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science, geography and (including science studies)

  The history of the relationship between geography and science has been complex, multifaceted, and asymmetrical. Since its formal institutionalization, geography has usually identified with science, sometimes reacted against it, but never ignored it. In contrast, modern science has all but ignored geography.

Identification with science was there from the beginning, or even before the beginning according to Livingstone (1992, ch. 2). Renaissance mapmakers were central to early European geographical explorations, which, in turn, formed \'the very roots of modern science\' (Livingstone, 1992, p. 61; cf. cartography, history of). One outcome of those explorations was European imperialism, and here too geography was closely linked. Livingstone (1992, p. 190) calls \'geography … the science of imperialism par excellence \'. The \'new geography\' of the nineteenth century, and its associated scientific skills of topographic and social surveying (cf. survey analysis), cartography, and regional resource inventory techniques, was made for the colonial project (Hudson, 1977; see colonialism; commercial geography).

A different form of identification between geography and science emerged in the late 1950s when some in the discipline began explicitly to adopt its techniques, methods, and philosophy (see quantitative revolution and spatial science). Coming to dominate human geography by the late 1960s, the culmination of scientific geography was David Harvey\'s (1969) celebratory tome Explanation in geography, a primer on everything anyone might want to know about science and spatial relations. In retrospect, the timing of Harvey\'s book could scarcely have been worse (a fact Harvey in effect acknowledged by his disavowal of traditional, \'bourgeois\' ideological science just four years after its publication for a different definition of science altogether, scientific Marxism: see Marxian economics; Marxist geography). First, science had nothing to say about a range of vexing social issues (e.g. chronic poverty or slum housing), and about which geographers were increasingly concerned (the so-called \'relevance debate\' which was a precursor to Harvey\'s full-blown Marxism). Second, and of more enduring effect although never really taken up by Harvey himself, were the increasing number and severity of criticisms made by historians and sociologists of science of the very philosophical justification of the scientific method based upon rationality, objectivity, and truth seeking.

The origins of those criticisms are in Thomas Kuhn\'s (1922-97) work on the history of science in which he argued that the paradigms in which scientific theories are embedded are:

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } incommensurable with one another because their core values and assumptions cannot by their very nature be compared; and {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } incapable of final empirical validation because facts are not independent of the theories that they are used to test (Kuhn, 1962).Therefore, science cannot be conceived as Harvey and others originally suggested. Science does not progress towards ultimate objective truth because scientific theories can be neither directly compared nor proven (cf. teleology). Kuhn\'s work, in turn, shaped subsequent research, first, by giving \'a new respect for scientists, not as impersonal automata but simply as human individuals participating in a culture common to all\' (Richards, 1987, p. 201), and second, by its implicit relativism, the idea that knowledge is produced and accepted according to local, contextual circumstances, and not on the basis of iron-clad, universal rules.

Whether Kuhn liked it or not (and the indications are that he didn\'t), later researchers developed and deepened both points, creating what has become science studies. A cross-disciplinary endeavour involving historians, sociologists, philosophers, cultural theorists, and recently human geographers, in science studies treats science as a particular kind of social practice, and assesses it accordingly. Specifically, through detailed empirical case studies, proponents of science studies argue that scientific theories are socially constructed, reflecting the political and ideological interests, unequal relations of power and uneven resource ownership that are found in society at large. They are not the precipitate of some universal, ineluctable, rational method.

Science studies has burgeoned and fragmented from its inception in the early 1970s. Three main variants are recognizable. The earliest was the Edinburgh School, or strong programme, which emerged intellectually from the already existing sub-discipline of the sociology of science. Bloor (1976), in particular, provided trenchant criticisms of science\'s supposed rational method (\'the force of reason … is the force of society mislocated and mystified\'; Bloor, 1988, p. 70), as well as furnishing a set of research principles (causality, impartiality, symmetry and reflexivity) for determining how a given social interest causes a particular scientific theory (e.g. how Robert Boyle\'s theological beliefs determined his corpuscular theory of nature; Bloor, 1976). The Edinburgh School was largely concerned with examining the effect of broad social interests. A number of sympathetic critics, however, subsequently suggested that much of the social construction of science occurs in micro-level activities, and at particular sites such as the laboratory. Latour and Woolgar\'s (1979) detailed, ethnographic work carried out at the Salk Institute in California, pioneered what became known as the constructionist approach, later modified and developed by Latour as actor-network theory. The latter suggests that the problem of science is the creation and maintenance of order which is achieved through the marshalling of a network of resources, both human and non-human. Once in place, that network is very hard to dislodge, and so the knowledge with which it is associated — the model of DNA, a computer, a book called The dictionary of human geography — form \'black boxes\', the legitimacy of which are rarely questioned (Latour, 1987). While Latour\'s work has received much attention, he was criticized for not recognizing effects of social power. In contrast, feminists within science studies have consistently pointed to them (Harding, 1987), the works of whom have become central to the third sub-genre, the cultural studies of science (Rouse, 1996, ch. 9). Here, Haraway\'s (1991, 1997) writings, and especially her notion of situated knowledge, have been important in delineating the effects of patriarchy and racism on the construction of scientific theory. Rouse\'s (1987) work, which applies Foucault\'s idea of disciplinary power to laboratory practices, and which makes use of the notion of local knowledge hesitantly but cumulatively spreading from one local site to another, has also been important, especially in its geographical resonances. It is this latest variant of science studies that has attracted the greatest attention and criticism, and has become known as \'the science wars\'. (See Social Text, volumes 46/47, 1996.)

In geography, Kuhn\'s work, but not its radical implications, was picked up relatively early (Haggett and Chorley, 1967). Strangely it was used to justify spatial science, not disable it. With Harvey\'s Marxist renunciation of traditional scientific methods in the early 1970s, interest in the whole topic waned, and was not revived until the early 1990s when there was both a philosophical and substantive interest in science studies. The philosophical interest was prompted by wider discussions around post-structuralism, feminism, cultural politics and nature where issues of social constructionism, power, and practice were central. Barnes (1996), for example, draws on the Edinburgh school, Thrift (1996) on actor-network theory, Gregory (1994) on the writings of Haraway and Rouse, and Demeritt (1996) on social constructionism more generally.

The substantive interest derives from two sources. First, it comes from geographers interested in the history of their own discipline which, as already noted, was historically tethered to science. Livingstone\'s (1992, especially ch. 1) work is formative, although he has misgivings about the attendant relativism of science studies. More recently, Livingstone (1995) has begun systematically to explore the geographies of science from the spatial configuration of the laboratory to the global circulation of scientific data and knowledge. Secondly, some geographers critical of geographical information systems have drawn upon the science studies tradition in mounting their critique (Pickles, 1995). (TJB)

References Barnes, T.J. 1996: Logics of dislocation: models, metaphors, and meanings of economic space. New York: Guilford. Bloor, D. 1976: Knowledge and social imagery. London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul. Bloor, D. 1988: Rationalism, supernaturalism, and the sociology of knowledge. In I. Hronsky, M. Feher and B. Dajka, eds, Scientific knowledge socialised. Budapest: Akedemiai Kiado, 55-74. Demeritt, D. 1996: Social theory and the reconstruction of science and geography. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 21: 483-504. Gregory, D. 1994: Geographical imaginations. Oxford: Blackwell. Haggett, P. and Chorley, R.J. 1967: Models, paradigms and the new geography. In R.J. Chorley and P. Haggett, eds, Models in geography. London: Methuen, 19-41. Haraway, D.J. 1991: Simians, cyborgs, and women: the reinvention of nature. New York: Routledge. Haraway, D.J. 1997: Modest-Witness@second-millennium. FemaleMan©Meets_OncoMouse TM: Feminism and Technoscience. New York: Routledge. Harding, S. 1987: The science question in feminism. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Harvey, D. 1969: Explanation in geography. London: Edward Arnold. Hudson, B. 1977: The new geography and the new imperialism: 1870-1918. Antipode 9: 9-18. Kuhn, T. 1962: The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Latour, B. 1987: Science in action: how to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Latour, B. and Woolgar, S. 1979: Laboratory life: the construction of scientific facts. London: Sage. Livingstone, D.N.1992:The geographical tradition: episodes in a contested enterprise. Oxford: Blackwell. Livingstone, D.N. 1995: The spaces of knowledge: contributions towards a historical geography of science. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 13: 5-34. Pickles, J. 1995:Ground truth: the social implications of geographic information systems.New York: Guilford. Richards, S. 1987: Philosophy and the sociology of science. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Rouse, J. 1987: Knowledge and power: towards a political philosophy of science. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Rouse, J. 1996: Engaging science: how to understand its practices philosophically. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Sokal, A.D. 1996: Transgressing the boundaries: towards a transformative hermeneutics of quantum gravity. Social Text 46/47: 217-52. Thrift, N.J. 1996: Spatial formations. London: Sage.

Suggested Reading Livingstone (1995). Rouse (1996).



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