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Areal Differentiation

Areal Differentiation

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Published by Vivek Kumar

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Published by: Vivek Kumar on Oct 13, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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areal differentiation
The study of the spatial distribution of physical and human phenomena as they relate toother spatially proximate and causally linked phenomena in regions or other spatial units. Alongwith spatial analysis and landscape approaches, this is often seen as one of the three major approaches to understanding in human geography . It is indeed the oldest western tradition of geographical inquiry, tracing its beginnings to the Greeks Hecateus of Miletus and Strabo. Thegeographer, in Strabo\'s words, is \'the person who describes the parts of the Earth\'. Butdescription was never simply taking inventory of the various characteristics of different regions.The purpose was to understand those features of parts of the Earth that were of greatest politicaland military significance. This understanding was to wax and wane in relative importance downthe years. But it never completely faded away, even if revived under different circumstances andusing different concepts and language.The \'classic\' epoch of regional geography, to use Paul Claval\'s (1993, p. 15) phrase, wasreached in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when much of the conceptual debatein geography was devoted to the concept of the region. Such geographers as Paul Vidal de laBlache and Alfred Hettner were leading exponents of regional perspectives. An influentialmodern statement of geography as areal differentiation, drawing from the arguments of Hettner in particular, was made in Richard Hartshorne\'s The nature of geography (1939). This is usuallyseen as claiming that geography is about showing how unique regions reveal the co-variation of  phenomena that can only be understood through identifying regions. Hartshorne\'s repeated useof the term areal differentiation and his avowed indifference to the \'phenomena themselves\'could well lead to such an idiographic interpretation. The logic of the presentation, however,suggests that recognizing regions requires investigation of similarities as well as differences over space. Areal differentiation, therefore, is about establishing degrees of sameness as well asdifference between regions (Agnew, 1989). Hartshorne\'s critics (principally exponents of thespatial-analysis view of the field) accused him of seeing locations as unique and justifying atraditional regional geography in which \'areal differentiation dominated geography at theexpense of areal integration\' (Haggett, 1965). This led to the association of areal differentiationwith the particularity of regions at the expense of attention to more extensive geographical patterns and to the causes of such spatial distributions. Defining geography as a spatial sciencethus moved the field away from a central concern with regions as spatial clusters of linked phenomena.In the 1980s areal differentiation made something of a comeback as a central perspective for human geography. The revival is neither directly connected to older debates such as those between Hartshorne and his critics nor is it monolithic. Indeed, there are at least three specificintellectual positions in the revival, none of which uses the same concepts or vocabulary as theothers. The first derives from the streams of thought referred to collectively as humanistic

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