105: Price & Lewis’ Reinvention of Cultural Geography (with responses)

Price & Lewis

Judging from the rather surprised and defensive responses from Denis Cosgrove, James Duncan, and Peter Jackson (below), Price and Lewis published “The Reinvention of Cultural Geography” in 1993 to start a fight.  In their article, Price and Lewis identify a new strain in cultural geography called “new cultural geography,” which critiqued a “traditional cultural geography” that they associated with the Berkeley School.  While the authors commend the new cultural geographers (NCGs) in their adoption of cultural theory, they argue that they paint an unfair picture of the Berkeley School.  Against the NCGs, Price and Lewis argue that:

  • the Berkeley School was not “statist, empiricist, and obsessed with relict landscapes and material artifacts;” it was, and still is, “dynamic, predominantly historicist, and interested primarily in the relationships between diverse human societies and their natural environments.”
  • few if any Berkeley School geographers or even “traditional” cultural geographers have ever conceptualized culture as “superorganic;” cultural geography has always been a “pluralistic endeavor ultimately oriented to empirical issues.”
Optimally, the authors would like to see the “new” and “traditional” schools merge, so that cultural geography as a whole could benefit from the awesome mind meld of social theory, empirical research, and historical depth that would likely result.
Denis Cosgrove
Cosgrove is not pleased at being lumped in with a supposed cabal of new cultural geography conspirators, nor is he thrilled at their oversimplification of cultural geography’s myriad approaches into just two opposing groups.  Further, Price and Lewis should better apply the dialectical method they claim for new cultural geography, because even if cultural geography could be said to occupy these two opposing camps, a quick glance through the then-recent AAAG special issue on America in 1492 would show that theory and empirical research are already creating fruitful combinations.
James Duncan
Duncan situates himself squarely within the Berkeley School in his response, and he defends his argument that the Berkeley School grew out of superorganic theory.  By way of making his first claim, he argues that Wagner and Mikesell (1962) divided the Berkeley School into five main themes, culture, culture area, cultural landscape, culture history, and cultural ecology.  Within this schema, he works in culture, cultural history, and cultural landscape, and he doesn’t appreciate Price and Lewis redefining the Berkeley School as only cultural ecology and then criticizing geographers working in other areas as if they weren’t following the rules.  Further, their restrictive definition of the Berkeley School also impacts their discussion of Carl Sauer and the superorganic, as they a) only look for explicit statements and b) don’t consider a full range of Sauer’s works.
Peter Jackson

Like Cosgrove, Jackson doesn’t like Price & Lewis’ crude division of culture geography into two opposing camps; he worries that this division is more likely to solidify oppositions than it is to foster debate.  Further, although in 1987 he and Denis Cosgrove outlined new directions for cultural geographers that were informed by the “cultural turn,” methods and questions vary so widely even among Cosgrove, Duncan, and himself that he wouldn’t consider the three of them to be any kind of coherent group.  He argues that far from a radical break between “traditional” and “new” cultural geography, he and other cultural geographers pull from a wide range of intellectual traditions in cultural studies, historical materialism, and the Berkeley School, so that the superorganic has influenced where he is now, even though it is not his preferred theory of culture.  And finally, he asks for an end to the boundary-drawing, so that they can all work toward more interdisciplinary methodologies, plurality, and mutual tolerance.
In response, Price and Lewis apologize for shaking things up, re-disagree with Duncan, and say they just want everyone to get along without forgetting about cultural geographers before 1972.
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