Teaching Geography in Secondary Schools: A Reader

By Maggie Smith | Go to book overview

19

Geography Matters in a globalized world

Doreen Massey

'Geography Matters' was the title we gave to an Open University reader for a course which we produced in the early 1980s (Massey and Allen 1985). In that context we had in mind specifically human geography and the message which we wanted to get across was this: that the spatial organization of society matters; it makes a difference to how society works, to how we think about society and ourselves and to what forms of social organisation are possible.

This was an important argument to advance at that point in the history of geography's self-reflection. We were emerging from a period - highly productive and necessary - in which the dominant emphasis had been on the social construction of the spatial. Our theme-tune then was that 'the spatial' (human geography, the geography of society) was socially constructed. There was no separate realm of 'the spatial', as some had previously been inclined to argue; rather, in order to analyse the geographies which we saw around us it was necessary to understand the social processes which had produced them. Geographers must be versed in sociology, in economics, in cultural theory. And we set about that task with a vengeance.

It was an important move, and it opened up geography to a much greater richness of thought and theorizing (a breadth and richness which it retains to this day). However, our intense focus on the social processes producing geographies led us implicitly to see those geographies (of regional inequality, or cultural variation for instance) as results, as outcomes. They were not part of the processes; they were what those processes produced. And yet it was soon evident, from both theoretical and empirical work, that this simple formula was inadequate. 'Geography', in the sense of the spatial organization of society, is not merely a result of social processes; it also influences - sometimes quite decisively - the very way in which those processes operate. And so our theme-tune had to be amended. Not only were we now concerned to argue that the spatial is socially constructed; we also insisted upon the fact that the social is spatially constructed too. That 'geography' is more than an outcome; it 'matters' in the very processes of the working of society.

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