Conclusion

From the arguments put forward here, we can see that physical geography is a complex science comprising a collection of related subjects whose methodologies and foci of attention straddle the ranges of science. In geomorphology alone, there is a range from small-scale studies employing classical mechanics and stochastic interpretations of process, to large-scale narratives dominated by ideas of contingency, equifinality and non-linearity. I believe that we should see this range of approaches as a strength, and some researchers have contested that the greatest challenge facing physical geographers can be found here. They believe that developing methodologies that can bridge the scales is both achievable and desirable.

Such views may be misplaced if we adopt the view that geomorpho-logical explanation is predicated on a 'question and answer logic' (Collingwood, 1994) where the answer obtained from the system under observation depends upon the type of question asked of it. For example, by 'asking' a small-scale process question of a landscape, we may obtain answers about the nature of soil creep on the hill slopes, the rate of sediment transfer in river channels, and so on. Landscape-scale questions will elicit answers about the nature and influence of tectonic processes, the effects of glaciation or the nature of uplift and denudation. The reductionist and emergent approaches therefore provide us with complementary rather than competing descriptions of landscape change. The future challenge for physical geographers may be to prescribe these approaches in greater detail and to recognize that the subject (and science in general) is like a commonwealth of knowledges, not an empire.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank Steve Pile, Phil Dunham, Ali Rogers and Noel Castree for their incisive comments on an earlier draft of this chapter, and Nick Spedding for discussions on these issues.

ESSAY QUESTIONS AND FURTHER READING

1 'Problems of explanation in physical geography relate to methodological approaches to scale issues.' How far do you agree with this statement? This question is aimed at understanding the debate between reductionism and emergence. You should read Harrison (2001) who argues for a re-engagement of landscape scale study, but also Kennedy (1977). Sugden et al. (1997) widen the debate to call for a strategy to link short-term processes and landscape evolution. Spedding (2003) provides a readable and up-to-date review of some of the issues.

2 In what sense, if any, was the Davisian approach to landscape change scientific? This question attempts to bring out the distinction between historical, evolutionary narratives of landscape understanding and the more quantitative, process-based subject which emerged in the 1950s. Baker (2000) provides an interesting slant on this topic, and further insights can be found in Kennedy (1983) and Bishop (1980). To get a flavour of the origins of the debate, you should read the original works: Davis (1899) and Strahler (1950).

NOTE

1 Work by philosophers such as Reichenbach and Duhem shows that there are insuperable problems with falsifiability as a discriminator. Reichenbach (1970) reasons that the problem of induction (where the past success of a theory is used to highlight its future success) cannot be solved in a purely falsificationist way. It would also mean that science is only concerned with explanation and never with prediction. Duhem (1954) shows that auxiliary assumptions are always used to test the validity of deductive statements from observations (Worrell, 2002), therefore, no scientific theory can have empirical consequences in isolation from other assumptions and, as a result, falsification can never be conclusive. A more pragmatic objection is that it is unreasonable to require that a new theory be immediately rejected as soon as falsifying evidence is produced, since it does not accord with usual scientific practice which is to modify the theory and thus preserve it. Over-reliance on falsification makes serendipitous discoveries and flashes of intuition (both embedded in notions of 'revolutionary' science) much less likely. Yet these are often the means by which breakthroughs in scientific understanding are accomplished.

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