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Geographers debate the philosophical foundations of their research in ways similar to debates among other natural scientists, social scientists, and humanists, although with a particular emphasis on geographical views of the world and on representation. These debates have not been restricted to the philosophical realm but have had very practical consequences for substantive research, often resulting in contrasting theoretical interpretations of the same phenomenon. For example, neopositivist and structural accounts of the development of settlement systems have evolved through active engagement with one another, and debates about how to assess the environmental consequences of human action have ranged from quantitative cost-benefit calculations to attempts to compare and contrast instrumental with local and indigenous interpretations of the meaning and significance of nature. In subsequent chapters we have not attempted to mark these different perspectives, choosing instead to stress the phenomena studied rather than the approaches taken. We attempt selectively to include leading researchers from different perspectives working on a particular topic, to the extent that their work can be constituted as scientific in the broad sense that we use that term (see Sidebar 1.1).
While we recognize that different perspectives frequently lead to intense debates engaging very different views of the same phenomenon, there is no space in this report to detail these debates. Such often vigorous interchanges and differences strengthen geography as both a subject and a discipline, however, reminding researchers that different approaches may be relevant for different kinds of questions and that the selection of any approach shapes both the kind of research questions asked and the form the answers take, as well as the answers themselves.