What can we conclude from this discussion? It is clear that there is not, and never has been, a single thing called Science with a capital S that can be used as a benchmark against which to measure the research practices of geographers or anyone else. It is equally clear that geography as a whole is a 'science' only if we employ a vernacular, insubstantial, and ultimately rather trivial definition of the word. The real question, therefore, is this: what kind of sciences are those parts of human and physical geography where the term is used in a substantive sense? We have also seen that many human geographers consciously avoid using the term science to describe their research because, in their view, it is simply inappropriate as a descriptor. Finally, we have seen that physical geographers still regard their work as scientific for the most part, but do not hold to some grand conception of Science specified by either philosophers or those in other natural science disciplines. As we look to the future of Anglophone geography, it seems to me that, for those who believe in the scientificity of their research, no one definition of 'proper science' is likely to win out. Well over a century since the discipline's formation as a proper university subject, scientific geographers of different stripes perhaps agree only on the generalities, not the specifics. They agree, that is, that science is about the systematic pursuit of accurate knowledge but dispute quite how that pursuit should be conducted and to what precise ends. In the meantime, many human geographers remain wary of the 'scientific' label for either reasons of principle or pragmatism. The only thing that is clear is that the word 'science' has become rather tired through its persistent use as a term of approbation or condemnation. Yet many in geography will wish to brandish the term for years to come, if only because it still has a talismanic power over funding bodies, sections of the wider public and many students.
1 Was geography ever a positivist science? Guelke (1971; 1978) and Gregory (1978: Introduction and Chapter 1) offer a critical response to the question, as, to a lesser extent, does Johnston (1986: Chapter 2) for human geography. Hay (1979; 1985) and Marshall (1985) are far more positive, while Holt-Jensen (1995) and Sheppard (1995) offer balanced retrospectives.
2 If not all geographers adhere to positivist or critical realist approaches, does this mean that their research is 'unscientific'? Here the key readings are Sayer (1985; 1992: Chapter 6), Johnston (1989), Rhoads and Thorne (1996), Rhoads (1999) and Richards (1994). Note that in each case the term 'science' is implicitly or explicitly used in different ways and with different degrees of precision. In human geography several approaches to research do not routinely describe themselves as sciences - such as humanistic geography and feminist geography (see Peet, 1999: Chapters 2 and 7). Is this significant?
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