8 thoughts on “History of Geography Blog Assignment #3 – 2017 – Radical Geography

  1. During the 1950s through the 1970s the way geography was studied and pursued underwent a paradigm shift through “the adoption of theoretical thinking, quantification and model building” (Smith 1971, 153-157). The capabilities of the spatial analysis movement led to the advent of a new wave of geography, which became to be known as radical geography. Radical geography asked of geographers to engage in thinking, researching, teaching, and advocating about matters of social concern like “poverty, hunger, and other forms of social deprivation” – to be a part of a ‘revolution of social responsibility’ (Smith 1971, 153-157).
    One cannot learn of radical geography’s history without encountering the work of William Bunge. What authors Nik Heynen and Trevor Barnes describe as two classics in human geography are two of Bunge’s seminal works, Theoretical Geography (1962, 1966) and Fitzgerald (1971). Writing a forward to the 2011 edition of Fitzgerald, they describe it as “a tortured book, controversial, angry, partial, withering, hyperbolic, with non sequiturs and unsubstantiated claims… opposite polar end of traditional academic scholarship defined by dispassion, measured judgement, comprehensiveness, balance, precision, transparent logic, and the painstaking documentation of sources” (Heynen and Barnes 1971, xvi). Their assessment is not that different from how that work and other works were perceived when he wrote them. Bunge’s brand of radical geography bled into his personal life and became part of his persona. A self-proclaimed Communist, Bunge positioned himself against authority and became “blacklisted” from teaching positions at universities and developed a ‘wild’ reputation (Heynen and Barnes 1971, xvi). However, at the root of Bunge’s kind of radical geography was the desire to see geography practiced differently and ultimately, he “pushed the discipline in a new direction, helping to transform it into something else” (Heynen and Barnes 1971, xvi). The social changes of the present day have allowed Bunge’s work to be seen in a more revered light than when originally published (Heynen and Barnes 1971, xvi).
    After serving in the military during the Korean War (1950), Bunge met Richard Hartsthorne, an important figure in understanding the philosophy of geography at the time. Bunge likely initially adhered to some of Hartsthorne’s tenants of using areal descriptions to understand regional effects, but eventually actively worked against Hartsthorne’s ideographic approach. Bunge believed that a stronger emphasis on mathematics and statistics than what Hartsthorne was calling for was needed was one of the “space cadets” at the University of Washington where “he was fervid in his belief that geography should be a mathematical, law-seeking science, aspiring to the universal, derogating the unique.” The political and social events of the 1960s for Bunge was a pivotal time in his understanding about the world and defined his stance that geography should be used to describe or solve the divisions and conflicts he saw in regards to war, race, and poverty. (Heynen and Barnes 1971, xvi)
    Bunge’s work was some of the first work to study of the inner city in urban geography. Spatial models previously only accounted for certain variables like statistics of European immigrant movement but did not account for nor did the models apply to the movement of African Americans into Detroit and other industrial cities from the 1940s-1960s. Bunge insisted that understanding the living conditions and the causes of those conditions was paramount to the study of urban geography, discussions he thought were being ignored (Heynen and Barnes 1971, xvi). Living in the Fitzgerald neighborhood in Detroit and experiencing these social spaces first-hand gave cause for Bunge to visualize these social inequities. Heynen and Barnes believe that “Fitzgerald was where the turbulence came down to earth and for Bunge was made visible and comprehensible.” It is from that neighborhood that Bunge began his community organizing efforts and started the Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute from which come several of the maps above.

  2. If you pick up a dictionary and flip to “Anarchy” you will find any one of several definitions: (1) a state of disorder due to absence or denial of established order (2) A state of lawlessness (3) Absence of government. I want to expand on these definitions of anarchy, because I just had one myself. People tend to associate anarchy with anarchist(s). Those people who riot in the streets and want to tear down government back into the age of the Neanderthal. This idea of everyone for themselves, a strong disdain for the government, the establishment, “The Man,” and their status quo. But what does this mean as a geographer? What does it mean to be a radical geographer focused on anarchy? This is where I began to think what if anarchy isn’t about being an anarchist as much as observer of anarchy; an “anarchologist”. Their perception is that the world is distraught, wrought with injustice and antipathy to humanity, governed by the inept and corrupt…
    Perhaps one of the best ways to delve into radical geography and the anarchist movement is through Bill Bunge. Bill Bunge’s work serves as an example to the power of cartography as a vehicle for social justice. Not long after the 1967 Detroit Riot Dr. Bunge formed The Detroit Geographic Expedition and Institute. Bunge wrote in Field Notes I, “Afterall, it is not the function of geographers to merely map the earth, but to change it.” The DGE looked into mapping racial inequalities within Detroit’s inner city and how these human rights issues could be addressed further. Bunge and his explorers set out to map hunger, pain, sorrow, death, and frustration in children.
    A thematic symbolism applied to the DGEI’s cartography focused in on illustrating their empiricism through the maps in the Field Notes series. The Bloomfield Hills vs Mack Avenue area maps (bottom left map) is a perfect example; especially with the regard to social inequality and frustration of children in the under privileged black communities of Detroit. My presumption from the map is that Bloomfield Hills is a well-lit, open space, devoid of fences as well as dead scrubs. Landscape design is obvious by the arcing and geometric symmetry in the scrubs layout coupled with the observation that everything is alive and well. I inferred these deductions from the context of the map symbology. Google “Bloomfield Hills” and you will see incredible mansions, with immaculate lawns, and prestigious architecture. I thought the place seemed posh in my mind.
    I applied the same process applied to the Mack Avenue Area map. I see that the houses are numbered and with dirt or gravel areas, long fence lines separating properties, trash and rubbish, numerous dead plants and multiple dogs in dirt yards, even one area in called the Local Garbage Dump. I get a sense of despair, danger, the area is not well lit and there are random vehicles parked everywhere. I don’t feel that this would be a safe place or a well maintained area. Google “Mack Avenue” and today you will find an area undergoing gentrification and regrowth but still find the abandoned buildings and overgrown lots, artifacts to the late 1960’s when Bunge’s explorers mapped this area of Detroit. The DGEI focused a good deal on this region of inner city Detroit and “WHERE COMMUTERS RUN OVER BLACK CHILDREN ON THE POINTES-DOWNTOWN TRACK” map is horrifying. Mack Avenue is nearly one linear connected dot.
    Bunge published “Nuclear War Atlas” in 1988, one of his last published works, but the driving theme is sadly strongly resonant in this present day. Bunge looks into what happens after the first nuclear bomb, the second, the third, and fourth bombs, the drifting mushroom clouds, radioactive sickness that ensues, mental retardation birthrates skyrocketing, Bunge uses RED to symbolize death/despair and GREEN to symbolize Life/Hope throughout an entirely black and white text. The Region of rat-bitten Babies map with red circles are rat sighting and the big red dots are confirmed rat bites, shows this red-technique. When writing about “The Shrinking World concept on p.69 of Nuclear War Atlas Bunge writes that if the world was flat and stretched onto infinity societies would have less conflict with one another but that isn’t the case here on our planet. “A sphere is a rare shape, and ‘antipode’ does not mean just ‘the opposite side’ or ‘the greatest distance away’: it also means ‘focal point’. This is important because if you fire a nuke to the other side of the world that becomes the focal point of death.

    Bunge, W., 1969. The first years of the Detroit Geographical Expedition: a personal report Published by Detroit, Society for Human Exploration. 59 p. LCCN:72180053 Dewey:910/.7/11 LC: G74.5 .B8
    Bunge, W., 1988. The Nuclear War Atlas. New York: Blackwell.
    Wood D, Krygier J. 2009. Maps and Protest. In Kitchin R, Thrift N (eds) International Encyclopedia of Human Geography, Volume 1, pp. 436–441. Oxford: Elsevier

  3. Knowing only that Bill Bunge was at one time an important figure in spatial science, an early adherent of geography’s quantitative revolution, and later a blacklisted radical geographer gives one the impression that something must have happened —some philosophy-shifting, Clark-Kent-in-a-phone-booth-style transformation that caused Bunge to bail on mathematical formulas in favor of communist manifestos. Bunge was a student at the University of Washington under William Garrison, who helped herald in the quantitative shift in geography, and Bunge’s 1962 dissertation “defined geography as the science of spatial relations, with geometry as its logical language” (Agnew & Duncan, 2016, p. 137). It was published as Theoretical Geography, and became seen as “perhaps the seminal text of the spatial-quantitative revolution” and particularly “in terms of laying out the philosophical presuppositions of that movement” (Cox, 2001).

    After this, Bunge taught at Wayne State University in Detroit. In 1968, he started the Detroit Geographical Expedition Institute. His goal, according to the preface of the first Field Notes paper published by the institute’s participators, was to illustrate “the need to reorient geographical research in the directions of direct human concern, initiating the exploration of the human regions of geography, and instituting a developmental rather than extractive program of geographical exploration” (Bunge, 1969). It was also, more directly, about civil rights, about “conducting and publishing research on racial injustice in Detroit” (D’Ignazio, 2013). The DGEI was going “to use geography to create ‘oughtness maps’—maps of how things are and maps of how things ought to be” by looking “inward toward those pockets of place not un-discovered but overlooked or exploited” (D’Ignazio, 2013).

    Such “oughtness maps” are shown in the blog images, particularly the automobile territories in downtown Detroit (upper right) the “regions of rat-bitten babies” map (left center), number of toys bought, and the comparison of the Bloomfield Hills and Mack Avenue areas of Detroit (suburbs versus city) in terms of items like pets, vehicles, and living/dead vegetation (bottom left). These were joined both other inwardly-focused maps not shown, such as a series which looked at where African-American children in Detroit were hit by cars, which included the searing title “Where Commuters Run Over Black Children on the Pointes-Downtown Track.”

    Ultimately, Bunge was fired from Wayne State University and moved to Canada in 1970, where he continued to work and start new urban exploration programs, such as the Toronto Geographical Expedition in 1973. He also, in 1988, published The Nuclear War Atlas, including the upper left maps. He died in 2013, leaving behind a varied legacy—as a spatial scientist, an activist, a radical geographer, and not insignificantly as “a most difficult personality for those used to the conventions of polite society” (Akatiff, 2007). In reality, though, these are different sides of the same subversive, abrasive coin. Bunge was a radical geographer all the way through. He started his career with an “initial furious attack on maps as inferior to mathematical functionals” and kept swinging even as his focus shifted (Bunge, 1968). Bunge perceived there to be “An enormous vigor… moving through geography causing it to push out on all frontiers simultaneously” (Bunge, 1969). And as “[a] tireless battler for the cause of both theoretical advances in geography and the political relevance of the discipline,” he was implacably un-ambivalent (Akatiff, 2007).

    Agnew, John A., and James S. Duncan. The Wiley-Blackwell companion to human geography. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2016. Print.

    Akatiff, Clark. (2007, April 21). The Roots of Radical Geeography: A Personal Account. Retrieved from https://antipodefoundation.org/2012/09/04/then-like-now-the-roots-of-radical-geography-a-personal-account/

    Bunge, W. (1968). The Philosophy of Maps. Wayne State University. https://books.google.com/books/about/The_Philosophy_of_Maps.html?id=L0TVAAAAMAAJ

    Bunge, W. (1969). The first years of the detroit geographical expedition: a personal report. Field Notes, (1). Retrieved from http://freeuniversitynyc.org/files/2012/09/FieldNotesIDGEI.pdf

    Cox, K. R. (2001). Classics in human geography revisited. Progress in Human Geography, 25(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1191/030913201673714256

    D’Ignazio, C. (2013, August 7). The Detroit Geographic Expedition and Institute: A Case Study in Civic Mapping. Retrieved March 20, 2017, from https://civic.mit.edu/blog/kanarinka/the-detroit-geographic-expedition-and-institute-a-case-study-in-civic-mapping

  4. In Dr. William Bunge’s Field Notes I for the Society for Human Exploration he wrote, “Geography is often defined as the study of the earth’s surface as the home of man. But the view from which men’s home?” “Bill” Bunge championed a shift in the study of geography that emphasized a practical, introspective and perspective-based analysis of issues facing communities rather than the outward study of global geography. Bunge was a leading figure in the “radical geography” movement that began in post-WWII academia and his works in cartography and geographic theory are landmark testaments to the ability of geography to collide with social justice. Like many of the other radical geographers of the era, Bunge began his academic career in the field of quantitative geography but would eventually become engulfed in the radical geography message that grew throughout universities during the late 60s/Vietnam era. In the collage of images, we see a few excerpts from Bunge’s work in inner city Detroit after he co-founded The Detroit Geographic Expedition. The goal of the DGE was to map the conditions facing urban Detroit which would in turn be used to illustrate social (particularly racial) injustices consistently facing the community. As Bunge put it, “afterall, it is not the function of geographers to merely map the earth, but to change it” (Field Notes I). One of the DGE maps included in the collage is the “Automobile territory – downtown Detroit” map which juxtaposes the use of space in the city as human versus machine. In the caption for the map, Bunge writes, “machines such as automobiles require a total desert, while humans do not. So spaces that are complete deserts are made for machines, not for humans, who are compatible with life.” Bunge’s commentary attached with his cartographic productions are biting and filled with cynicism directed toward the lack of justice for under-privileged communities. The narrative for his map “Where Commuters Run Over Black Children on the Pointes-Downtown Track” questions whether the incidents can even be referred to as “accidents” when they occur like clockwork and are entirely predictable based on spatial data and racial injustice. Bunge was also greatly driven to explore the capabilities of nuclear weapons and the inevitability of total annihilation which he did in his “Nuclear War Atlas.” The “Nuclear War Atlas” is a series of thought-provoking maps intended to re-visualize the threats of nuclear war in unconventional terms while also establishing a narrative that large-scale use of nuclear weapons is inherently impossible to survive. Some of the powerful maps compiled in the atlas include a trail of the American south where infant mortality has increased since the radioactive cloud from the first atom bomb test in 1945 swept across; a map entitled “The Sea of Cancer” which illustrates the radiation effects on human health across the United States; a map illustrated with watercolors which displays how long a human being would have to be sheltered before re-entering the world after a nuclear attack anywhere in the U.S.; and many other specific maps covering broad issues of nuclear holocaust. While Bill Bunge would eventually cause tension and unrest in the academic world and receive the label “unemployable” in the education system, much of his pioneering work is still vital to the legacy and continued development of “radical geography” in the field.
    Kanarinka. The Detroit Geographic Expedition and Institute: A Case Study in Civic Mapping. https://civic.mit.edu/blog/kanarinka/the-detroit-geographic-expedition-and-institute-a-case-study-in-civic-mapping

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