Human Geography: Society, Space and Social Science by Derek Gregory, Ron Martin, Graham Smith

By Derek Gregory, Ron Martin, Graham Smith

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It is one thing to reveal the central (and often obfuscatory) role that ideology and metaphor play in our explanations; but it does not follow, as McCloskey (1986) incorrectly asserts in the case of economics, that this is all there is and that we must abandon epistemology and methodology altogether. The recognition of economic geography as discourse, as ideology, should impart a self-consciousness to the discipline, but not a self-destructiveness. A second issue is that postmodernism directs our attention to the inconclusivity and relativism of our explanations and analyses.

Postmodernists, however, go further and push relativism to its extremes: there is no decidability of meaning, and all that is possible is multiplicities of fragmented, partial and equally valid knowledges. Within economic geography this postmodernist emphasis on relativism and pluralism has surfaced in the attack on realist theorising and in the focus now accorded to spatial particularity and local uniqueness (see Hudson, 1988). The problem with this view is that what begins as a legitimate concern with diversity and difference can all too easily turn into a nihilistic pluralism that substitutes contingency for causation and the specific for the systematic.

There can be little doubt, therefore, that in various ways the 'postmodem challenge' is making economic geographers think much more closely about how they explain and theorise. Although it does not itself provide a satisfactory vision of the economy, nor programmatic guidance as to the construction or content of economic or geographic theory, it does compel us to assign greater epistemological significance to the pluralistic character of the contemporary space economy, not just in the sense of acknowledging the diversity of its surface forms but also in the sense of incorporating that diversity explicitly into our conceptual categories and modes of explanation.

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