The Reformation Revisited: Robin Kearns' “Place and Health” at 25

Type: Panel
Sponsor Groups: Health and Medical Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Rampart, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Organizers: Damian Collins, Joshua Evans
Chairs: Joshua Evans


In 1993, Robin Kearns’ paper in The Professional Geographer proposed a new stream of research focused on “the dynamic relationship between health and place” (p145). Kearns challenged geographers to envision health in socio-ecological and positive terms, and to situate it within places as sites of activity and experience. This inquiry was to be distinct from medical geography, which interpreted the pathological and curative concerns of medicine through the lens of locations and systems.  

With 2018 marking the 25th anniversary of the publication of “Place and Health: Towards a Reformed Medical Geography,” we seek to reflect upon this important intervention in the history of geographers’ engagements with issues of health, disease, medicine and care. The goal of this panel is not to revisit past debates, but rather to chart the enduring influence of Kearns’ paper. We welcome panelists interested in the scholarship developed in its wake, and the epistemological space it helped to open.

Panelists may wish to consider some of the following questions:

• Kearns envisioned a focus on experiences of place, health and health care. To what extent is health geography experiential? How has experience been conceived over the past 25 years?
• Kearns identified place – “the experienced zone of meaning and familiarity” (p140) – as a construct that might unite humanistic and structuralist studies of the health and health care. Has this construct served geographers well?
• Kearns argued that engaging with theory would align health geography with contemporary health philosophies. Has this been a happy marriage?
• Kearns envisioned medical and health geography as “two inter-related streams” (p144). To what extent is inter-relationship evident today? Does the “two streams” metaphor continue to hold water?
• Place effects on health have become a mainstay of geographical research. However, the “the impacts of health services and the health of population groups on the vitality of places” (p145) appear comparatively under-examined. Is this the case, and if so why? 
• Kearns presented two case studies, using interpretive and qualitative approaches. What influence have these case studies had, and do the same cases still capture the essence of health geography 25 years later?
• The case studies envisioned small-scale care services as contributing to community health, in contrast to the placelessness of large hospitals. What is the place of health care institutions, such as hospitals, in health geography, and how does their scale matter?
• How can we map the influence of this paper? Are there places or areas of inquiry in which it has particular impact? What reach has it had outside the “Atlanto-Antipodean hearth” (Kearns & Moon 2002, p608) of health geography?
• Where does Kearns’ paper sit among other key contributions in the origin story of health geography?

Kearns, R. A. (1993). Place and health: towards a reformed medical geography. The Professional Geographer, 45(2), 139-147.
Kearns, R., & Moon, G. (2002). From medical to health geography: novelty, place and theory after a decade of change. Progress in Human Geography, 26(5), 605-625.


Type Details Minutes
Panelist Valorie Crooks Simon Fraser University 12
Panelist Damian Collins University of Alberta 12
Panelist Susan Elliott University of Waterloo 12
Panelist Robert Huish Dalhousie University 12
Panelist Jessica Finlay University of Minnesota 12
Discussant Robin Kearns The University of Auckland 20

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