Start Geo Dictionary | Overview | Topics | Groups | Categories | Bookmark this page.
geology dictionary - geography encyclopedia  
Full text search :        
   A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z   #   




  A set of beliefs and ideas which inform assessments (evaluations) of worthiness. The implications of this interpretation is that value — the measure of worth — and values are defined through socially constructed material and discursive practices (e.g. Harvey, 1996, Introduction). Although theoreticians of management have, apparently, just realized that consumption is as productive of value as destructive of it (e.g. Ramirez, 1998), economic geographies which recognize the significance of social reproduction as a process sustained in time and across space conceive of value in just such a way (see economic geography). Consumption of value is a vitally necessary part — even a precondition of — production.

Values are socially specific; they derive from the concepts that we use to legitimate society. To take values seriously implies far more than the liberal manoeuvre of presenting different points of view about the same set of circumstances (e.g. is nuclear power good or bad?) or even of evaluating between alternative sets of circumstances, e.g. is this distributive outcome better or worse than that one? Rather, the issue is to relate these assessments, perfectly valid in their own right, to the wider social framework and discourses which set the parameters (e.g. profitability, human needs, ecological sustainability) within which measures of worth are defined. And it is important to recognize (as have, for example, Storper and Salais, 1997, drawing on the work of Boltanski and Thevenot, e.g. 1991) that the dualism of structure and agency leaves aside action and the negotiation of meaning (e.g. worth) through action (e.g. in conventions).

For example, in pointing to fundamentals, the expression \'the bottom line\' is both offensive and realistic. It is offensive in its assumption that values measured in a particular form of market economy are somehow elemental; but it is realistic if it represents a response to the imperatives of capitalist society (see capitalism). However, it is particularly offensive when the latter usage is simply assumed as unproblematic and beyond debate — most especially in a context in which critical thought might be a reasonable expectation.

Consider the diminution of geography implied in the following assertions:

The need for theory still exists but only to the extent that it will be used if it can be shown to deliver \'better\' working models or is otherwise useful … if geographers are not prepared to meet these emerging needs … [they] will be left with no other course of action other than to become social theorists in the style of Harvey and Scott. (Openshaw, 1989, p. 74)Usefulness is here contrasted with knowledge, categorized as \'useless\' if

the questions being asked relate to the pursuit of knowledge rather than more pressing [sic!] applied matters of contemporary relevance and public concern. (Openshaw, 1986, p. 143)However, there is some compensation for looking at the world from such a narrow perspective; it opens up a more \'valuable\' alternative:

There are vast potential new markets if geographers are able to sell themselves, merchandise their products, and adopt a less (sic!) restrictive modus operandi. (Openshaw, 1989, p. 88)Again, it is one thing to make the legitimate, if value-laden, claim that the \'key aspect\' for the future health of geography as an academic discipline \'is a better understanding of the structure of economic incentives and rights, rather than class\' (Bennett, 1989, p. 289). But it is quite another if this is taken to mean that a concern for \'class\' is not relevant to issues like \'“choice” conceptions of rights which promote autonomy, freedom, self-determination, and human development\' (Bennett, 1989, p. 289) on the grounds that

capitalism has become seen as the means of creating and distributing the good things of life … [as] … the spirit of market freedom of individuals has heralded a consumer and service economy which has offered the release from the least attractive toils and labours, and has seemed to offer the potential to satisfy many of people\'s most avaricious dreams. (p. 286)Not only does the conclusion (issues such as class are no longer relevant to geography) not follow from the premise (capitalism produces and generates the good things of life — a view which is, in any case, hotly contested) but — and much more importantly from the point of view of this discussion — there is an unquestioned assumption that \'the bottom line\' may be unproblematically defined in terms of \'avaricious dreams\'. The assumption of a particular measure of value could hardly be more clear .

One of the major contributions of radical geography was its demonstration of the social construction of value and, by implication, the possibility of changing values. In parallel fashion, humanistic geography pointed to the often contested and limiting prior definitions of the objects of research implied in particular methodologies — notably those like empiricism — which rest upon a limited perception and narrow definition of \'facts\' (Buttimer, 1974).

Unless it is literally true that \'facts\' are both unproblematic and, always and everywhere, speak for themselves, a value-free geography is impossible. How, for example, do we value the environment — in monetary terms? — a socially relative, and geographically and historically uncertain measure if ever there was one; in ecological terms — but then what about the social construction of science?; or in political terms which recognize that human beings are part of nature but are social (and socially constructed) entities too and so actively contest the meaning of the environment and their engagement with it? (see economic geography).

If we accept the need for the political resolution of such problems (and it is difficult to see how we may proceed without so doing despite the fact that the formal practice of politics itself is far from unproblematic) then we must accept that nature itself is a social construct and so reject in no uncertain terms the notion geography is nothing more than an uncontested \'space-time data model\' or \'huge integrated GIS\' (see geographical information systems) (Openshaw, 1991, pp. 622 and 627). And we must go further for geographers cannot merely contemplate alternative social constructions of values for they are themselves participants in the process of the production and reproduction of values. The question of ethics goes well beyond the important matter of conducting and reporting research. It asks questions about the moral purposes of research. But it can never be enough merely to assert

a moral duty to help society and the world to unlock and understand the key patterns and relationships that may exist encrypted in … [GIS] … data bases. (Openshaw, 1991, p. 625.)It is not enough because, despite the phenomenal but geographically highly uneven power of GISS to generate data, the very notion of the key patterns and relationships implies a set of values founded in a particular discourse which cannot be assumed away or ignored. Thus David Smith (1997, pp. 586-7), for example, distinguishes between meta-ethics which \'concerns the meaning of such terms as good and bad, right and wrong, ought or should, i.e. the language of moral discourse\', descriptive ethics (actual moral beliefs and practices) and normative ethics. Whilst it may well be \'true\' that \'truth\' resides solely in discourse, discourse resides in social practice and, in particular, in the social relations through which social beings try to make sense of their circumstances (Lee, 1989). So regimes of truth founded on temporally and geographically uneven dominant competitive discourses may be established and may indeed be imagined and transcend the particular but they are themselves socially constructed, changeable and open to contestation (McDowell, 1995); they cannot be free-floating otherwise they would be meaningless and so, quite simply, there cannot be unproblematic significance.

Values and ethics force geographers to reconsider questions of, for example, social justice and ethics as well as \'economic incentives and rights\' not merely as states to be measured or defined but as the bases for the purpose of their labours. And the labour of geographers (\'to examine the contextual thickening of moral concepts in the particular (local) circumstances of differentiated human being\' (Smith, 1997, p. 587)) is made the more complex by the varied formative geographies (themselves socially constructed) in and through which such notions are constructed, contested and given meaning. (RL)

References Bennett, R.J. 1989: Whither models and Geography in a post-welfarist world? In B. Macmillan, ed., Remodelling Geography. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 273-9 0. Boltanski, L. and Thevenot, L. 1991: De la justification. Paris: Gallimard. Buttimer, A. 1974: Values in Geography. Association of American Geographers Commission on College Geography, Resource Paper number 24. Washington, D.C.. Harvey, D. 1996: Justice, nature and the geography of difference. Cambridge, MA and Oxford: Blackwell. Lee, R. 1989: Social relations and the geography of material life. In D. Gregary and R. Walfard, eds, Horizons in human geography, ch. 2.4. Houndmills: Macmillan, 152-6 9. McDowell, L. 1995: Understanding diversity: the problem of/for \'theory\'. In R.J. Johnston, P.J. Taylor and M.J. Watts, eds, Geographies of global change Remapping the world in the late twentieth century, ch. 17. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 280-94. Ramirez, R. 1998: Unchaining value in a new global age. Mastering global Business. Part 4 The Financial Times, 12-13. Openshaw, S. 1986: Modelling relevance. Environment and Planning A 18: 143-7. Openshaw, S. 1989: Computer modelling in geography. In B. Macmillan, ed., Remodelling Geography. Oxford and Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell, 70-88. Openshaw, S. 1991: A view of the GIS crisis in geography, or, using GIS to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. Environment and Planning A 23: 621-8. Smith, D.M. 1997: Geography and ethics: a moral turn? Progress in Human Geography 21: 583-90. Storper, M. and Salais, R. 1997: Worlds of production. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.

Suggested Reading Buttimer, A. and Lee, R. 1997: Classics in human geography revisited: \'Values in geography\'. Progress in Human Geography; McDowell (1995). Taylor, P.J., Watts, M.J. and Johnston, R.J. 1995: Remapping the world: What sort of map? What sort of world? In R.J. Johnston, P.J. Taylor and M.J. Watts, eds, Geographies of global change. Remapping the world in the late twentieth century, ch. 22. Oxford and Cambridge MA: Blackwell, 377-8 5.



Bookmark this page:



<< former term
next term >>
variable cost analysis


Other Terms : demographic transition | demographic transition | imaginative geographies
Home |  Add new article  |  Your List |  Tools |  Become an Editor |  Tell a Friend |  Links |  Awards |  Testimonials |  Press |  News |  About
Copyright ©2009 GeoDZ. All rights reserved.  Terms of Use  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us