these evolved a more general critique of capitalist society, so that radical geography developed largely as \'a negative reaction to the established discipline\' (Peet, 1977): it promoted the study of topics such as poverty, hunger, health and crime by human geographers, who had previously largely ignored them. Led by Harvey (1973) and others, that critical stance was incorporated into a theoretical base which sought, again quoting Peet, to create a \'radical science, which seeks not only to explain what is happening but also to prescribe revolutionary change\': Marxism was the favoured theoretical structure (Harvey, 1982), and class analysis the preferred approach to a wide range of topics covering virtually the whole of the discipline (as Walker\'s, 1989a, review shows).

Much of the radical critique of the mainstream human geography of the 1960s and 1970s became fairly widely accepted within the discipline, even if the radicals\' revolutionary goals were not, so that, according to Peet and Thrift (1989), by the 1980s it had become less combative, for four reasons: (a) Marxist thought was itself subject to powerful critiques; (b) the failure of socialist-inspired states made the revolutionary goals less certain; (c) the discipline had become more professional and less accepting of radicals; and (d) a number of the 1960s-1970s radicals had joined the disciplinary \'establishment\'. Other lines of radical critique were being developed, however, notably in feminist geography, only parts of which were allied to the traditional \'left-wing\' causes (McDowell, 1993a, 1993b) and which has also stimulated significant transformations within the discipline, and in studies stimulated by the post-colonialism literature, which focus on a particular aspect of capitalist society and have a strong base in the humanities as well as the social sciences (cf. imperialism).

By the end of the 1980s, various authors were relabelling radical geography — Peet and Thrift termed it \'the political-economy perspective\', for example — whereas others (notably Harvey) pressed for a continued commitment to a Marxist perspective and theoretical foundation, which he, unlike many others, did not find antithetical to the criticisms of attempts to develop \'Grand Theory\' coming from the adherents to postmodernism (on which see Harvey, 1989, and the debate in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 1987, stimulated by his critique of British urban studies: Harvey, 1987). The fall of the state apparatus practising socialism in the USSR and eastern Europe at the end of the decade also caused some to reconsider (e.g. Walker, 1989b); Sayer and Folke (1991) concluded that whereas some people interpret the events of 1989-91 as \'the final victory for capitalism\', for them \'For decades all discussions in our part of the world about socialism have been marred by the bureaucratic and oppressive character of the “real, existing socialism”. Now the slate is clean. Let us try a fresh start!\'

This \'fresh start\' has involved a number of strategies. Sayer (1995), for example, has explored new directions for radical political economy in the understanding of various modes of production, whereas others have promoted what has been termed critical human geography, which questions the foundations of contemporary societies (arguing that what is should not be equated with what ought to be). Similarly, the cultural turn is promoting new paths to understanding and shares the \'radical tradition\' of questioning how society is structured and organized and individuals are treated within it. Together, these new trends have directed attention away from oppression within capitalist society and into wider concerns of identity politics (cf. activism and the academy; positionality). (RJJ)

References Harvey, D. 1973: Social justice and the city. London: Edward Arnold. Harvey, D. 1982: The limits to capital. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Harvey, D. 1987: Three myths in search of a reality in urban studies. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 5: 367-76. Harvey, D. 1989: The condition of postmodernity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. McDowell, L. 1993a: Space, place and gender relations: Part I. Feminist empiricism and the geography of social relations. Progress in Human Geography 17: 157-79. McDowell, L. 1993b: Space, place and gender relations: Part II. Identity, difference, feminist geometries and geographies. Progress in Human Geography. 17: 305-18. Peet, R. 1977: Radical geography: alternative viewpoints on contemporary social issues. Chicago: Maaroufa; London: Methuen. Peet, R. 1998: Modern geographic thought. Oxford and Boston: Blackwell. Peet, R. and Thrift, N.J. 1989: Political economy and human geography. In R. Peet and N.J. Thrift, eds, New models in geography, volume 1. Boston and London: Unwin Hyman, 3-29. Sayer, A. 1995: Radical political economy. London: Routledge. Sayer, A. and Folke, S. 1991: What\'s left to do? Two views from Europe. Antipode 23, 240-8. Walker, R.A. 1989a: Geography from the left. In G.L. Gaile and C.J. Willmott, eds, Geography in America. Columbus: Merrill Publishing Co., 619-50. Walker, R.A. 1989b: What\'s left to do. Antipode 21: 133-65.



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