Integration in Place

Geography's traditional interest in integrating phenomena and processes in particular places has a new relevance in science today, in connection with the search for what some have called a ''science of complexity."

Geography's Subject Matter

From its work on integration in place, geography has produced a substantial literature related to the challenges of integration in place and the significance of such integrative perspectives for scientific understanding. Two examples are environmental-societal dynamics and the distinctiveness of place.

Example: Environmental-Societal Dynamics

At least since Malthus,1 the relationship between population and its social and environmental resource base has been a central issue for science, and geography has long focused on the nature of that relationship, ranging from local and contemporary contexts to global and historic processes. Geographers are involved in both data collection and analysis to identify connections among changes in population, environment, and social responses.

For example, geographers have reconstructed population-resource dynamics for a large number of places throughout the world. Following Butzer (1982), several important facets of the relationship over the long-term may be distilled from these works, such as the following:

  • Sustained population growth is not the norm at subglobal (regional) levels; given sufficient time, locales and regions may display significant declines in population.
  • These declines are typically associated with political devolution.
  • Populations do not always, or regularly, approach the limits allowed by the sociotechnological conditions in which they exist.
  • Human-induced environmental change involves continual trial-and-error adjustments on the part of the population. Among agrarian-based societies, these adjustments are consciously related to a strategy to balance short- and long-term needs.

As another example, flows of materials, energy, and ideas across places have powerful impacts on human uses of the environment, and such impacts can mask basic understanding of contemporary environmental change. The sixteenth-

1  

The English economist and mathematician Thomas R. Malthus (1766-1835) is best known for his work on population and resources, embodied in his Essay on the Principle of Population, which was published in 1798.



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