Cultural geography

Cultural geography

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Cultural geography is a sub-field within human geography
Human geography
Human geography is one of the two major sub-fields of the discipline of geography. Human geography is the study of the world, its people, communities, and cultures. Human geography differs from physical geography mainly in that it has a greater focus on studying human activities and is more...

. Cultural geography is the study of cultural products and norms and their variations across and relations to spaces and places. It focuses on describing and analyzing the ways language, religion, economy, government and other cultural phenomena vary or remain constant, from one place to another and on explaining how humans function spatially.

Areas of study

The areas of study of cultural geography are very broad. Among many applicable topics within the field of study are:
  • Globalization
    Globalization refers to the increasingly global relationships of culture, people and economic activity. Most often, it refers to economics: the global distribution of the production of goods and services, through reduction of barriers to international trade such as tariffs, export fees, and import...

     has been theorised as an explanation for cultural convergence.
  • Westernization
    Westernization or Westernisation , also occidentalization or occidentalisation , is a process whereby societies come under or adopt Western culture in such matters as industry, technology, law, politics, economics, lifestyle, diet, language, alphabet,...

     or other similar processes such as modernization
    In the social sciences, modernization or modernisation refers to a model of an evolutionary transition from a 'pre-modern' or 'traditional' to a 'modern' society. The teleology of modernization is described in social evolutionism theories, existing as a template that has been generally followed by...

    , americanization
    Americanization is the influence of the United States on the popular culture, technology, business practices, or political techniques of other countries. The term has been used since at least 1907. Inside the U.S...

    , islamization
    Islamization or Islamification has been used to describe the process of a society's conversion to the religion of Islam...

     and others.
  • Theories of cultural hegemony
    Cultural hegemony
    Cultural hegemony is the philosophic and sociological theory, by the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, that a culturally diverse society can be dominated by one social class, by manipulating the societal culture so that its ruling-class worldview is imposed as the societal norm, which then is...

     or cultural assimilation
    Cultural assimilation
    Cultural assimilation is a socio-political response to demographic multi-ethnicity that supports or promotes the assimilation of ethnic minorities into the dominant culture. The term assimilation is often used with regard to immigrants and various ethnic groups who have settled in a new land. New...

     via cultural imperialism
    Cultural imperialism
    Cultural imperialism is the domination of one culture over another. Cultural imperialism can take the form of a general attitude or an active, formal and deliberate policy, including military action. Economic or technological factors may also play a role...

  • Cultural areal differentiation, as a study of differences in way of life encompassing ideas, attitudes, languages, practices, institutions and structures of power and whole range of cultural practices in geographical areas.
  • Study of cultural landscape
    Cultural landscape
    Cultural Landscapes have been defined by the World Heritage Committee as distinct geographical areas or properties uniquely "..represent[ing] the combined work of nature and of man.."....

  • Other topics include spirit of place
    Spirit of place
    Spirit of place refers to the unique, distinctive and cherished aspects of a place; often those celebrated by artists and writers, but also those cherished in folk tales, festivals and celebrations...

    , colonialism
    Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. It is a process whereby the metropole claims sovereignty over the colony and the social structure, government, and economics of the colony are changed by...

    , post-colonialism
    Post-colonialism is a specifically post-modern intellectual discourse that consists of reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism...

    , internationalism
    Internationalism (politics)
    Internationalism is a political movement which advocates a greater economic and political cooperation among nations for the theoretical benefit of all...

    , immigration
    Immigration is the act of foreigners passing or coming into a country for the purpose of permanent residence...

    , emigration
    Emigration is the act of leaving one's country or region to settle in another. It is the same as immigration but from the perspective of the country of origin. Human movement before the establishment of political boundaries or within one state is termed migration. There are many reasons why people...

     and ecotourism
    Ecotourism is a form of tourism visiting fragile, pristine, and usually protected areas, intended as a low impact and often small scale alternative to standard commercial tourism...



Though the first traces of the study of different nations and cultures on Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

 can be dated back to ancient geographers such as Ptolemy
Claudius Ptolemy , was a Roman citizen of Egypt who wrote in Greek. He was a mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer, and poet of a single epigram in the Greek Anthology. He lived in Egypt under Roman rule, and is believed to have been born in the town of Ptolemais Hermiou in the...

 or Strabo
Strabo, also written Strabon was a Greek historian, geographer and philosopher.-Life:Strabo was born to an affluent family from Amaseia in Pontus , a city which he said was situated the approximate equivalent of 75 km from the Black Sea...

, cultural geography as academic study firstly emerged as an alternative to the environmental determinist
Environmental determinism
Environmental determinism, also known as climatic determinism or geographical determinism, is the view that the physical environment, rather than social conditions, determines culture...

 theories of the early Twentieth century, which had believed that people and societies are controlled by the environment
Natural environment
The natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things occurring naturally on Earth or some region thereof. It is an environment that encompasses the interaction of all living species....

 in which they develop. Rather than studying pre-determined regions based upon environmental classifications, cultural geography became interested in cultural landscape
Cultural landscape
Cultural Landscapes have been defined by the World Heritage Committee as distinct geographical areas or properties uniquely "..represent[ing] the combined work of nature and of man.."....

s. This was led by Carl O. Sauer
Carl O. Sauer
Carl Ortwin Sauer was an American geographer. Sauer was a professor of geography at the University of California at Berkeley from 1923 until becoming professor emeritus in 1957 and was instrumental in the early development of the geography graduate school at Berkeley. One of his best known works...

 (called the father of cultural geography), at the University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley , is a teaching and research university established in 1868 and located in Berkeley, California, USA...

. As a result, cultural geography was long dominated by American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...


Sauer defined the landscape as the defining unit of geographic study. He saw that cultures and societies both developed out of their landscape, but also shaped them too. This interaction between the 'natural' landscape and humans creates the 'cultural landscape'. Sauer's work was highly qualitative
Qualitative research
Qualitative research is a method of inquiry employed in many different academic disciplines, traditionally in the social sciences, but also in market research and further contexts. Qualitative researchers aim to gather an in-depth understanding of human behavior and the reasons that govern such...

 and descriptive and was surpassed in the 1930s by the regional geography
Regional geography
Regional geography is the study of world regions. Attention is paid to unique characteristics of a particular region such as natural elements, human elements, and regionalization which covers the techniques of delineating space into regions....

 of Richard Hartshorne
Richard Hartshorne
Richard Hartshorne was a prominent American geographer. He completed his undergraduate studies at Princeton University and his doctorate at the University of Chicago , then taught at the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin , with war-time interruption to...

, followed by the quantitative revolution
Quantitative revolution
In the history of geography, the quantitative revolution [n] was one of the four major turning-points of modern geography -- the other three being environmental determinism, regional geography and critical geography)...

. Cultural geography was generally sidelined, though writers such as David Lowenthal continued to work on the concept of landscape.

In the 1970s, the critique of positivism in geography caused geographers to look beyond the quantitative geography for its ideas. One of these re-assessed areas was also cultural geography.

New cultural geography

Since the 1980s, a "new cultural geography" has emerged, drawing on a diverse set of theoretical traditions, including Marxist
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

 political-economic models
Political economy
Political economy originally was the term for studying production, buying, and selling, and their relations with law, custom, and government, as well as with the distribution of national income and wealth, including through the budget process. Political economy originated in moral philosophy...

, feminist theory
Feminist theory
Feminist theory is the extension of feminism into theoretical, or philosophical discourse, it aims to understand the nature of gender inequality...

, post-colonial theory
Post-colonialism is a specifically post-modern intellectual discourse that consists of reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism...

, post-structuralism
Post-structuralism is a label formulated by American academics to denote the heterogeneous works of a series of French intellectuals who came to international prominence in the 1960s and '70s...

 and psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...


Drawing particularly from the theories of Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

 and performativity
Performativity is an interdisciplinary term often used to name the capacity of speech and language in particular, as well as other non-verbal forms of expressive action, to intervene in the course of human events. The term derives from the work in speech act theory originated by the analytic...

 in western academia, and the more diverse influences of postcolonial theory
Post-colonialism is a specifically post-modern intellectual discourse that consists of reactions to, and analysis of, the cultural legacy of colonialism...

, there has been a concerted effort to deconstruct
Deconstruction is a term introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in his 1967 book Of Grammatology. Although he carefully avoided defining the term directly, he sought to apply Martin Heidegger's concept of Destruktion or Abbau, to textual reading...

 the cultural in order to make apparent the various power relations. A particular area of interest is that of identity politics
Identity politics
Identity politics are political arguments that focus upon the self interest and perspectives of self-identified social interest groups and ways in which people's politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through race, class, religion, sexual orientation or traditional dominance...

 and construction of identity.

Examples of areas of study include:
  • Feminist geography
    Feminist geography
    Feminist geography is an approach in human geography which applies the theories, methods and critiques of feminism to the study of the human environment, society and geographical space.-Areas of study:...

  • Children's geographies
    Children's geographies
    Children's geographies is an area of study within human geography and Childhood Studies which involves researching the places and spaces of children's lives....

  • Some parts of Tourism geography
    Tourism geography
    Tourism Geography is the study of travel and tourism, as an industry and as a social and cultural activity. Tourism geography covers a wide range of interests including the environmental impact of tourism, the geographies of tourism and leisure economies, answering tourism industry and management...

  • Behavioral geography
    Behavioral geography
    Behavioral geography is an approach to human geography that examines human behavior using a disaggregate approach. Behavioral geographers focus on the cognitive processes underlying spatial reasoning, decision making, and behavior...

  • Sexuality and space
    Sexuality and space
    Sexuality and space is a field of study within human geography. The phrase encompasses all relationships and interactions between human sexuality, space and place, themes studied within, but not limited to cultural geography, i.e...

  • Some more recent developments in Political geography
    Political geography
    Political geography is the field of human geography that is concerned with the study of both the spatially uneven outcomes of political processes and the ways in which political processes are themselves affected by spatial structures...

Some within the 'new cultural geography' have turned their attention to critiquing some of its ideas, seeing its views on identity and space as static. It has followed the critiques of Foucault made by other 'poststructuralist
Post-structuralism is a label formulated by American academics to denote the heterogeneous works of a series of French intellectuals who came to international prominence in the 1960s and '70s...

' theorists such as Michel de Certeau
Michel de Certeau
Michel de Certeau was a French Jesuit and scholar whose work combined history, psychoanalysis, philosophy, and the social sciences.-Education:...

 and Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze
Gilles Deleuze , was a French philosopher who, from the early 1960s until his death, wrote influentially on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art. His most popular works were the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus , both co-written with Félix...

. In this area, non-representational geography
Non-representational theory
Non-representational theory is a theory developed in human geography, largely through the work of Nigel Thrift , and his colleagues such as J.D. Dewsbury . It challenges those using social theory and conducting geographical research to go beyond representation...

 and population mobility
Population mobility
Population mobility, geographic mobility or more simply mobility is a statistic that measures migration within a population. It is most commonly used in demography and human geography, it may also be used to describe the movement of animals between populations.Mobility estimates in the Current...

research have dominated. Others have attempted to incorporate these critiques back into the new cultural geography.

Further reading

  • Tuan, Yi-Fu. 2004. "CENTENNIAL FORUM: Cultural Geography: Glances Backward and Forward". Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 94 (4): 729-733.