Geography Location Theory
Alan T. Murray
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0037


The topic of location theory has generally been associated with the descriptive characterization of observed patterns across geographic space typically associated with human settlement, industry siting, service competition, and, more generally, consumer behavior. Part of this was driven by wanting to better understand why places were where they were, but ultimately the goal was to gain a sound grasp on the factors associated with locational decision making and what makes a good location. Early literature and research focused on the notion of description and inference. This involved examining, characterizing, and better understanding observed spatial patterns and behavior. Certainly, urban and rural development and various types of public and private services were important areas of emphasis. As more understanding was achieved, there was a natural move to prescription. Thus late-20th- and early 21st-century work has focused on operational classes of locational selection, where specific geographic patterns can be prescribed for realizing stated goals and objectives. That is, location theory has operated on various principles derived from classic work to support planning and decision making through the use of spatial models that encapsulate driving principles of locational choice.

General Overviews

Much has been written on location theory from various perspectives. Those along the lines of more descriptive intent include Isard 1956, Berry 1967, and Dicken and Lloyd 1990. On the more prescriptive side is Francis, et al. 1992. Church and Murray 2009 represents an attempt to bridge and integrate the descriptive and prescriptive perspectives.

  • Berry, Brian Joe Lobley. Geography of Market Centers and Retail Distribution. Foundations of Economic Geography. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1967.

    This is a seminal economic geography book seeking to establish central place theory as a deductive basis for understanding the regularities and patterns of retail and service sectors.

  • Church, Richard L., and Alan T. Murray. Business Site Selection, Location Analysis, and GIS. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009.

    This text reviews the main tenets of location theory then attempts to demonstrate how they are operationalized using geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial optimization models for prescriptive decision making.

  • Dicken, Peter, and Peter E. Lloyd. Location in Space: A Theoretical Approach to Economic Geography. 3d ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1990.

    Though more of an economic geography text, this book provides an introductory discussion of the various tenets of location theory primarily focused on spatial arrangement of one sort or another. Originally published in 1972.

  • Francis, Richard L., Leon F. McGinnis, and John A. White. Facility Layout and Location: An Analytical Approach. 2d ed. Edited by Wolter J. Fabrycky and Joe H. Mize. Prentice Hall International Series in Industrial and Systems Engineering. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1992.

    This text provides technical details for formalizing and solving a range of location models that effectively operationalize concepts derived from descriptive location theory. Originally published in 1974.

  • Isard, Walter. Location and Space–Economy: A General Theory Relating to Industrial Location, Market Areas, Land Use, Trade, and Urban Structure. Regional Science Studies 1. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1956.

    This is an introduction to the classic work of location theory but based on first establishing necessary economic foundations. While highly accessible, this work is put in a framework that advances and bridges economics.

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