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spatial interaction

  A term coined by Edward Ullman (1980) to indicate interdependence between geographical areas, which he saw as complementary to the people-environment interactions which take place within each individual area. The study of spatial interaction was thus presented as a major focus of geographical inquiry, covering the movements of goods, people, money and information between places. The concept was similar to the \'géographie de circulation\' developed by French geographers at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The strength of Ullman\'s concept was that it recognized that many different forms of spatial interaction are themselves interdependent: a migrant flow may stimulate subsequent flows (or backflows) of trade, tourists and information, for example (see chain migration). Furthermore, Ullman\'s proposed bases of interaction (complementarity, intervening opportunities and transferability), conceived initially as an explanation of patterns of commodity flow, can also be applied to the study of other movements — of people and of ideas, for example. This unity has been underlined by the application of similar models (such as the gravity model and entropy-maximizing models) to studies of not just commodity flows but also migrations and telephone traffic. Ullman clearly hoped that this unity would provide the basis for a wide appreciation of geography as the study of spatial interaction, but this has not occurred: transport geography has become a separate subfield; migration is normally studied within population geography; and much study of information diffusion was incorporated within cultural geography.

More recently, the term has been used in a more restricted sense to cover two types of study: some authors have used it to describe studies of spatial flows; a few have extended it to cover sociological concepts of social interaction, thereby defining spatial interaction as the spatial dimension of social contacts. (AMH)

Reference Ullman, E.L. 1980: Geography as spatial interaction. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Suggested Reading Hay, A.M. 1979: The geographical explanation of commodity flow. Progress in Human Geography 3: 1-12.



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