GY802 Key Concepts In Geography: week 3

This is my reaction paper for the 3rd week of the above graduate class I am taking.

Drawing boundaries

“The standard maps of cartographers seem to work better in rural areas than in urban areas”. Hart, 1982: 11.

In my day job, I produce summaries of survey data collected by agencies like the International Social Science Programme. These summaries tabulate the proportions of Catholics in Ireland who feel religious, who attend Catholic Mass frequently and who believes that immigrants are a burden on the country. Because the variable is available to me, I like to cross-tabulate these data with indicators of broad regions, usually the four provinces of the Republic’s territory. Sometimes this represented as towns or cities of X population. To take an example, below is a table showing the frequency of Mass attendance amongst those polled by the region in which they currently reside:


How often do you attend religious services apart from special occasions Every day More than once a week Once a week At least once a month Only on special holy days Less often Never Total
Connaught 3.7% 7.0% 47.3% 18.7% 8.4% 10.6% 4.4% 100.0%
Dublin 8.4% 5.4% 23.8% 23.3% 15.8% 18.8% 4.5% 100.0%
Munster 2.7% 5.6% 47.3% 17.9% 11.8% 11.8% 2.9% 100.0%
Rest Of Leinster 2.0% 5.6% 40.1% 23.4% 13.2% 13.5% 2.3% 100.0%
Ulster 1.8% 7.0% 47.4% 26.3% 9.6% 5.3% 2.6% 100.0%
Total 3.5% 6.0% 42.0% 20.9% 11.9% 12.5% 3.3% 100.0%

Source: ESS Round 4, 2009/10


From this, it can be seen that Catholics who live in Connacht attend Mass weekly in greater numbers than those who live in Dublin. Very often, those I produce these summaries for, assign some sense of causality between these two variables. Frequently this is expressed as “Dublin people are less religious than those in my area”. Sometimes, if Dublin is the same as other parts of Ireland in some other variable, the response can be something like “well, of course, Dublin is different”. This conforms to a general sense that those in cities tend to be less religious than those living in more rural regions. In studies of secularisation, cities are places where new ideas arise and challenge older orthodoxies, radiating outward along lines of transport and communication. Not alluding to a sense of ‘the regional’ is an assumption in such discussions. This would imply a knowledge of ‘the regional’ based on something other than the facts presented. So it seems that, human action in places is sometimes nomothetic and sometimes idiographic. Where does that ability to switch between one and the other come from?

The people of Dublin may attend Mass less often than those in Banteer, county Cork but they also do many, many other things differently. For example, most people in Dublin spend far more time commuting to work that those in Banteer. We will never know without an accretion of the facts in each place in relation to each other. Such an investigation will bring together hundreds of variables across Amin’s “transhuman networks” (33). Hart’s paper proposes the integrative approach as a way of describing “the interplay of the myriad of variables in the real world” (13). As geographers, he says, we have a duty to satisfy the curiosity of “most people” (1). I suggest that an integrative approach to the differences between Banteer and Dublin city would not only be temporally impossible but exceptionally boring. Amin goes on to make a more salient point that might be extended back into the weariness evident on Harvey’s paper on ghetto formation. Amin states “spatialities are decisive in the constitution of the local, but they continue to be written out of the hegemonic territorial imaginary of the world” (34). Dublin is not just different about attendance at Mass but is qualitatively different in the constitution of its own power with regard to other self- or other-constituted ‘regions’. A region constituted by Peter Gould or JF Hart is arguably very different than it is as constituted by David Harvey. It is evident from Gould that Harvey’s political economy perspective is about “human concern” (146) and not based on anything more substantial than “a Fanonian sense of outrage”. For his part, Hart states that “we make a mistake when we try to tell society what it ought to want from geography…” (19). Instead he frowns upon the type of regionalism that forms the basis of the TVA for bypassing “the traditional political apparatus”. City travellers seem to see no more than the surface and relate it to some nomothetic ontology. Looking out across the countryside seemingly gives the geographer a better vision.

For geographers like Hart and Gould, there is an ideal moment where the science of geography seems to exist, if only we could attain it. For Harvey this is no less than a “shabby struggle for power and status within a disciplinary framework”. Adaptation to the latest methodological imperative of power becomes an end in itself and for me, this goes to the heart also of the Fuller and Askins paper. They refer to the emancipation of the geographer from such shabby struggles in their framing of critical, public geographies and the need to decolonise the Self (588). Taking the hegemonic understanding of ‘the regional’ out of geography’s contribution to some pantheon of idealised knowledge is part of such a decolonisation process. Geography’s contribution to knowledge is shot through by all of the occurrences of Mackinder’s legacy for example, the FMSO Oaxaca project.

Determinations of ‘the regional’ serve the establishment of a subject called geography, which may once have felt the need to place itself among other human and social sciences. Amin’s “field of agonistic engagement” (39) comes closer to an integrative sense of understanding and description than modelling or statistical tabulation. The diffusion of public and private means of representing places as can be seen from Goodchild’s paper should be enough evidence of this integration. Claims to being a science would imply that geography will free that Kantian general will (243) that Schaefer brings out in his paper. No such metaphysical free will exists; it is always deeply embedded in relations of power in places.