Dynamics in economic geography 2e druk - Ton van Rietbergen, Sierdjan Koster

1.2 | The rediscovery of economic geography

used geographic theories to underpin plans for the expansion of the Third Reich. Due to the association of geography with Blut und Boden (‘Blood and Soil’, the al leged connection between geography and race), the geography faculties of Harvard

in Boston and Columbia in New York were closed dur ing this period, as were those of other renowned univer sities in the United States. For economic geography as a discipline, this was a significant blow. Slowly but surely, economic geography recovered and lately, certainly from 1990 onwards, it has been a flourish ing discipline, although this development has not been without difficulties. The debate between economists and geographers has always been fraught; economists accuse geographers of not having sufficient general theory, while geographers claim that economists do not pay enough at tention to empirical evidence as a source of knowledge. Often the debate centres on the question: to what extent does the physical environment determine the econom ic achievements of businesses and regions? Over time, a number of different answers to this question have been proposed. Initially, the focus was on the influence of the

Figure 1.1 The 2009 World Develop ment Report

physical environment on regions’ economic achievements. In his seminal work Civilization and Climate (1915), Ellsworth Huntington (1876-1947) classified civi lizations hierarchically. The most stimulating climate, he argued, was that of New Haven, Connecticut. Coincidentally, this was where he taught, at Yale University. Other regions followed, with countries with tropical climates inhabited by dark skinned people bringing up the rear. Huntington considered climatic differences relevant to environmental factors influencing businesses, and therefore to their overall economic achievements. Geographer Ellen Churchill Semple went further, witness the first sentence of her 1911 book Influences of Geographic Environment : ‘Man is a product of the earth’s surface.’ Huntington and especially Semple were clear representatives of physical determin ism in geography, which was based on the premise that nature limits variations in human behaviour. Economists thought this was too dogmatic and did not leave enough room for human agency, leading to a rejection of geography’s ability to ex plain world poverty. The solution to poverty would have to come from humans and technology, for example by stimulating the economy, as was argued by Keynes and applied by President Roosevelt in his New Deal to fight the 1929 economic crisis. Initially, the postwar development of the welfare state did not do the discipline of economic geography much good either. During this period, society was heavily influenced by the rise of new technology. There was a strong feeling among politi cians, entrepreneurs and consumers alike that nature and the limitations it imposes can be controlled. Society was seen as something that could be shaped into what


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