ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Geographical Epistemology and the Question of Space

Epistemological issues related to space, which form the core of disciplinary enquiry in geography, remain unresolved. In classical Marxian meta-theory, “space” is not assigned any meaningful role, but is treated as noise or a complicating factor. Many neo-Marxist and cultural geographers have also adopted an ambivalent stance towards the primacy of space in social theory. As such, the lack of a meta-theory, ineffective integration of theories from other social science disciplines, and an inadequate conception of “space” have resulted in the increased marginalisation of geography and geographers in the social sciences.

The author is grateful to anonymous referees for useful suggestions. Usual disclaimers apply.

Geography is a synthesising discipline. It borrows theoretical constructs from sister disciplines in the social and physical sciences to explain phenomena. This approach offers geography a unique capacity to combine theoretical constructs and examine the “spatial” manifestation and causation of events in an integrated way. However, over the years, the research and teaching in this discipline in India has been disappointing and in need of a serious attempt at systematic synthesis to understand the “manifestations” of events. But a deficiency in India does not mean that attempts have not been made elsewhere in the world towards this end. It is not that the experts in India are mainly to blame; the challenges that geography, as a synthesising discipline, presents are also responsible to an extent.

Geography essentially entails “spatial enquiry.” In other words, “space” is the central theme around which all geographical enquiry revolves. One conception of space, whether social, physical, or metaphorical, is that of a container in which multitudes of events take place. Space is understood to be one of the dimensions of larger social and physical enquiries and is posited in relation to “time.” The space-time grid, in fact, contains all events and phenomena unfolding in the physical universe or within human society. It is also true that most theories in the social sciences have been developed in temporal or historical frameworks, and translating them into spatial frameworks has been difficult. This is why some social scientists arguing for a meta-theory of society view space as an unnecessary complicating factor rather than one that offers any meaningful contribution in explaining social phenomena. However, this has also limited our understanding of social processes and the evolution of events. For instance, the historical materialism of Marx creates its own limitations with regard to spatial understanding, which is why David Harvey (1989) asks for “historical–geographical materialism,” rather than historical materialism, for a fuller understanding of events and an explanation of uneven spatial patterns produced under capitalism.

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Updated On : 4th Dec, 2017
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