miércoles, octubre 17, 2007

[AP] Geography and Postmodernism / R.U.T.

Geography and Postmodernism; A Reflective Speculation

Adedayo Adesina, Department of Geography, University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

La geografia ya no es un instrumento referencial sobre su propia disciplina, sino que es un cuerpo ECLECTICO sobre la base de nuestra sociedad, sobre la base de la accion directa y me refiero a los movimientos sociales y los vinculos territoriales y los procesos de identidad que ya no se muestran en una localidad sino en una congruencia UTOPICA, LOGOTOPICA, y URBANOTOPO, e decir con una referencia directa sobre la construccion de LUGAR . El quiebre de este nuevo paradigma abrio un nuevo lenguaje para entender la forma urbana, y el proceso de intelectualidad socio-cultural de consumir a ciudadano.

Este texto recogido desde R.U.T es una breve genealogia del proceso re-armando nuestra propia mirada.

Abstract: This brief paper is a review of eclectic epistemologies on postmodern urbanism in geography. A postmodern theory for a postmodern society, which tries to justify the repudiation of the Chicago school, and social movement that has recently become influential in urban Geography and planning. Dear and Flusty provide such a theory from Los Angeles vantage point. Their neologism not only provide a radical break in understanding urban form but, indeed, proclaim a victory of language dexterity over intellectual rationality in their intended role of provocative hypothesis generation. But there is strong evidence to the contrary; the non-universality of their claim and the ambivalence that pervades their presentation laid little or no credence to it validity in scientific tradition. The paper argues that a constructive dialogue and a range of perspectives within the concept of interdisciplinary research and between the disciplinary matrix of theoretical and methodological perspectives can contribute to a more progressive understanding of emerging urban form in a globalzing world.

Key words: Geography, Postmodernism, Postmodern Urbanism and Paradigm Shift.


Geography is an integrative discipline to which society has assigned responsibility for the study of areas. It is expected to satisfy human curiosity about how much of what is where, and why it is there, in an organized manner that will facilitate comprehension and retention. Geography has survived repeated misguided attempts to make it into a science by amputating vital parts of the discipline. Systematic Geography generates theories to facilitate an understanding of regions, and regional geography is providing ground where theories are tested empirically. Hart (1981) observed that the highest form of the geographer’s art is the production of evocative descriptions that facilitate an understanding and appreciation of regions. For some decades now, the way we write and think about the discipline of Geography has been framed by writings of great philosophers like max, Weber and classical thoughts. Geography is concerned to provide accurate, orderly, and rational description and interpretation of the variable character of the earth’s surface (Hartshorne, 1959 p, 21). A traditional held view- that geography is concerned with giving man an orderly description of his world makes clear the challenges faced by contemporary geographers.

Yeates (1968, p 1) defined geography as a science concerned with the rational development, testing of theories that explain and predict the spatial distribution and location of various characteristics on the earth’s surface. While geographers are in disagreement on the disciplinary matrix, there are major changes taking place in the core areas of geography especially theories and methodologies. The question now is that, to what degree are all these changes affect the practitioners of the discipline? And if these changes will be of neither lasting values nor their effect on the future of geography as an academic discipline. Adams (1968) noted that, geography is currently in the throes of paradigm crises. Instead of asking the traditional question, is it geography? Or what is geography?. Geographers are now asking, what should geography be? If a satisfactory answer is not found to the latter question, the next question is likely to be, is geography relevant? It is clear that this was not the first crisis phase in the development of geography. Perhaps Thomas Kuhn (1962, 1970a) is right to claim that science is not a well-regulated activities where each generation automatically builds upon the results achieved by earlier workers, but a process of varying tension in which tranquil periods, characterized by a steady accretion of knowledge, are separated by crisis which can lead to upheaval within disciplines and breaks in continuity.

Kuhn argued further that fundamental changes are often necessary in order to enable science progress. While it is possible to determine objectively whether, an explanatory framework is satisfactory and reasonable within a specific scientific tradition, which may be subjective. Kuhn called it paradigm. (Models or exemplars) for each discipline. He defined this as-universally recognized scientific achievement that for some time provides model problems and solution to a community of practitioners. There are diverse views on the concept of paradigm. Haggett (1983,p 21) defines a paradigm as a kind of supermodel. It provides intuitive or inductive rules about the kind of phenomena scientist should investigate and the best methods of investigation. A paradigm is a theory of scientific tasks and methods that regulates the research. A disciplinary matrix –the entire constellation of beliefs, value, techniques and so on shared by a member of a given community (Mair 1986). Because Kuhn had used the history of theoretical physics and the more striking discoveries within that field as the basis for his presentation, the assumption was made that a paradigm shift would involve an all-embracing change within a discipline. It is in the sense of disciplinary matrix that the term paradigm has most commonly been applied in the context of geography.

The development of science such as geography, beginning as a comparatively restricted philosophical problem, later becomes the subject for more thorough and systematic study. Discourse is not a free floating grid of intellectual construct in the society, therefore much a history of geography might be reconstructed in terms congruent with philosophy of science which may likely lead to a considerable gains. The first phase in the development of geography is called the pre-paradigm period, is marked by conflicts between several distinct schools which grows around individual scientist with diverse background. Hendrickson (1971) called this the muIti- paradigmatic period. The development from the multi-paradigmatic period to the stage of scientific maturity or professionalization has taken place at quite different historic dates .In an attempt to interpret the history of development of geography as an academic discipline, a simplified kuhnian term is much pertinent to series of phases the subject has undergone. The pressure by an extraordinary research produced a revolution-that is a paradigm shift, which was first introduced into geography by Haggett and Chorley in their preface to models in geography.

Postmodern Geography

Geography has indeed come of age. Geographers have been engaging themselves in an internal dialogue on the disciplinary matrix of geography. The scene has been dominated by individual motivated writings, eccentric researchers, Marxists and even anarchists. (Abumere 2002). Their drive to make geography follows the tradition of science has led to the rise and fall of several paradigms in the discipline. Geography moved from the traditional discovery or exploration, which dominated earlier stage to the areal differentiation paradigm. Sequentially, idiographic tradition gave way to the nomothetic methods. The recent attempt to make geography more relevant to providing the orderly arrangement of earth’s surface phenomena has led to emergence of new postulates within and out side the social and allied science. Social theorist culminated into the group called postmodernist provide ingredient in social theory by given us, at best second and third- rate literary critics who tend to offer few constructive contributions to the field of human geography.

The recent claims of postmodernism in geography was received with mixed feeling amongst the practitioners of the discipline. Typically, groups of urban geographers not only cling to postmodernism, but try to advance it as the core for the future (Dear and Flusty, 1989, Dear 2000). Critics have described Dear and Flusty’s postmodernist neologisms simplification claim as being, stereotype at worst, and ineluctably modernist in provenance and perspectives.(Lake,1999,Berry,1999). Amidst all these a well-trained human geographer need to know and understand social theory and postmodern literature, but also need to be well versed in the mainstream literature in geography to have effective command of analytical approaches to geographical issues (Wheelers 2000, Lake, 1999). When a leading disciplinary journal publishes Dear and Flusty article titled” postmodern urbanism”, it inadvertently call for the attention of community of academics who may not have notice the “ birth” of the new paradigm. Although Lake Caution that the debate ensued has open up a salvo on postmodernism rather than closing the debate. As a rhetoric strategy, he admit the announcement of a new paradigm, theory or intellectual construct which often follow the scientific fashion of repudiation or conjecturing of something old, by establishing the new ones. But, the question still remains; is there a postmodern geography? Have we had the birth of a new paradigm?-A postmodern theory to repudiate the old paradigm especially in urban geography. According to Robert Lake (1999):

” For how long have we heard that change is in the wind? Not just change, we are told, but something far more pivotal and irreversible has occurred: a fundamental restructuring, an absolute cleavage, a radical disjunction from all that has gone before. Looking to the millennium, all is new-time and space recalibrated and redrawn, the economy restructured, technology transmogrified, modernism repudiated—all supplanted by modes and forms separated from the old by irreparable rifts and unbreachable chasms.”

Postmodern Urbanism

Dear and Flusty’s key argument is that most 20th-century urban analyses have been Predicated on the Chicago School’s model of concentric rings. By synthesizing recent sStudies on the contemporary form of Southern California urbanism, they aim to develop a new concept, called postmodern urbanism, under the banner of the Los Angeles(LA) School of centerless “keno” capitalism. The fundamental features of the Los Angeles(LA) model include a global-local connection, a ubiquitous social polarization, and a reterritorialization of the urban process in which the hinterland organizes the center. This is, indeed, an ambitious undertaking. And yet, in the conclusion, we are told that their notion of keno capitalism is not a metanarrative but rather a micronarrative awaiting dialogical engagement. If the argument to shift our understanding of cities from the Chicago School to the Los Angeles School is not a metanarrative (which most postmodernists oppose), then, what is a metanarrative? This is not a new problem in Dear’s writings: critics pointed out ten years ago that Dear seeks to have his own cake and eat it too (Scott and Simpson–Housley, 1989). The most serious problem of the postmodern urbanism thesis, as I see it, is that the argument is premised on the dubious assumption that our society has been transformed and has moved from a modern epoch to a postmodern epoch—an unproven argument that has been hotly contested among social scientists.

A further problem with Dear and Flusty’s Annals piece is their adoption of a promiscuous neologism (neolorrhea?) as their overall tactic for postmodern analysis. We are told that the neologistic pastiche properly may be regarded as analogous to hypothesis- generation or to the practice of dialectics. But according to Webster’s English Dictionary, neologism has two basic meanings: (1) the creation or use of new words or expressions; (2) a meaningless word used by a psychotic. How can the creation of new (much less meaningless) words be analogous to hypothesis generation or to the practice of dialectics? I understand that new words must be created to reflect changing social realities but no theoretical advancement can be made in a discipline by simply inventing new words, especially when we have no ways to validate or evaluate them. By indulging themselves in promiscuous neologism creation, Dear and Flusty tend to treat words (the medium) as worlds (the message). They seem to forget that words (or for that matter, all the tools we have invented) are means to certain ends. Words and tools are the ladders we use to reach higher goals. Accordingly, what really matters are not the obfuscating words we invent. What actually advances our understanding of the real world is the ideas and ideals that we aspire to communicate when we use these words.

Bipolar disorder
Disinformation Superhighway
Global latifundia
Interdictory space
Keno capitalism
Memetic contagion
Neologistic pastiche

Source; DANIEL Z. SUI (2005)

Of course, in urban studies, the term postmodernism has come to mean both a new urban form and a new way of knowing the city (Gibson and Watson 1995). Ontologically, postmodern urbanism is described in this paragraph. Epistemologically, postmodernism is understood as a new form of criticism often linked with antiessentialism or poststructuralism, which, generally, engages and challenges modernist forms of knowledge production and control. There is clearly no necessity, despite some theorists arguing so, that postmodern be known via postmodern knowledges or via modern knowledges. In urban studies, there are postmodern critiques of modern cities, modern critiques of postmodern cities, and so forth, leaving the meanings of these terms anything but settled. Compare this from Soja (1989, 221): "Los Angeles . . . has, more than any other place, become the paradigmatic window through which to see the last half of the twentieth century. This do not suggest that the experience of Los Angeles will be duplicated elsewhere.

But just the reverse may indeed be true, that the particular experiences of urban development and change occurring elsewhere in the world are being duplicated in Los Angeles with this from Garreau (1991, 3): "Every single American city that is growing, is growing in the fashion of Los Angeles." Additionally, although changing (geographic) terrain preserves this binary construct, an emerging literature now portends Orange County as "the paradigmatic window on late-twentieth-century urbanism" (Dear and Flusty 1998, 68). Introduction of postmodernism into geography has also generated much confusion. Many modernistic geographers have wondered whether postmodernism may deconstruct or reconstruct geography. As a result, some of geographers concerning with postmodern geography easily entered into the reconstruction scheme. Others stickled to the analysis of postmodern culture in terms of more or less economic deterministic scheme, neglecting postmodernistic epistemology. Sang-il Lee(2005). The suggestion is that postmodernism aim neither at deconstruction nor at reconstruction geography and that postmodernism should be understood as attitude of 'doing geography' by means of postmodernistic epistemology. But it doesn't mean that postmodernism has only epistemological implications for geography.


The attempt to comprehend postmodern epistemology in geography has had limited success. Critics argued the veracity of this new postulate and believed that in near future theorist will look back and mark postmodern as one of the definitive statement of Los Angeles (LA) school of thought and as notable more for its intellectual bravery than theoretical displacement. Although, it is gaining ground in urban research than other branch of geographic enquiries. Postmodernist intended epistemological break is further blurred by the ambivalence that pervades their presentations. But, nonetheless, is there a birth of new paradigm-postmodernism? Or there is an attempt to break from the old theories? Beauregard (1999) described the courage of Dear and Flusty as “a failure of will”. Except that their boldness lies in the spirit of adventure that brings postmodern urbanism to how we theorize the city and the challenges it poses. I am of the suggestion that, the Los Angeles (LA) school should try and see the validity of their model in developing countries so as to follow the scientific tradition of replicability, refutation and conjectures.


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radical urban theory

Jose Llano
Arquitecto, Diseñador de Delitos & Coreografo del Deseo
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