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Fifty Years of Disciplinary Flux within Human Geography: changing sociocognitive subdisciplines and subcultures

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Contemporary academic human geography is irretrievably marked by disciplinary flux driven by divergent cognitive, cultural and social positions within geography's archipelago of subdisciplinary and subcultural territories, with the most evident sociocognitive disjuncture being between so-called social theorists and spatial analysts. The cognitive and social attributes of some leading subcultures prevalent in the 1960s and 2000s are compared, using an amended version of Becher's four dimensions, namely soft-hard, pure-applied, convergent-divergent and disengaged-engaged. Diagrams are presented indicating the postulated location of each subculture within these four dimensions. Five influential subcultures are identified in the 1960s, namely regional, cultural, spatial, radical and empirical. For contemporary human geography, cultural and empirical subcultures are retained, while acknowledging that these are radically different from the 1960s versions. In place of regional and spatial analysis, four major contemporary preoccupations are identified, namely critical, analytical, instrumental and reformist. Current disciplinary fragmentation is, in part, driven by expansion and specialisation in sociocognitive territories and by cross-disciplinary engagement, but is reinforced by loss of momentum towards a shared coherent disciplinary identity and by exclusionary strategies within some subcultural fiefdoms. Reciprocity and acceptance of multiple perspectives may be the best strategy towards realising disciplinary potential.
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Keywords: Human geography; critical theory; disciplinary cultures; instrumentalism; social theory; spatial analysis

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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