Historical roots and development of Modernism in Geography


Modernism in geography is a complex and multifaceted movement that has been shaping the field of geography for over a century. It emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a response to the traditional and conservative methods of inquiry that dominated the discipline at the time. Since then, modernism has gone through several phases and evolved into different forms, making significant contributions to the development of geography as a science.

The roots of modernism in geography can be traced back to the late 19th century when Western countries were experiencing rapid industrialization and urbanization. These changes led to a growing interest in understanding the dynamic relationships between society and the environment, which spurred the development of new methods and theories in geography.

One of the key figures in the early development of modernism in geography was the German geographer, Friedrich Ratzel. In his seminal work “Anthropogeographie” (1891), Ratzel introduced the concept of “Lebensraum” or living space, which emphasized the impact of environmental factors on human societies. This idea, which later became known as environmental determinism, argued that physical factors such as climate, topography, and resources shaped the social and cultural characteristics of a society. While controversial and eventually discredited, this theory marked a significant departure from the traditional descriptive and regional geography practices of the time.

Another important contributor to the modernist movement in geography was Ellen Churchill Semple, an American geographer who also drew on the environmental determinist approach. However, Semple expanded this concept to include the influence of cultural factors on the environment and the role of human agency in shaping landscapes. Her work on cultural landscape and geographical diffusion challenged the prevailing belief that societies were static and bound to their physical environment.

As the 20th century progressed, modernism in geography continued to gain momentum and diversify into different schools of thought. The most influential of these was the quantitative revolution, which emerged in the 1950s. This approach, led by American geographer William Bunge, sought to bring a more scientific and empirical approach to geographical research by applying statistical methods and mathematical models. The quantitative revolution revolutionized the way geographers studied and analyzed spatial and social phenomena and paved the way for the use of new technologies such as GIS (Geographic Information Systems).

The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of radical geography, also known as critical geography, which challenged the positivist assumptions of the quantitative revolution. The proponents of this school of thought, such as David Harvey and Yi-Fu Tuan, argued that geography should adopt a more critical and Marxist approach to understanding the social and political issues that shaped the landscape. This gave rise to new concepts such as “capitalist space” and “spatial justice,” which continue to influence contemporary debates in geography.

In recent years, modernism in geography has evolved into the postmodern turn, which questions the existence of absolute truths and challenges the traditional methods of inquiry. Postmodern geographers, such as Edward Soja and Doreen Massey, emphasize the subjective and dynamic nature of space and reject the notion of distinct boundaries between places.

In conclusion, modernism in geography has a rich and diverse history that has significantly shaped the discipline. From its early roots in environmental determinism to the more recent postmodern turn, modernism has challenged traditional notions of space, place, and society and continues to push the boundaries of geographical research. As we enter a new era of technological advancements, it is likely that modernism in geography will continue to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of the world.