Stirrings in the attic: On the distinction between historical geographical materialism and critical realism

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Abstract

Kevin Cox's (2013) analysis of the distinction between historical geographical materialism (HGM) and critical realism (CR) offers a sharp and remarkably timely discussion, despite that the debate between HGM and CR appears to be buried to one degree or another in geography's philosophical archives. Its timeliness stems from a relative exhaustion with post-structuralism in the 21st century, a continually explicit, or more likely implicit use of CR, and a return to Marxism in especially political ecology. Cox's (2013) rehearsal of this debate impels us once more to think carefully, for example, about how we "abstract" in our research. While my commentary broadly concurs with Cox's (2013) analysis of the distinction between HGM and CR and the significance of this debate, I suggest that his analysis would have benefitted from a dialogue with work in human geography over the last decade, which has addressed some thorny ontological and epistemological issues with respect to, let us say, dialectics and the notion of totality. By the same token, his apparent calls for a simple recovery of certain philosophical or methodological elements of HGM warrants further reflection. Nonetheless, I argue in my concluding section that for economic geography, at least, his excavation of the debate is vital insofar as a decade ago, economic geography began to embrace "relationality" as if the whole history of dialectics did not exist. In a similar way, practice-based economic geographies risk marginalizing theory and the problem of abstraction in the social sciences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-44
Number of pages5
JournalDialogues in Human Geography
Volume3
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2013

Keywords

  • Critical realism
  • Dialectics
  • Economic geography
  • Historical geographical materialism
  • Post-structuralism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development

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