Rethinking Geographical Inquiry


265 pages
ISBN 0-919604-62-5




Edited by J. David Wood

Anna-Marie Fournier, a former elementary-school teacher-librarian with
the Durham Board of Education, is an educational consultant.


Throughout much of the twentieth century there has been a steady bickering among geographers over what geography is (or is not) and how geographers should go about doing their work and peddling their wares. Within North America, and Canada in particular, George Tatham has contributed much to the philosophical and classical understanding of these debates. It is perhaps fitting, then, that a publication such as this, which examines some of the debates, should be dedicated to Tatham, who retired from four decades of active teaching in the late 1970s.

Specifically, this edited monograph presents four essays that re-examine the nature and methods of geographical inquiry. The introductory essay, by David Wood, devotes attention to the debates between the supporters of Richard Hartshorne, who provided “grandiose explanation of man’s agency on earth” and those of Fred Shaeffer, who was committed to the “scientific method.” The essay by Joe May provides an historical framework for evaluating what has happened in geography and sketches out incidents of geographical rethinking over the last two and a half millennia. The third essay, by John Marshall, questions the accepted logical positivist/scientific methodology of Western thought. As an alternative, he suggests the importance of the “critical rationalist” approach of Karl Popper for understanding some of the salient developments in geography’s recent past — especially the generalized “quantitative” and unique “historical” modes of reasoning. The final essay, by John Robinson, gets away from traditional Western rationalism and “flints” with Eastern philosophies in an attempt to understand the traditional geographical theme of man-nature relationships.

From the outset, it is clear that this is a monograph written by academics for academics. It is well referenced, although in parts there are too many long quotes in the text that could be relegated to footnotes. Nevertheless, these papers are challenging, thought-provoking, and interesting for anyone familiar with geographical thought and philosophy. In particular, the paper by Robinson, which questions the very foundation of traditional geographical (and Western) thinking is most stimulating. This is perhaps the only paper which successfully follows the reported theme of the monograph, which is to question “whether or not the evidence itself is valid” in geographical research.

The one big disappointment with the monograph is that it fails to address the importance (or otherwise) of what most geographers are doing that is, using geography, warts and all, to solve real world problems! But perhaps one should not expect this from academics.


“Rethinking Geographical Inquiry,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 14, 2024,