These two books offer different responses to the debate about the nature of human geography in an era when the disciplinary boundaries of the social sciences are dissolving and the spatial turn has diminished the hegemony of geography.
Envisioning Human Geographies is a powerful yet disparate account of 12 individuals across the discipline of human geography - embracing discussions ranging from social justice, ecology and activism to computing and poststructuralism.
The editors’ broad guidelines have allowed each of the contributors to write visionary pieces, looking towards fertile ground for future geographical inquiry without being concerned with current shackles. The result is sometimes esoteric (as in John Pickles’s assessment of the world in wires); at other times a clarion call for action (Sue Roddick’s view of collective political activity).
The publisher claims that Envisioning Human Geographies is a text for students studying the history and philosophy of the subject. Indeed, the 12 accounts have at their heart a sense of the philosophical stances that underlie the canvas of the human geography landscape. But it would be unfortunate if this text were restricted to such a readership. This is an appealing read for social scientists beyond geography who seek to gain a feel of what human geographers see as their future project.
Practising Human Geography is a different response to the constitution of disciplines. With its focus on research methods, it argues that in employing an array of methods, there is a
need to reflect on the “complex issues bound up with the very acts of practising human geography”. The text offers scope for a longer exposition of the frameworks of interpretation that the authors identify as familiar areas for human geographers, and it draws on illustrations and case studies that are grounded in research experience.
Unlike other recent methods texts, the authors construct their argument on the need for more reflection on research strategies “independent of - or at least not determined by - more overt, more abstract or high-level, philosophising and social theorising”. In contrast to the visions in Envisioning Human Geographies , this book offers less reflection on personal philosophies and stances shaping the research process. That said, the chapters on sifting and sorting, enumerating, explaining and understanding open up thoughtful accounts of the practice of human geography that will assist all those interpreting data.
Ideas about the changing nature of human geographical activity and interpretation are revealed in the final two chapters. For example, the demise of cartographic and similar non-textual representations in human geography is revealed by the half-page discussion on the “alternatives” to writing in the chapter on representations.
These two books offer geographers and social scientists an insight into what makes this discipline more than just an account of “notions of space”.
Robert Rogerson is senior lecturer in geography, Strathclyde University.
Envisioning Human Geographies. First edition
Editor - Paul Cloke, Philip Crang and Mark Goodwin
Publisher - Arnold
Pages - 252
Price - £19.99
ISBN - 0 340 72012 3