Historical geographies of the “quantitative revolution”: Towards a transnational history of central place theory

Authors: Zoltán Ginelli*, Eötvös Loránd University
Topics: History of Geography, Urban and Regional Planning, Location Theory
Keywords: quantitative revolution, central place theory, historical geographies of scientific knowledge, transnational history, Hungary
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Studio 5, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Geography’s “quantitative revolution” has been an important textbook chronicle in the discipline’s canonical history. However, historical research has only recently begun to unravel the geographical contexts of its emergence, which was complicated by simplified narratives of critical revisionism from the 1970s. This paper offers an interpretative framework following the historical geographies of scientific knowledge (HGSK), and focuses on central place theory (CPT) to deconstruct and re-evaluate the common Anglo-American narrative. It argues that this narrative has concealed other contexts in the “Second” and “Third” worlds, and has de-emphasized early applications and the wider discourse of “central places”. The globalization of CPT is interpreted through the rising American hegemony during the early Cold War era, which led to the Americanization of German location theories in modernization discourse. The networks behind Western centres show the importance not only of other European locations such as the Swedish hub in Lund, but also the “planning laboratories” of Asian, African and South American contexts. Under Soviet and especially Eastern Bloc reformism, the institutionalization of regional planning from the late 1950s summoned CPT in the service of centralized state planning, and ignited debates of adaptability between “socialist” and “capitalist” contexts. By reflecting on some of these contexts and focusing on the Hungarian case study, this paper calls for a transnational history of CPT and the “quantitative revolution” by re-addressing issues of narrativity, historical periodization and geographical interconnectivity, and argues for provincializing and decolonizing dominant Anglo-American geographical knowledge production.

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