International Encyclopedia of Human Geography

  • Gibson C
  • Waitt G
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This article describes and interprets what is meant by ‘cultural geography’ in contemporary academic life. There is no strict definition for cultural geography, and nor should its pursuits be simplistically summarized. With origins in the early-twentieth-century geography, it is a loose subdiscipline that has come to encapsulate a range of perspectives. These vary with place and in time, and due to the manner in which ‘culture’ itself is conceived: as cultivation, as evidence of civilization and moral development, as way of life, as identity, and as a way of knowing and thinking. This article provides a broad entrée to the history, themes, and current diversity of cultural geography. The article begins with a discussion of differing interpretations of ‘culture’ and how these have influenced the doing of cultural geography. This is followed by three narratives about the development of cultural geography in the twentieth century. These narratives are presented as alternative ‘takes’, as in the filming of a motion picture, each of which provides one way of understanding cultural geography, but none of which alone provides a full story. The first ‘take’ depicts cultural geography as having a sequential, linear history of ideas, from environmental determinism and the ‘Berkeley School’ of landscape geography to ‘new’ cultural geography and nonrepresentational theory. The second ‘take’ unsettles this linearity and shows how, despite advances and arguments about ‘culture’, certain themes have prevailed. The third and final ‘take’ discusses more difficult theoretical work that has sought, at a fundamental level, to reposition humans in geography, and thus unsettle the very stability of ‘culture’ as a meaningful analytical category. In finding this article, one would want to know more about the practices and intellectual imperatives of cultural geography. This article is intended to do exactly that – outlining the scope, discussions, and debates of cultural geography. To achieve this, however, we deviate from some conventions of an encyclopedia article. Conventionally, encyclopedia articles speak from a position of authority by providing a definition of a term, such as ‘cultural geography’, and then providing a linear, historical narrative, often providing examples and illustrations to make these terms come alive. For those requiring this sort of précis, we do provide summaries, historical context, and synopses of major themes in what has been labeled ‘cultural geography’. However, as is evident, it is not possible to distill a single subdisciplinary concern or theoretical approach for cultural geography. For both intellectual and ethical reasons, we wish to argue that cultural geography, although widely practiced and recognized, is undefinable in a singular or authoritative sense.




Gibson, C., & Waitt, G. (2009). International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, 411–424. Retrieved from

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