Reply To: Human geography

  • Encyclios

    April 24, 2023 at 9:49 AM

    The radical critique

    Research on local characters is part of the development of the theoretical direction that emerged in the early 1960s and has been the subject of criticism since about 1970. Researchers’ attention now focuses on the city: studies on centers of interaction and contact and the fields of externalities generated by them clarify urban morphology. The basic mechanism of all adjustments is the land market: it is capable of creating an efficient situation even in the absence of urban and planning interventions, but it is far from the conditions of perfect competition predicted by theory. This could produce a gap from the optimal equilibrium to which the free play of economic forces should lead. The new geography hesitates to pose these problems, which are nevertheless fundamental: in the absence of guarantees against greedy landlords or unscrupulous employers, the fate of the weaker classes is in fact likely to be even harsher.

    The radical protest against positivist conceptions of the new geography almost always concerns the urban scenario. Anglo-Saxon geographers, who play an essential role in this field, are largely inspired by the studies of continental sociologists, such as the Frenchman Henri Lefebvre and his students or the Catalan Manuel Castells. With his essay Social justice and the city (1973) David Harvey, who a few years earlier had been the theorist of neopositivist approaches, gives a decisive impetus to the movement. For his followers, human geography is concerned with the spatial ordering of societies in order to capture the interplay of segregation and discrimination to which it gives rise, and seeks to promote more just apportionment and prevent unjustified harm to the environment.

    The radical movement was born out of an ethical contestation. It does not originally rely on any systematic theory, which is a gap that many believe can be filled by Marxism. But after a few years they must reconsider: Marxist doctrine does not attach much importance to space, and the few avenues explored by its founder have been neglected by followers. Harvey’s new work, The limits to capital (1982), is an interesting attempt to update the basis of Marxist reasoning by introducing the concept of space. The result is partial, but the new reflection on local factors makes it possible to narrow the gap between Marxism’s explanatory ambitions and its ability to grasp reality.

    The renewal of geography after 1960 takes place under the banner of the social sciences: the emphasis may be on the spatial dimensions of society, its insertion into the ecosystem, the importance of place, or the injustices arising from imperfect institutions, but in each case a certain idea of the relationship between man and society is present. Human groups consist of individuals capable of reflection, decision-making and action, but within such narrow boundaries that their initiatives are always limited and the results of the interactions to which they give rise are always predictable. Even if one rebels against injustices that penalize some, one adheres to a rather reductive conception of man: he is conditioned, manipulated and dominated by the system, which then allows the procedures of the exact sciences to be applied to social reality.