Monday, August 13, 2007

What is Cultural Geography ?

OK. Welcome to my latest GeoBlog...
First port of call for the first post is to establish what
Cultural Geography is...

Wikipedia says it is:
"a sub-field within human geography. Cultural Geography is the study of spatial variations among cultural groups and the spatial functioning of society. It focuses on describing and analyzing the ways language, religion, economy, government,and other cultural phenomena vary or remain constant from one place to another and on explaining how humans function spatially (Jordan et. al., 1994)"
And that it can include studies of:
  • Globalisation: the blending of cultures so that they become more alike
  • Cultural Imperialism: where one culture tries to impose itself or spreads its influence into others, and can include Empires...
  • Cultural Landscapes: this fits in with a recent project I have been involved with on the issue of Landscape
  • Colonialism and migration
As far as the exam specification goes:
"Focus on examining what culture is and what makes the variety of cultures reflected in a place, including the local region. Raising questions about how places are represented. Opportunity to investigate the idea that globalization is leading to the emergence of a global culture or that differences between people and places is widening."

Mike Crang's 1998 book: "Cultural Geography" has an introduction which can be read thanks to Amazon's LOOK INSIDE feature.
The chapter titles are helpful in providing some pointers for avenues to explore:
  • Literary landscapes
  • Media
  • Place or Space
  • Geographies of commodities and consumption
  • Nations, homelands and belonging
Crang, who works at Durham University, says that it is very difficult to define exactly what is involved in Cultural geography. A starting point could be an investigation of cultures around the globe, and their diversity, but once one starts investigating these different groups, one finds that they have different 'world-views' and beliefs, and also material cultures (which is the focus that the Pilot takes), and Cultural geography looks at what holds these cultures together. As Crang says on p.3
"Cultural Geography looks at the ways different processes come together in particular places and how those places develop meanings for people... [it] is about the diversity and plurality of life in all its variegated richness.." (Crang, 1998)
It involves scales from the micro-geography of houses to the global scale: globalisation.

Different types of culture:
We shall be investigating some of the different TYPES of culture that exist.

Activities which are the products of HIGH culture: theatre, opera, art, literature and poetry.
Also brings in buildings such as libraries and museums.
Religious culture is important: festivals and holy days provide a rhythm to the year, but some of these have become 'commodified': think about how greetings cards companies target days such as Valentines Day and then look for other days to target...

There is also POPULAR CULTURE: TV, Sport, music..

There are also the inevitable SUB-CULTURES, as people look for ways to express their individuality. This would include ideas such as Football clubs (where religions rivalries sometimes play a part in some of the world's great derby matches - I recommend a book on this theme:
Other sub-cultures are related to music: Goths, Rave culture, Ibiza etc.
A new current one is the Emo... "Emo!" You know who you are !
The INDEX of the book is also useful as it provides some ideas for areas to explore...
e.g. Britian, commodities and consumption (a big Pilot theme, especially relating to the work that I was involved with in the Young People's Geographies project, involving Ian Cook and colleagues from Birmingham University - more on this in later posts), Disneyland (heading off there in October this year, so will post more about that too later in the blog...), iconography etc.

Another useful book, which you can also get a flavour of from Amazon is Donald Mitchell's book: "Cultural Geography: a Critical Introduction" (2000)This book has a useful introduction to Cultural Geography, and the contents are yet again helpful in suggesting possible alternative areas to study further.
The opening section has an interesting statement: "Culture is politics by another name". It starts by looking at the fact that cultural developments as part of urban redevelopment impact on local neighbourhoods.
There is also the issue of public art. People are not always appreciative of the amount of money that is spent on sculpture or art, and there are also issues of representation of all groups, and whether some projects are inclusive or exclusive.
The ticket prices of some cultural events are perhaps part of the exclusion of certain people.

One aspect of Cultural Geography which is rather nice to explore is one of Cultural landscapes.

So who are some names to find out more about ?
Doreen Massey has written extensively on space and place and globalisation and the changing geographies of the world.
Carl Sauer is a name that crops up frequently, as does Yi Fu Tuan.

We will also need to get to grips with the idea of 'determinism' in its various forms. More on this in later posts.
OK, so that's this latest blog under way. If you have any comments on any of the content, or ideas for future posts, or want to tell us about your book or related research, please get in touch.

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