Every geography seminar I’ve sat in invariably starts with or runs into the question and subsequent debate about what defines the discipline of Geography. At this point, I’m half inclined to say Geography is the discipline of arguing about what constitutes Geography.
Most recently, my History & Philosophy of Geography seminar read Turner’s (2002) take on the question and some of his word’s jumped out at me. He summarizes the debate as one between spatial-chronological (aka Geography is a science that uses spatial approaches to study issues) and human-environment (aka Geography is a science that studies the human-environment subject).
Turner offers one definition of Geography the discipline where “the human-environment condition becomes the object of study, whereas the favored approaches to analysis are spatial-chorological in kind” (Turner, 64).
Turner’s unity-under-a-human-environment approach resonated with me. I agree with his assertion that “one strength of geography is its openness to a range of explanatory realms, each acting as a check on the excess of the others and facilitating a science-humanities bridging function” (Turner, 53). I came to Geography from outside the discipline. My undergrad honors thesis was through the Environmental Studies department, but when I proposed my topic (analyzing China’s commitment to the UN Convection to Combat Desertification), I eventually ended up working with a Geographer as my main advisor. In my search for an undergrad advisor, faculty members consistently told me that my desire to merge my International Affairs and Chinese work with my Environmental Studies work (I was a triple major, aka indecisive) would fit best under the heading of Geography. Thus, for me, Geography has always been the ‘bridging’ discipline.