Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Initiating an Affair: Human Geography and Behavior Analysis

Academic journal article The Behavior Analyst Today

Initiating an Affair: Human Geography and Behavior Analysis

Article excerpt


Geographers study physical environments, human behavior that changes physical environments, and resulting regionally distinct landscapes. As such, geography faces the challenge of being both a physical and human science, a challenge resulting in an uncertain disciplinary identity. Within human geography there is a significant but erratic history of objectivist analyses, including work in cultural geography and behavioral geography. However, most contemporary human geography rejects objectivist analyses, favoring instead subjectivist ideas related to developments in such areas as cultural studies. There are important links between human geography and psychology, especially concerning environmental and cognitive approaches, but behavior analysis has been either ignored or misunderstood.


It is not unusual for behavior analysts to bemoan the fact their work is sometimes inadequately or unfairly represented by other psychologists, especially in the context of the introductory textbook (Jensen & Burgess, 1997). Writing as a human geographer, I might add that behavior analysis has received minimal attention within the academic discipline of human geography and even such minimal attention has typically misrepresented this approach to the study of human behavior.

Behavior analysts might not be surprised to hear about the lack of interest and characteristic misrepresentation of their work within human geography. However, they might be surprised to hear that human geographers have regularly claimed human behavior as core human geographic subject matter. Thus, human geography has a "long tradition of studying environment and behavior interactions" (Kitchin, Blades, & Golledge, 1997, p. 555), being concerned with "questions of human behavior to the same degree, though not necessarily in the same way, that the other social sciences are" (Ginsburg, 1970, p. 293). According to the Dictionary of Human Geography, the discipline is "concerned with the spatial differentiation and organization of human activity and its interrelationships with the physical environment" (Johnston, Gregory, Pratt, & Watts, 2000, p. 353).

If such is the case, behavior analysts might wonder: Why is it we do not know more about this discipline and why has it not made effective use of the concepts and principles of behavior analysis? Human geographers might respond by noting that their discipline has displayed much uncertainty about subject matter and approaches, accompanied by an almost alarming tendency to abandon established approaches at the expense of newer approaches. Behavior analysts might have different responses to these questions that focus on some of the limitations of their work (Hayes, 2001).

The purpose of this paper is to seek to uncover past and present links between human geography and behavior analysis. The paper is organized into three sections. First, the history and goals of geography are summarized. This history introduces the complexity of geography as both a physical (physical geography) and a human (human geography) discipline, a complexity that behavior analysts and other psychologists will readily appreciate. Second, the characteristically tentative and flawed links between human geography and behavior analysis are outlined, with emphasis on the subdisciplines of cultural and behavioral geography and on the current preference for subjectivist rather than objectivist approaches. Third, there is a concluding discussion anticipating the contents of a proposed second paper focusing on the challenges of and prospects for conducting behavior analytic studies in human geography.


"The discipline of geography is difficult to define in a few phrases. Unlike many other scholarly fields, it is not characterized by a discrete subject matter or method or even philosophy" (Gaile & Willmott, 1989, p. …

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