Thinking Geographically

Thinking geographically is about developing and enriching the geographical imagination and exploring vocabulary to adequately express the richness of geographical concepts.

The illustrations of practice are:
Illustration 1: The child as geographer
Illustration 2: The concepts

Introduction

Things do not happen outside of space and time, and they always take place. There will always be a place for 'thinking geographically'.

Hubbard, P., Kitchin, R., Bartley, B. & Fuller, D. (2002).

Thinking geographically: Space, theory and contemporary human geography.

London: Continuum.

Thinking geographically takes into account the discipline's 'grammar' (conceptual understandings) as well as its immense vocabulary (including the millions of place names in the world). It is primarily about developing and enriching the geographical imagination.

It is the teacher's geographical imagination that has the students sitting on the edge of their seats. When their eyes glaze, their shoulders slump and their fingers stray to play with digital toys, it is the geographical imagination that reignites students' interest in the world around them – the mental maps they construct, the moral dilemmas they face concerning people and environment, and the captivating trajectories of people’s lives across the vast spaces of planet Earth.

The students' geographical imagination may be concerned with places that are safe to congregate in, or places that are exciting, dangerous and alien to them. They may be absorbed by journeys across the neighbourhood into new spaces, or they may clarify the aesthetics of the beach and the bush, and also make sense of the patterns and processes prominent in their imaginings.

The poetics of place

What we think about places is both shaped by, and shapes, our 'geographical imagination'. Pupils carry with them mental images of places – the world, the country in which they live and their neighbourhood. These form part of their 'geographical imagination'.

Geographical Association (UK)

In a sense, students are engaging in a 'mind movie'. Their eyes are shut and their heads rest on their desks, imagining that they are in their special place. They can be encouraged to share their ideas with a partner to explore how young people have different kinds of attachment to place.

Students begin to appreciate that places are locations that have meaning. They are positioned in a part of space that is perceived and experienced differently by others. They come to know 'place' as an intimate, humanised segment of space. They appreciate that place is comprised of networks of friends and relatives, it is a setting for people's lives, a useful vantage point to interpret the wider world. They come to learn that the unique human and physical characteristics that define place are dynamic and constantly changing.

Further readings

Spatial dreams


Geography is not just a collection of arcane information. Rather, it is the study of spatial aspects of human existence.

Bednarz, S., Bettis, N., Boehm, R., de Souza, A., Downs, R., Marran, J., Morrill, R. & Salter, C. (1994). Geography for life: National geography standards. Washington D.C.: National Geographic Society. Reproduced with permission of National Geographic Society.

 

Geographical space lay ‘equidistant from the stars and the atoms ... from highly localized studies (say, of a small atoll, an individual settlement or a small river basin) ... through to worldwide studies.

Haggett, P. (1990). The geographer’s art. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

The geographical imagination is grounded in a firm mental map of the world, a clear knowledge of the characteristics of the earth, a backdrop that allows us to see, appreciate and understand the interconnecting threads that bind people and environments. Such an imagination stimulates curiosity about the world and asks not only where we are literally, but rather seeks to ask where we are metaphorically in an attempt to understand the intrinsic nature of our world. The geographical imagination is less concerned with the substance of geography. It focuses on our humanity seeking to make the world a better place.

About the illustrations

Illustration 1: The child as geographer explores the concept of how primary school students' geographical imagination is engaged. The developing stages of perception are described, and questions for discussion and reflection are provided. A range of additional resources is also provided.
Illustration 2: The concepts considers the history and development of geographical concepts, and explores their meaning and interpretation. Questions are presented for discussion and reflection. A range of resources is provided to support further investigation.