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Geography: The Spatial Science

"Geography is the only subject that asks you to look at the world and try to make sense of it. The field never stops being exciting because that's what geography is all about - trying to make sense of the world." Peirce F. Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Geography, Pennsylvania State University. “If you want to understand the world, why not start with a river, a mountain, a village, a city, a road, and follow it to the ends of the earth?” Geography asks the big questions — Where? How? Why? What if? — and gives us the perspective to answer them with advanced technology and a solid knowledge of the world in which we all live together”.
Michael Palin, the man behind travel shows like Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole and Full Circle says ‘Geography is no longer just something which you learn from a book and a map and that's it. It's very much now a collaborative thing. Studying geography is key to understanding the world. It broadens the mind and it just helps us to understand how other countries are the ways they are, and this is really very important in just helping us to realize that we all share the same planet and we should know more about what makes us different as well as what makes us similar. Field trips are very important…I looked at books, I looked at maps, I looked at atlases, I enjoyed that, but the thing that inspired me most of all was being taken from the school into the local area to look at nature. To look at the way the land looked, to understand the geography, to walk up little hills and streams and see how the ecological system worked, look at the environment”.
Fundamentally, the term “Geography” is used to —“describe or picture or write about the Earth" (Eratosthenes: 276–194 BC). But, mere names of places...are not geography... It has higher aims than this: it seeks — to classify phenomena, to compare, to generalize, to ascend from effects to causes, and in doing so, to trace out the laws of nature and to mark their influences upon man. This is simply 'description of the world'. Hence, Geography is a Science—a thing not of mere names but of argument and reason, of cause and effect (William Hughes, 1863). The National Research Council (1997) says: geography has a well-developed set of perspectives:

  1. geography's way of looking at the world through the lenses of place, space, and scale;
  2. geography's domains of synthesis: environmental-societal dynamics relating human action to the physical environment, environmental dynamics linking physical systems, and human-societal dynamics linking economic, social, and political systems; and
  3. spatial representation using visual, verbal, mathematical, digital, and cognitive approaches.

Geography is a ‘science of place and space’. Geographers ask where things are located on the surface of the earth, why they are located where they are, how places differ from one another, and how people interact with the environment. Geography is unique in linking the social sciences and natural sciences together. It takes us to a different land and people with different cultures with 5 basic themes —

Location:

position on the earth’s surface

Place:

physical and human characteristics

Relationships within Places:

man – environment

Movement:

human interaction on the earth

Regions:

how they form and change

Physical geographers study spatial patterns of climates, landforms, vegetation, soils, and water or “Earth – in relation to – Man”, whereas Human geography is concerned with the spatial aspects of human existence or “Man – in relation to – Earth".

Geography is important in Real World to avoid the errors of other people and countries and to profit from their good ideas (Aristotle:384–322 BC), in order to keep our principles of living with nature alive ….compare them to those in other countries (Aurelius: 121–180), it teaches us to put things in perspective amid earthquakes, volcanism, floods, and wars (Montaigne:1533–1592), it's the job of the geographers to be exact, truthful and unbiased about time, storehouse of deeds, witness for the past, examples and counsel for the present and warning for the future (Cervantes:1547–1616), in order to judge our own customs and actions better by examining those of others living in different situations ……to travel to another place and time by listening to people describing their time and country (Descartes:1596–1650), in order to advance man's knowledge…. man makes continual progress through trial-and-error learning….to learn the universal principles of human nature by seeing man in different kinds of situations and circumstances (Pascal:1623–1662), mankind are so much the same, in all times and places… the use of geography is to understand, live and exist in our current world ….. we must trade, understand and exist with others (Hume: 1711–1776), to ensure order in society by having an informed and educated people and in order to remove prejudices and increase understanding (Adam Smith: 1723–1790).
In all practicability, Geography is the “Science of Location” at all Scale and at all Levels including “Morphometry and Morphology of Space”. To solve the ‘Location Problem’ all required are to overlay and judge ‘sets of Spatial Information’ in a form we know and call “MAPS”. Prof Georg Gartner (August 2014) says: “Starting as a geographer and cartographer dealing with details on how to deal with signs, graphic variables and basically modeling the syntax of cartographic language, I have evolved into becoming interested in the meaning of this form from a more semantical perspective and finally end up in being interested in the enormous power and potential of the pragmatic dimension of cartography. Thus understanding maps not only as a collection of signs and graphics, but that those signs carry a specific meaning for a particular human being or community in a particular situation, thereby leading to an immersive way of human communication.”
Today, Smart Phones / iPhones have made our life more geography-friendly, using Location-based Services / Apps like— GPS, Google Map, iPhone Map, Flipkart, Amazon, GoogleEarth, AccuWeather, Hop Stop, and all. Yes. That’s Geography in Action, all over the Globe. It requires a formalized knowledge to understand the “core principles of geography” related to the ‘habitat, economy and society’ of mankind living in a particular setting that varies with time and space.
Reginald Golledge (2015) says: Today geographers teach and research about concepts that are relevant to everyday life, thereby enabling us to understand the things we do on a daily or other episodic bases, and how everyday actions affect the world around us (e.g. auto pollution contributing to global warming). This kind of emphasis increases awareness of our personal lives and activities and their socio-political contexts at scales ranging from neighborhood to global. Certainly, we do all practice "geography". It has helped us to understand the ‘physical systems' that affect our everyday life; to learn the ‘location of places' and their ‘physico-cultural characteristics'; to understand the ‘geography of the past' and how it has ‘played important roles' in the ‘evolution of people, their ideas, places, and environments'; to develop a ‘mental map' of our ‘community, country and the world' in order to understand the "where" of places and events; to explain how the ‘processes of human and physical systems' have arranged themselves and also, sometimes changed the surface of the Earth; to understand the ‘spatial organization' of peoples and identify ‘order' in what appears to be random; to recognize spatial distributions at all ‘scales – local and global' - in order to understand the linkages between people and places; to be able to make sensible judgments about mattes involving relationships between physical environment and society; to appreciate Earth as the Home of Mankind and provide insight for ‘wise use of natural resources' of this planet; and finally, to understand our ‘global interdependence' and to become a better ‘global citizen'.
All Because……. It's Big: It's more than maps. Geography's about knowing what's where, why it's there, and why it matters. Knowing geography makes our life more interesting, more exciting, and smarter. It opens doors for the whole Universe. It's out there (Geography is in your backyard and across the globe. Get to know your community and the people in it). It's what you know (How's your Global IQ?). It's what you listen to (Regions have their own rhythms, and sounds that echo cultures a world away). It's what you eat (While in a restaurant, find the region your food is from on a map). It's what you buy (A walk through a Mall or a Grocery Store can be a journey around the world. Find out, where they have come from, how they have been processed/made and how they got here). It's what you do (Slap a map up on your wall, or get a GPS unit and play Geocaching or EarthCaching). It's high-tech and real-life treasure hunting. It's academic (Choose "geography" as your ‘major' and research topics that let you learn about exotic places and geographic issues). It's your future (It can take you anywhere and everywhere. One of the hottest fields now is GIS, understanding and tackling challenges—globally and locally). It's important (Make sure your teachers, parents, neighbours, and friends aren't out of the loop). After Ellen Moir, Director of Teacher Education, New Teacher Centre, UC SC (2018), it must be recognized that geographers are not born, they're developed. Be a Geographer today just as Man has been from the Dawn of his Existence.

All we understand today is: Geography is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary subject. To understand its robust scope and content, let us assume a cube with 6 planes, each representing a geographer’s perspective and on each one of which lies a set of 9 parameters as follows —

  1. Exploring our World (Global Issues: geographers deal with) = {Species Extinction, Deforestation, Ozone Hole, Climate Change, Weather Forecasting, Population Growth and Distribution, Aging Population, Tourism, War}
  2. Fascinating Earth (Physical Earth: geographer’s main platform) = {Earthquakes, Tsunami, Volcanoes, Storms, Hurricanes, Floods, Drought, Forest Fires, Conflicts in Earth Systems}
  3. Living Together (Human Society, Economy, and Development: geographers commonly address) = {Ethnicity and Religion, Language, Literacy, Health, Migration, Mobility, Poverty, Economic Development, Pollution in Urban Systems}
  4. Shrinking Planet (Human Exploitation of Earth: geographer’s main concern) = {Nature, Minerals, Water Resources, Land Resources, Energy Resources, Agriculture, Food Resources and Distribution, Housing, Waste, and Pollution}
  5. Useful Geographies (Man’s Activity Space: measured, monitored, mapped and modeled by geographers) = {Risk, Transport, Planning, Education, RS /GIS, Geographic Skills, Using Maps, Facilities Management, Resources Management}
  6. Earth from all Angles (Regional Complexities: geographers focus on) = {Mountains, Deserts, Wetlands, Rivers, Oceans and Seas, Urban Landscapes, Rural Landscapes, Karst Landscapes, Polar Regions}

The resultant product is the GeoCube, some of whose planes meet directly, while others indirectly. No matter, how they exist, it is bound by a chain of sets of relationships that describes the habitat, economy, and society of man over time and space, the construct of which forms the basis of the core geography With the help of geospatial tools and techniques, they manage natural and urban environments, analyze the evolving relationship between people and places, plan transportation routes, investigate sustainable landuse worldwide, create Geographic Management Systems for industries and government agencies, help understand and restore natural ecosystems, and much, much more ….. Geographers do make a difference. The three "lenses" through which geographers view the world are —integration in place, interdependencies between places, and interdependencies among scales.
It addresses the issues of environmental-societal dynamics and distinctiveness of place, complexity and nonlinearity, and central tendency and variation.
Thus, geography is a science of flows. It sees the world not as a static mosaic of spatial units but as an ever-changing tapestry of landscapes, movements, and interactions. Geographers recognize that "place" is defined in part by the movement of peoples, goods, and ideas from other locations. Geography's perspectives now include complexity and nonlinearity and relationships between form and function. Common examples relate to the critical issues for society, e.g., conflict and cooperation and human health. Geography has been deeply concerned with interdependencies among scales, from global to local. Increasingly a major focus of geography is the linkage between macroscale and microscale processes—that is, how phenomena at different time and space scales interact in surprising, disjunctive, and unpredictable ways.
This spatial science is a powerful tool for integrating a variety of dynamic processes to anticipate possible futures is the description of "future geographies"—maps of evolving patterns of change, related to real places and the concerns of those who live there. The study of Geography has always been evolving and at critical times there has always been a question such as:

  1. "Why is geography still important?"
  2. "Is the study of geography still relevant to modern society?"
  3. "What does the stud of geography research now?"
  4. "Are there still patterns to be identified and new lands and cultures to be discovered?"
Stories of different traditions are always told by storytellers. The subject of geography is no exception in this regard. The field of geography has expanded from the earlier years of the discipline. Determinism persisted up to WW II in one shape or other. Possibilism bloomed after WWI and continued till the 1950s. The QR – I took place after that. The important work of mapping the world and exploring new countries and continents has changed to the abstract and difficult interpretation of information technology, analyses of flows of financial attributes and goods, and evaluation of the ever accelerating and transforming social and cultural realm of postmodern society. The tellers of the geographical story have changed, but in the end, the very essence of the subject is still the same - to explore the world we know in the past, present, and future.
Today, the work of geographers relies on three major concepts: space, place, and environment. These very same components are the ones which deal with a new idea of electronic environments and spaces. Indeed, the geographical tradition has gone through several phases, and Kuhn's (1962) ideas of scientific revolutions in the form of paradigms are clearly identifiable. Since the 1970s a transverse shift of approach slowly began to make inroads: from “how man lives where he lives” to “why man lives where he lives”. The dynamic adoption of challenging new realms of information technologies and their spatial implications are visible and concrete evidence of the potential that the science of geography has at the dawn of the new millennium. Since the 1980s, debate, and discussion mainly focused on pollution, degradation, ozone depletion, oil spill, acid rain, deforestation, along with population explosion. Since the 1990s, natural hazard, natural disaster, El Nino, ENSO, climate change, GIS, RS, GPS, sustainable development, ICT, ISC, Multivariate Analysis, Spatial Analysis, PC, Word Star, Lotus 1-2-3, Fortran, COBOL, Dbase, FoxPro, and so on.
Computer Technology grew fast: Hordes of software from corporate houses and labs are coming into the market almost every day. Since, 2000 OSs getting revolutionalized, programming languages became unique requiring small space and great precision and www, broadband, and cable internet with optical fibre technology introduced. With smart versions of SPSS, SAS, SYSTAT, ArcGIS, TNT Mip, HECRAS, White Box, ERDAS, FOSS with multiple Plug-Ins are now geography scholar’s toys. Tab and Mobile technology precisely changed our social, cultural and political perceptions. Liberalization and Globalization have taken its toll. Paglan’s Experimental Approach, NeoGeography, and Geography of Hope are emerging…. The TFL and TSL have been gaining popularity with the advent of ‘geospatial technology’…..
      Tobler’s 1st Law of Geography (TFL:1970): “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things”.
      Tobler’s 2nd Law of Geography (TSL:1999): “The phenomenon external to (a geographic) area of interest affects what goes on in the inside”.

Deep Understanding in Core Geography has been steadily making inroads….All these are proud moments for all of us, the Geographers.

In the 21st Century, it's still all about geography. Today national borders, and one's group identity no longer matter. After all, we live in the age of the Internet, the global economy, and multinational corporations, and the European Union. Millions of students are traveling abroad for their education. Thomas Friedman assured us that the world was flat. Does it matter in 2019 who controls a particular piece of real estate? Yes, it does. It matters a great deal not only to the people who occupy a particular piece of land but also to the United States.  Many, even the majority, of conflicts around the world right now are driven by matters of geography. China has nearly come to blows with a number of its neighbors over groups of barren rocks in the waters that separate them. Moscow has annexed Crimea and Russian separatists in Ukraine are fighting the government in Kiev for the right to become part of Russia. The collapse of the most recent round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks provides additional evidence of the challenges posed to drawing enduring lines on a map of the world. We really shouldn’t be particularly surprised by recent events. The name of the political entity where one resides, which government collects one’s tax payments and the identity of the people who form one’s community have been subjects of intense disputes, even hostilities, forever. This is why Slovaks couldn’t live in the same country with Czechs, Bangladeshis with Pakistanis, Croats with Serbs, Eritreans with Ethiopians and why fourteen of the fifteen republics of the former Soviet Union wanted nothing to do with Russia.
Geography and identity also are the sources of today’s conflicts in Syria, Iraq, the Caucasus, Kashmir, the Congo, Nigeria, Thailand, Mali, the Central African Republic, Sudan, Yemen, Myanmar, Afghanistan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. Québécois want freedom from their benign Canadian "overlords", Flemings seek autonomy from Walloons in Belgium, Catalans and Basques desire to distance from the rest of Spain and Scottish separatists are calling for a referendum on independence from England, BREXIT.
Geography matters because people live on land and the ability to control important parts of the Earth's surface on which people live will continue to be important to national security. Geography matters because that is where the people are. Land forces are central to controlling land and the people on it. Geography matters because ‘geography’ and ‘identities’ act as the source of so many of today’s conflicts. The ability to protect, secure, seize and occupy that which others value so highly must be a powerful source of influence, deterrence and even basis for victory in war. At the dawn of the new Millennium, scientific disciplines are esteemed, supported, and patronized largely to the degree to which they are perceived as providing a “return” on invested societal resources. This “return” takes the form of scholarly products that help answer deep human questions. Thus, disciplines exist in a “market” in which members compete for these limited resources by delivering products seen as valuable. In such a market, disciplinary relevance and survival are ultimately tied to decisions individual scholars make about which research they pursue: The greater the perceived “return”, the better for the long-term health of the discipline (Harman, 2003). In a competitive "market", this obscures the fundamentally political nature of how social resources are allocated and how social needs are defined. Such a vision would likely to turn the geographers into mere technicians. A healthier role for the discipline is for geographers to seek ways of asserting intellectual leadership and of shaping social agendas along more humane and socially just lines (Heyman, 2006). And the new fields of research are: Collapsing Space and Time, Digital Determinism and The Trap of Endless Description, Diversity, Fragmented Reality, and Non-linear Reasoning, Electronic Frontier, Global Village, Hyper Reality/ Hyper-modern World of Reality, Information Society, Information Super Highway, Network Geography, Post-Modern, Critical and Deep Geography, Shrinking World, Surfing the Surfaces and Virtual Land of Expression
In the contemporary world, increasingly important Issues are: globalization and financial concentration. Economic geography continues to play a major role and is strongly connected to the expansion of the world market and to analyses of monetary flows: "The idea of the 'global village' becomes a reality”. The economic decision is now liberated from the location. We are living in a wired world, where distance has lost its meaning and the knowledge incorporated into the decision making reflects the climax of informational techno-society (Mitchell 1995; Batty 1993; Gillespie 1992). As Graham (1998) put: "Human life becomes 'liberated' from the constraint of space and frictional effects of distance. Anything becomes possible anywhere and at any time. All information becomes accessible everywhere and anywhere."
Another area of geographical interest relates to the ideas of surveillance, political regulation, civic influence, and their future developments. The classic idea of 'big brother is watching you'…is connected with the convergence of the mobile phone, computer, and GPS. The geographical location and past time paths of a person's movements can be traced, and the technology seems to be developing so quickly that personal privacy might be in jeopardy (Bogard 1996; Batty 1996; Graham 1999; Shattuck 1996). It concerns a big issue of 'free speech, civic influence, and democracy in the networks’. Computer hardware is expensive, Internet connection fees are rising, and finally, the knowledge and ability to use these systems is not a basic skill that is mastered by everyone. It creates a polarising effect in the field of social policy and welfare sociology. And then, some wanted to merge IT and its developments to be part of 'societal evolution' as a whole. Analyses of networks and their social, cultural, economic and political impacts have led to the notion of space of flows and space of places.

Notes of Warning
  1. The importance of technology is measured directly through the analytical capacity that provides the power to handle the massive amount of data. The dynamics of real-time data updates with a large number of variables creates the instrumental utility that information technology has. However, the important factor is the interpretation of a phenomenon - not the measurement of it.
  2. Arc GIS, SAS, SPSS, and ERDAS provide efficiency and the new computerized way of describing the environment, but the real understanding comes from the researcher with the wisdom of “Core Geography” from the perspective of “Deep Understanding: Critical Approach”. The danger of appreciating and relying too much on GIS leads to the 'trap of endless description' (Pickles, 1995). As Soja (1989) emphasized: impacts of GIS in the hyper-modern world of generalized information and communication reasserts a critical understanding of the socio-spatial dialectic.
  3. There is an uneven geographical distribution of host concentrations. The contrast and gap between high-tech western societies and less developed countries are increasing. The analysis shows that nation-state usage of Internet correlates strongly with GNP (www.mids.org. 1999; Starrs 1997). However, it is not only the gap but also the regionally unequal development within 'developed' areas. In general, these two macro-level tendencies lead to research dealing with the widely used concepts of globalization and localization.
Thus, the geographical standpoint in today's fast-growing technological sphere is very fragmented. The subject of the study can vary from subjective and immeasurable human behaviour to quantifiable and measurable transaction volumes. However, the researcher's own values and beliefs determine whether he or she emphasizes substitution and co-evaluation through ‘actor-network’ perspectives in 'cyberspatial platform'.