Well, you know the old chestnut- what's the difference between sociology and anthropology? Here's another one, what IS the difference between anthropology and human geography?

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There's another one, Elaine. What's the difference between cultural anthropology and cultural geography? In the latter case, you have to introduce the word space at least three times in every paragraph.

A more informative way to approach the question would be to examine what people who identified, by themselves or others, do in the way of academic training and ongoing research. Consider, for example, the 2011-2012 course offerings by the Department of Geography at th.... How many of these courses overlap with what cultural anthropologists study?

Considering these and other readily available data, we might be led (I certainly have been) to regard questions about the differences between academic disciplines in a new light. Instead of regarding them as questions concerning taxonomies, with the a priori assumption that fields will neatly divide into clearly defined categories, we might, for example, see them as questions about intersections in networks of skill sets. We might, then, expect the cultural anthropologist to be more sensitive to subtleties in the ways in which the people whose lives are being studied see themselves and the world they inhabit but relatively oblivious to variation in things like topography, climate or soil chemistry. The cultural geographer is more likely to be aware of and more likely to have the skills and tools needed to map and explain them. A few individuals may be both sensitive ethnographers and technically equipped geographers, but these will be relatively rare. 

Another approach to the issue is that of Andrew Abbott in Chaos of Disciplines, who argues that disciplines evolve through fractal differentiation in which perennial questions are recursively revisited. Thus, for example, a primary split between advocates of quantitative and qualitative research leads to splits within each camp between, for instance, hard-core quants and those who incorporate some qualitative work in mixed-methods research or between, another instance, hard-core literati and those who, while fundamentally humanists, make use of quantitative data and methods.

Again, I am chiding Keith for a quip, an observation that may be perfectly accurate but distracts attention from deeper consideration of the question.

I think John is right here, and I look forward to having a read of Chaos of Disciplines some time, it sounds great.

However the question really arose because of my own work in economic/ environment/ development anthropology, and the interplay of these three things in my research field. I seem to be encountering "geographies" everywhere, especially for the environment stuff. So, my contribution here would be to note that human geography seems to be very good at documenting the encounters that people have, in/ with or of, their environment, whether that takes the form of activism, nationalism, "Celticism" or something else, the environment, as in the immediate surroundings, the physical context or "splace" as it were (that term was coined by Eliza J Darling- not me, I hasten to add) is always a key reference point in the account.

I can't imagine a human geography approach to kinship, for instance?

Just a thought.

"I can't imagine a human geography approach to kinship, for instance?"

Why not? Wouldn't it be fascinating, for example, to map the actual spatial distribution of Nuer and Dinka lineages in the southern Sudan and see how that corresponded to E-P and Lienhardt's idealized accounts of segmentary opposition? And,on another level, hasn't the analysis of micro spaces — house layouts in relation to gender roles and generations — long been something that geographers as well as anthropologists might take an interest in?

I have actually thought about this from time-to-time, so please allow me to ramble. :–) I have never taken a geography class and my sense of what the discipline is comes from consuming quite a bit of work created by geographers and from friends who were trained in the discipline.

I have the vague sense that in the early part of the last century that the differentiation was slight and that this stems back to Germanic disciplinary interests and organization. You sometimes hear that Boas received his most advanced degree in geography, though I have also been told that that oversimplifies. There was certainly a spatial element in early Boasian work—the idea of culture areas is an attempt to get at history via spatial distribution, for example. And you have Carl Sauer at Berkeley while Kroeber was there, which I assume (but am not certain) has something to do with LSU’s combined Geography/Anthropology department given Sauer’s student Fred Kniffen’s association with LSU.


In my experience human geographers tend to be a little more aware of and knowledgeable about the non-human parts of the world (landforms, flora and fauna, etc.) than cultural anthropologists do. A result of a combination of temperament and coursework requirements, perhaps?

I personally tend to think of human geographers as having almost all of what good cultural anthropologists have, lacking some of the wannabe Continental Philosophizer vibe, and with the value added of being able to do spatial analysis.

What human geographers rarely possess is a good toehold on material from any of the other three fields of anthropology. Many if not most cultural anthropologists lack the same, of course, but the option is there and there are more than a few two and three (if rarely four) fielders out there.

One place where human geographers, cultural anthropologists, and archaeologists do overlap is settlement pattern studies.

youve either got a point or you dont, its just hard to always explain in full point to everyone all the time so you construct a meta-language as a discipline so you can at least talk to some people without having to always explain yourself in full. the problem can arise that you get to the point where you cant actually explain your point to someone who cant speak your metalanguage which aint so bad, its when you cant explain it to yourself because you dint actually know the point underlying the metalanguage your using to talk about it is. i did anthropology cos i like so many things then i realised its got some pretty bad silos too.

or worst of all you use metalangauge to talk about your metalanguage (which can only be rarely fine otherwise you end up in a navel gazing silo) rather than any actual point

So, we start with a relatively concrete question about two overlapping disciplines, anthropology and cultural geography. We have noted specific points, e.g., settlement pattern studies, at which they overlap. Now we are muttering darkly about metalanguages, in a space totally abstracted from any concrete place or practice. Is our thinking advancing? Does the space in question allow for any movement at all?

well i am not that bothered with answering a question within expected confines. i dont find any movement in this discourse in a foucauldian sense. thats why i answered the question outside of it. i am glad that it unexpectedly sounded dark. i could talk about what disicpline does this and that but i would rather work out some temporary model for how people be in the world with leverage and get back to you on it when i am done. in the meantime i can lapse a little into relaxed chitter chatter that may be provocation rather than conformation. i go to conferences for polished and well worked presentations/ unfortunately they are also lacking there in the many disciplines i attend. sorry i will buzz off its not appreciated.



Matthew Timothy Bradey said: (amongst other things)


I personally tend to think of human geographers as having almost all of what good cultural anthropologists have, lacking some of the wannabe Continental Philosophizer vibe, and with the value added of being able to do spatial analysis.

I like it!

But perhaps the matter is different here in UK? I was thinking mainly about my field, social anthropology, so the question was kind of flawed to begin with. But Matthew's perspective is interesting to me given some of the clearer overlaps for geographers with the four-field American-style anthroplogy.

I also take Abraham's point which (I think) is about using exclusive language, or language-exclusivity to define the bounds of a discipline.

I'm going to defer to Kropotkin's explanation of "What geography ought to be": http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/petr-kropotkin-what-geograph... and draw your attention to the fourth and fifth pargaraphs. In the fifth, Kroptkin basically nods his approval to ethnography- as a method and discourse, and in the fourth he sets out the general aim for the discipline to work towards a sort of international base of knowledge:

It must be recognised that apart from other causes which nourish national jealousies, different nationalities do not yet sufficiently know one another; the strange questions which each foreigner is asked about his own country; the absurd prejudices with regard to one another which are spread on both extremities of a continent — nay, on both banks of a channel amply prove that even among whom we describe as educated people geography is merely known by its name. The small differences we notice in the customs and manners of different nationalities, as also the differences of national characters which appear especially among the middle classes, make us overlook the immense likeness, which exists among the labouring classes of all nationalities — a likeness which becomes the more striking at a closer acquaintance. It is. the task of geography to bring this truth, in its full light, into the midst of the lies accumulated by ignorance, presumption, and egotism.

I'm sure there are more recent geographers to take note of, but for me this is particularly enjoyable given that it's from 1885!

But the reason I'm quoting this old text is to make the point I left unsaid in the first place, which was in my view there is less and less of a difference between anthropology and human geography given the shared ethnographic method at the heart of both endeavours.

Abraham, if you buzz off every time your remarks are not appreciated, you should not expect to be successful in academia or any other career. I recall the wisdom of Alice Buzzarte, the dean of English-language copywriters when I was hired as her colleague in 1983: "To succeed in this business you will need a thick skin. You have to realize that at least three out of four of your brilliant ideas are going straight into the trashcan." I also remember philosopher Hal Walsh remarking that Socrates was one of the most annoying people on the face of the earth. That is why he had to drink the hemlock and why we still remember him.

 The Nature of Geography: A Critical Survey of Current Thought in the Light of the Past (1939) by Richard Hartshorne is a detailed and useful history of geography in Germany and its effect on the United States from the late 19th century to the outbreak of the WWII, emphasizing the oscillation between a preference for anthropgeography and a preference for geomorphology. Geography passes through regular periods of self examination and self doubt which seem to be like those of anthropology. The old Humboldtian style comprehensive gerography still has some practitioners, after the fashion of the Schagintweits and Sven Hedin,  but its ambit shrinks as everywhere we move from reconnaissance to detailed study. 

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