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So what is a Geographer anyway (Part III)

By Brian Doucet
March 10, 2008

Geographer or not a geographer?

Chances are if you have studied geography, you have read a lot of literature written by people who are not geographers. Because the definitions of what geography are have become very broad, and because it overlaps onto many different other fields of study, it is only logical that some of the authors who are the most influential to our own discipline, come from other subjects. This is something rather unique to geography; it is hard to image medicine students spending significant amounts of time reading books by those not related to the medical field.

Some of the more influential works used by geographers come from authors from other subjects. Richard Florida, whose work on creative cities has become a much-read book by economic geographers, and a toolkit for urban governments, comes from the field of management and public policy. Manuel Castells, a sociologist, has written extensively on cities and the network society. In a recent urban geography course, his book The Rise of the Network Society was required reading, and virtually all the faculty in my department have it on their shelves (myself included). And Saskia Sassen is an expert on globalisation and human migration, two terms central to what many geographers study. Yet she is a sociologist and economist by trade; she is a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. Even David Harvey, who is one of the most important writers in geography in recent times, and by all accounts is an actual geographer, is a professor of anthropology at CUNY in New York.

These examples point to the versatility of geography. Because the topic has no firm boundaries, we can borrow from other subjects. There are some exceptions; most of the major theorists in the study of gentrification, for example, come from geography departments. But because there are economic, social, urban, or historical geographers, our influences can also come from those subjects too. Coming from a geography-orientated background gives us a major advantage; we are in a good position to combine our ideas with those who have different educational backgrounds and experiences to have a broad and multidisciplinary look on the world around us.