Thinking across the divide: perspectives on the conversations between physical and human geography

Harrison, Stephan; Massey, Doreen; Richards, Keith; Magilligan, Francis J.; Thrift, Nigel and Bender, Barbara (2004). Thinking across the divide: perspectives on the conversations between physical and human geography. Area, 36(4) pp. 435–442.



This paper reports on a meeting which was held at the RGS/IBG annual conference in London in September 2003, where we aimed to investigate and debate some of the ways in which human and physical geography could (and should?) reopen a dialogue. This conference session was timely for three reasons. First, whilst human geography has a long tradition of engaging in philosophical discussion, physical geographers have been rather more reluctant to examine ontological and epistemological issues. However, there have been a number of recent interventions by physical geographers which have attempted to formulate coherent philosophies for geomorphology (e.g. Richards et al. 1997; Harrison 2001) and it seemed appropriate to attempt to widen this debate. Seond, human and physical geographers have begun to discuss the linkages between the two sub-disciplines (e.g. Massey 2000; Lane 2001) and this coincided with two workshops at the RGS in 2000 and 2001 where physical and human geographers debated the opportunities for further integration and conversations. Third, the concept of Earth System Science has found a central role in the reformulation of physical geography, and stresses the links between physical, biological and social systems to investigate large-scale issues such as climate change. Such an approach stresses large-scale modelling and explanations in which linkages across the disciplines are developed. In addition, we used this session and this paper to flag up the debate which continued at the 2004 RGS-IGU in Glasgow.

As a result, we brought together four different voices from physical and human geography and anthropology in order to initiate a debate on the ways in which closer disciplinary links can be fostered. This paper allows each of the four speakers to outline their arguments, and closes with a summary of the debate which followed.

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