Alex’s blog post ‘What is geography?’ had us all talking in the office. Geography can be criticised for being a jack of all trades discipline, and the emergence of a more diverse sub-discipline of human geography has confused matters further. Wikipedia says:
‘Human geography is a branch of the social sciences that studies the world, its people, communities, and cultures with an emphasis on relations of and across space and place.’
Increasingly however, the space and place aspect is focusing on the micro scale, on embodiment and identity, thus losing some of the traits which originally separated geography from other social sciences. Does human geography have an identity crisis? Some of our postgrads have given their thoughts:
What is human geography? Ellie Tighe:
History, Geography and Politics.
History is the study of the world and all that has gone before.
Politics is the study of world and how to govern in it.
Geography is the study of the world and everyone in it.
The discipline of human geography therefore forgives a lot of sins – in one department you can have health geographers, economic geographers, political geographers, cultural geographers, urban geographers, historical geographers, rural geographers – the list is endless.
This wide scope therefore lends itself to overlap with other social science disciplines – my research for example could quite easily be undertaken with the field of business management, or politics and international relations. However, rather than be a point of critique, this is exactly what I love about the subject – it’s truly interdisciplinary. Unlike other disciplines there is no pressure to continually define ones theoretical position (one year into a Masters in International Political Economy, I had exhausted myself attempting to pin my thoughts into a theoretical box[i] ). I therefore came back to the field of human geography as the flexibility and pragmatism of the boundless discipline, was exactly what I was missing in PAIS.
[i] I eventually concluded I was a critical liberal feminist
What is human geography? Carla Barrett:
When I was first asked to contribute something to our department’s blog on “what is human geography?” my first thought was, “I don’t know what to write”. This might seem odd, given that I am now over 12 months into a PhD in human geography.
But human geography is diverse. In our department, human geographers are studying everything from Chronic Kidney Disease to the economic impact of annual festivals on town centres. As well as being diverse, human geography doesn’t have clearly defined boundaries separating it from other disciplines. In researching the geographies of LGBT carework, I have engaged with the work of sociologists, anthropologists, and many others. The diversity of human geography, and its overlaps with other disciplines, make it difficult to define; but also make it interesting and exciting to study.
If I had to summarise human geography in a sentence, I would perhaps say that it is the study of the world and the people in it. More specifically, it is the study of their movements; experiences; and interactions with one another and the natural environment. And in researching people in the world, we human geographers enjoy interacting with people from outside our own discipline.
What is human geography? Emma Waight:
When you tell people that you’re studying human geography, you have to be prepared for the above question. You might even get a snigger/smirk/raised eyebrow. So what is human geography? I think it’s quite simply about people in the world in the past, present and future; People moving, living and working in the natural environment and how they interact and build social networks.
It is a relatively new discipline, but with the widespread acknowledgment that we have entered the Anthropocene, is it one we can ignore? Developing our understanding of human action and causation is as important as developing hard science models. The problem perhaps in explaining human geography is in its breadth. It is easier to understand how macro spatial social subjects can fall under the umbrella of human geography, but what makes micro or cultural geographies any different from sociology and the like? The answer lies perhaps in the methodologies used and the academic trends passing through one discipline over another, but in some instances there is no difference. This is why it is important in all disciplines to keep tabs on what is happening in other departments as there will always be some overlap; studying human geography allows you to explore your intellectual creativity with few limits.