Criticisms and controversies surrounding the use of Deus ex machina in Geography


Deus ex machina, literally meaning “god from the machine”, refers to a literary device where a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly resolved by an unexpected, often divine, intervention. This device has been used in various forms since ancient Greek theater, but its application in geography has been met with criticism and controversies.

One of the primary criticisms is that the use of deus ex machina in geography undermines the credibility of the discipline. Geography is a scientific field that aims to study and understand the complex interactions between human societies and the natural environment. The introduction of a supernatural element to resolve a problem goes against the scientific method and diminishes the rigor of the discipline.

Furthermore, the use of deus ex machina can oversimplify complex geographical issues. Instead of encouraging critical thinking and analysis, it offers a quick and easy solution to complex problems. This can be dangerous as it may lead to a shallow understanding of the issue and hinder the development of effective and sustainable solutions.

Moreover, the use of deus ex machina can perpetuate the idea of a superior external power controlling and dictating the fate and outcomes of human actions. This goes against the foundation of geography, which focuses on the agency of human beings in shaping their environments. By attributing solutions to supernatural beings, it ignores the role of human agency and responsibility in addressing geographical challenges.

One practical example of the use of deus ex machina in geography is the concept of “miracle” in development literature. This term is often used to describe sudden and significant improvements in social or economic indicators, seemingly without any logical explanation. It is often attributed to the divine intervention or luck, instead of acknowledging the complex and interconnected factors that contribute to development.

Another example is the idea of “ecological compensation”, where the negative environmental impacts of human activities are offset by restoring or creating natural habitats elsewhere. This approach relies on the belief that nature has a way of balancing itself out and that there is always a solution to environmental damage. This oversimplifies the complex and often irreversible consequences of human actions on the environment.

The use of deus ex machina in geography also raises ethical concerns. By relying on external forces to solve problems, it takes away the responsibility of individuals and communities to take action and make a positive impact. It also perpetuates the idea of a passive victim and a powerful savior, reinforcing unequal power dynamics and hindering the agency of marginalized groups.

In recent years, there has been a growing movement towards a more critical and reflexive approach in geography, challenging the use of deus ex machina. This includes acknowledging and addressing power imbalances, centering the perspectives and voices of marginalized communities, and promoting participatory and sustainable solutions.

In conclusion, while the use of deus ex machina in geography may offer a quick and easy solution to complex problems, it undermines the credibility and rigor of the discipline, oversimplifies issues, perpetuates harmful beliefs, and raises ethical concerns. It is essential for geographers to critically examine and challenge the use of this device in their work and instead promote a more reflexive and ethical approach towards addressing geographical challenges.