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  • Writer's pictureSamuel Strong

People's Geography

This blog post is a summary of a recent entry published in the second edition of the International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. It concerns People’s Geography.

What is People’s Geography?

People’s Geography centres on the relationship between the production of geographical knowledge and its everyday usage. It is about reflecting critically on how we develop spatial understandings of the world, and way these mappings, interpretations and contributions might be better used both within and beyond the academy to not only study the world, but to intervene in it.

The history of a concept

In my encyclopaedia entry, I trace the history of People’s Geography – specifically identifying its roots in three academic areas. The first is radical geography, a movement within the discipline that emerged alongside the political struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. The ambition of radical geography remains to develop scholarship that combats exploitation and oppression and builds towards social justice.

The second influence on People’s Geography is the people’s history movement. Pioneered by E.P. Thompson, Howard Zinn and others, people’s history seeks to fundamentally re-tell and re-write history so that marginalised groups – those sidelined through class, race, gender, location, and so on – are positioned not as the victims of history, but as actors shaping (though never fully determining) their own destinies.

Finally, I see the third key root of People’s Geography being in humanistic geography. This strand of the discipline seeks to better align our understandings of the world with our experience of being in the world. It draws on theories of phenomenology in particular to think about the world as something sensed, lived and experienced through the human condition.

How I develop a People’s Geography

People’s Geography has been central to my research and thinking, ever since I first came across the concept in the pioneering work of Professor Don Mitchell.

I develop People’s Geogaphy as an approach to how I study and write about people and places. I seek to position the kinds of knowledge that people have and share with me during my research on the same level as other, seemingly more ‘advanced’ or ‘accepted’ forms of knowledge. For me in my research into poverty, for example, a story of someone’s experience of inequality is as important to consider as forms of knowledge that seek to generalise these experiences – or to reduce them to data and statistics.

People’s Geography therefore serves as a call to rethink more fundamentally the geography of knowledge itself: which knowledges count, where these knowledges stem from, the relationship between knowledge, space and everyday life, and which people’s accounts come to underpin how mainstream theories of our world are created.

Adapted from: Strong, S., 2020. People's Geography. In: Kobayashi, A. (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, 2nd edition. vol. 10, Elsevier, pp. 55–59.



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