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A bridge over troubled waters? Systems theory and dialogue in geography

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In physical geography, systems are seen as a unity of parts and relationships, whereas human geographers using a second-order sociological systems approach define systems in terms of the difference between system and environment. Starting from this, dialogue between physical and human geographers using terms derived from systems theory is mostly in vain. This article explores some of the consequences that follow for dialogue in geography: the differences in defining systems, in the understanding of processes, the problem of system borders, the inconsistent understanding of the ‘environment’ itself as well as the different epistemology that comes with it (or leads to it). The article tries to bring systems theory back into geography with the decisive aim of enhancing the potentials for interaction between human and physical geographers and, therefore, to explore the possibility of connecting the social with the physical world – deviating from systems theory.

Keywords: autopoiesis; dialogue in geography; second order observation; self-reference; systems; systems theory

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, Ludwig Maximilians University Munich, Luisenstrasse 37, 80333 Munich, Germany, Email: 2: Department of Geography and Regional Sciences, University of Vienna, Universitätsstrasse 7, 1010 Vienna, Austria, Email:

Publication date: 2009-09-01

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