In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geography of Knowledge

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Theoretical Foundations
  • Background Surveys
  • Theoretical Interventions
  • New Directions

Geography Geography of Knowledge
Diarmid Finnegan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 June 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0057


“Geography of knowledge” is, at first glance, an unexpected combination of terms. “Geography” suggests descriptions of the Earth. “Knowledge,” on the other hand, implies an immaterial realm of ideas and human cognition. Locating knowledge or tracing its migrations unsettles these common perceptions and points to the material and social nature of knowing. This project has generated a lively scholarly industry centered largely on scientific and economic knowledge but animated in part by the “spatial turn” that has influenced scholars across the humanities and social sciences. Not surprisingly, then, the origins of interest in the geographies of knowledge are plural and somewhat inchoate. A range of theorists lies in the background, but these and other sources of conceptual inspiration have been unevenly developed, depending in part on the immediate topic of interest and the intellectual location of the researcher. Even so, it is possible to identify a sustained attempt to disrupt presumptions about knowledge that exempt it from the intractably situated and unevenly distributed nature of cognition. Indeed, it is noteworthy that an interest in the spatialities of knowledge is most evident in work directed at forms of knowledge often thought to be exempt from the changeable influence of social situations or cultural contexts. “Earthing” knowledge of physics or finance in particular locations or tracing the specific ways in which such knowledge moves from one location to many others forms the basis of a critical project that invites interest and generates controversy.

General Overviews

Several helpful surveys are available to aid the uninitiated and stimulate the seasoned scholar. Most of these lean toward the history of science to illustrate the fecundity of a geographical turn for understanding the production and circulation of scientific knowledge. Livingstone 1995 offers a programmatic and theoretically nuanced introduction to the whole area. Livingstone 2003 supplies an excellent guide, is the most accessible place to start, and offers the fullest treatment of the topic to date. Gieryn 1999 provides a sociologist’s perspective on the spatialities of scientific knowledge and provides a helpful and complementary counterpoint to introductory accounts by scholars of human geography. Smith and Agar 1998 brings together a set of essays by historians of science informed by theoretical resources that have also inspired the work of historical geographers. Finnegan 2008, Naylor 2005, and Powell 2007 are article-length surveys that give a quick entry point into a burgeoning literature. Vallance 2007 summarizes recent work on the economic geographies of knowledge, a large body of scholarship that, despite occasional borrowings, has largely developed independently of research on the geographies of scientific knowledge.

  • Finnegan, Diarmid A. “The Spatial Turn: Geographical Approaches in the History of Science.” Journal of the History of Biology 41 (2008): 369–388.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10739-007-9136-6

    A survey of work on the geographies of science, primarily aimed at historians of science. The survey is organized according to a two-part division between “science in situ” and “science in motion.”

  • Gieryn, Thomas F. Cultural Boundaries of Science: Credibility on the Line. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

    A lively and illuminating collection of essays from one of the key proponents of a spatial turn in sociological theory and in science studies. It is the result of nearly two decades of work on the importance of attending the spatial dimensions of scientific knowledge, especially outside the laboratory walls.

  • Livingstone, David N. “The Spaces of Knowledge: Contributions towards a Historical Geography of Science.” Environment and Planning D 13 (1995): 5–34.

    DOI: 10.1068/d130005

    An authoritative introduction to thinking spatially about science. Calls for attention to be directed at the situated and shifting nature of scientific warrant and scientific method. Livingstone also argues that attention to the conditioning effects of space on scientific knowledge need not lead to a relativist account of scientific truth.

  • Livingstone, David N. Putting Science in its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

    A mature, accessible, and wide-ranging introduction to the role of place and space in shaping science at a variety of scales. Essential reading for those looking for a commanding overview of work on the geographies of scientific knowledge.

  • Naylor, Simon K. “Introduction: Historical Geographies of Science—Places, Contexts, Cartographies.” British Journal for the History of Science 38 (2005): 1–12.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0007087404006430

    A spirited and informed primer on a spatialized historiography of scientific knowledge and a prelude to a set of papers illustrating that approach through focused case studies.

  • Powell, Richard C. “Geographies of Science: Histories, Localities, Practices, Futures.” Progress in Human Geography 31 (2007): 309–329.

    DOI: 10.1177/0309132507077081

    An ambitious and inventive survey of work on the geographies of science, past and present. Powell foregrounds spatialities of scientific praxis and pushes beyond a focus on the historical geographies of scientific knowledge. Calls for more attention to the normative questions surrounding postcolonial science and the construction of “expert” knowledge.

  • Smith, Crosbie, and Jon Agar, eds. Making Space for Science: Territorial Themes in the Shaping of Knowledge. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1998.

    An influential set of essays by historians of science concerned with the spatial foundations of scientific knowledge. Operating with a loose conceptualization of space and territory, the collection ranges between the cognitive “geography” of scientific knowledge and the material sites of scientific knowledge production and display.

  • Vallance, Paul. “Rethinking Economic Geographies of Knowledge.” Geography Compass 1 (2007): 797–813.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2007.00046.x

    A review of literature on the geographies of knowledge associated with the global economy. Summarizes established work on learning regions and the local or face-to-face transfer of tacit knowledge and points to more recent work that revises how the accumulation, development, and transfer of economic knowledge might be understood in spatial terms.

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