It seems such a long time ago, another age—yet it is a mere twenty-odd years since the original Models in Geography was published. It is an even shorter time since the first tentative steps were taken towards an alternative formulation of what might constitute a geographical perspective within the social sciences. It all seemed very daring at the time, and it began with critique and with an eager reading of basic texts. But what came to be called the political-economy perspective has progressed with remarkable speed and energy to generate its own framework of conceptualization and analysis, its own questions and debates.
The papers in these two volumes are witness to the richness and range of the work which has developed over this relatively short period within the political-economy approach. Moreover, from being a debate within an institutionally-defined ‘discipline of geography’, to introducing into that discipline ideas and discussions from the wider fields of philosophy and social science and the humanities more generally, it has now flowered into a consistent part of enquiries that span the entire realm of social studies. Not only has ‘geography’ increasingly become an integral part of the study of society more widely, but a geographical perspective is contributing to, as well as learning from, that wider debate.
The political-economy approach has been of central importance in this move. Indeed, debate within political-economic approaches to geographical studies has reflected, in its different phases, that reintegration of geography within social sciences. The form of this integration is still an issue today, but it is striking how many of the chapters in these volumes, while often talking about quite distinct empirical areas of concern, document in broad outline a similar trajectory on this issue.
The path has not always been smooth. There have been difficult and sometime confusing debates, which have involved the reformulation of questions as well as of answers. Many of the longer-running (and in the main continuing) debates are reflected in these papers; again it is striking how different authors in distinct fields frequently agree on which discussions have been of central importance. Perhaps most fundamental to the reformulation of geography’s place within the social sciences has been the thoughtful and productive debate (productive in the sense that it really has moved on and has made progress from stage to stage) concerning the relation between the social and the spatial, and whether it is in any case an impossible dichotomy which should be dissolved. (Maybe we ought to be conducting a similar debate about the relation between the social and the equally difficult concept of the natural?) That debate is documented here from a number of angles. It is also clear that, even if we have understood a few things better, there are still important issues