Berry, Brain J. L. (1934–)

Brian Joe Lobley Berry (Figure 1) was born in Stafford, England on 16 February 1934, received his BSc in economics and geography from University College, London in 1955 and his MA (1956) and PhD (1958) in geography from the University of Washington, and is the Lloyd Viel Berkner Regental Professor and Dean of the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas. Prior to arriving at the University of Texas in 1986, Berry held appointments as Assistant Professor, Associate Professor, Professor, and Irving B. Harris Professor of Urban Geography at the University of Chicago (1958–76); Williams Professor of City and Regional Planning at Harvard University (1976–81); and University Professor of Urban Studies and Public Policy and Dean of the School of Urban and Public Affairs at Carnegie Mellon University (1981–86). He is a member since 1975 of the National Academy of Sciences; was the first geographer and one of very few social scientists to serve on the Council of the National Academy of Sciences (1999–2002); is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the British Academy; is the recipient of many distinguished awards and honors; and was named geography’s Vautrin Lud Laureate in 2005.

Photo of Brian Joe Lobley Berry

Brian Berry is widely acclaimed as one of a small number of innovative and highly influential scholars who inaugurated the application of quantitative methods of spatial analysis in Anglo-American human geography in the middle of the twentieth century. The hallmarks of spatial analysis include a human geography based on the adoption of scientific method; the search for empirical regularities and law like statements; the use of hypothesis testing, quantitative analysis, and methods of statistical inference; and identification of universally applicable generalizations leading to a general theory of spatial structure. The analytical human geography advanced by Berry and others (primarily the cohort of graduate students trained by William Garrison at the University of Washington in the late 1950s and early 1960s) brought modern science into geography (and vice versa) in the second half of the twentieth century. The project of spatial analysis explicitly sought to transform the substantive, epistemological, and methodological practices of the discipline. In subject matter, the spatial–analytic approach rejected the long standing tradition of areal differentiation through regional description involving an encyclopedic accounting of physiographic, material, and social characteristics of places and sought, instead, abstract characterizations of the spatial organization of economy and society. This substantive shift repudiated the epistemological realism of regional description in favor of a commitment to theory, which Berry and other proponents of spatial analysis took to indicate the possibility of characterizing spatial structure in terms of empirical generalizations and universalistic laws applicable across space and time. The accompanying methodologies of inferential statistics applied to large quantitative data sets with the aid of newly emerging high speed computational technologies replaced traditional methods of extended fieldwork, detailed on site observation, and cartographic compilation and display.

These changes were far reaching, transforming the identity of geographers from intrepid fieldworkers to abstract theorists and bestowing on geography the patina of analytical objectivity and the assumed legitimacy of science. Theoretical clarity, analytical rigor, and replicability are recurrent themes throughout Berry’s writing, in which the avowed goal has always been the development of a systematic approach to human geography. Berry has observed that ‘‘Theory, not memory, was what countedy. We began to perceive that we were revolutionaries trying to develop a science of geography with a theory of its own, tested and refined using statistical inference, and with the essential spatial patterns captured by mathematical models.’’ The search for empirical regularities and inductive generalizations represented a radical departure from the prevailing understanding of human geography as the study of exceptionalism and regional uniqueness. In Berry’s approach to spatial analysis, theoretical abstraction replaced factual compilation, empirical objectivity replaced subjective interpretation, symbolic expression via mathematical notation replaced narrative description, and statistical manipulation of secondary data replaced direct observation in the field.

Berry’s earliest work launched a substantive focus on the spatial analysis of urban economic systems while explicitly pursuing his agenda setting project of disciplinary transformation, twin themes that he has continued to pursue throughout his professional career. His first scholarly journal publication, titled ‘Alternative explanations of urban rank size relationships’, co authored with William Garrison and published in the Annals of the As sociation of American Geographers in 1958, inaugurated the practice of combining substantive argument and disciplinary agenda setting. Stemming from work reported in Berry’s 1956 master’s thesis, the paper appears as the last article in the issue, as if denoting its tenuous standing in then current human geography, and follows articles in the same issue describing a Japanese settlement on Brazil’s Paulista frontier, suitcase farming in Sully County (South Dakota), and activities in the port of Matadi, 80 miles up the estuary of the Congo River. Explicitly rejecting such descriptive exercises in idiographic uniqueness (described by Berry as the ‘rote regional geography of the time’), Berry and Garrison challenge the discipline in the first sentence of their article, which reads in full ‘Pick any large area’. The authors then observe the regularity of city size distributions across such large areas, assess possible explanations suggested in the work of early systematizers including Zipf, Christaller, and Simon, and conclude by remarking on the absence in the geographic literature of ‘a general theory of city size, function, and arrangement’. The publication on urban rank size relationships was quickly followed by extended analyses of the central place hierarchy, the spatial structure of urban business patterns, and regularities in city systems and in the internal structure of cities (‘cities as systems within systems of cities’), eventually to include more than 500 books, articles, research papers, and other publications on topics ranging from residential segregation to long wave rhythms in economic development. A 1970 compilation of work initiated or influenced by Berry’s approach to urban spatial analysis, titled Geographic Perspectives on Urban Systems, became a benchmark in the subdiscipline of urban geography. An additional measure of his influence on the field is the more than 130 doctoral dissertations he supervised in geography and public policy between 1960 and 2000. Complementing his prodigious scholarly production, Berry has placed great importance on linking theory to practice and application; his contributions to policy and planning span his career, from civil defense disaster planning for the State of Washington in the mid 1950s to consulting on national development planning in Indonesia, India, Brazil, Chile, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere.

Berry’s project of disciplinary transformation encountered formidable opposition and continues to provoke reaction. His earliest attempts at publication in the principal geography journals were rejected as mathematics and ‘not geography’, and his 1958 articles were effectively published as an experiment to test the readership’s acceptance. A critical response quickly appeared in the form of a 1960 guest editorial in Economic Geography, in which the author observed that ‘statistics are but half of life’, the other half being ‘understanding and imaginative interpretation’. Berry replied within the year with a guest editorial entitled ‘The Quantitative Bogey Man’, repeating his rejection of uniqueness and exceptionalism as unconducive to the search for the generalizations he favored as the object of empirical research. The early criticisms focused on precisely those elements of spatial analysis that Berry promoted as its strengths – the transposition of ‘facts’ from the object of regional description to a means for construction of theory and the pursuit of universal laws – and on his dogmatic rejection of other approaches.

By the early 1970s, Berry’s spatial analytic project had entered the mainstream of human geography, with criticism now emanating from a different source, namely those expressing political values fomented by the war in Vietnam and supporting Marxist approaches in urban economic geography. These critiques targeted the central premises of Berry’s positivist epistemology: the existence of an objective external reality, the possibility of valuefree research, and the conflation of empirical regularity with underlying causality. Berry debated these themes in an extended, heated, and often ad hominem exchange with David Harvey in the early 1970s, primarily conducted through reviews of each other’s books, in which Harvey challenged Berry’s claims to political neutrality and ‘the liberal virtue of objectivity in an ideological world’. An enduring effect of this debate has been to equate all forms of quantitative analysis with ideological conservatism, an effect that adherents of methodological pluralism in geography contend with to this day.

Berry’s opportunity for rejoinder came in his 1980 Presidential address to the Association of American Geographers (AAG). Under the title ‘Creating future geographies’, he reprised the transformative agenda he had initiated nearly a quarter century earlier and characteristically sought to articulate a future direction for the discipline. In Berry’s view, the ferment that allowed spatial analysis to replace regional description as the discipline’s ‘unitary mainstream’ had since ‘degenerated into license that threatens the future of the profession’. His recipe for ‘retracking American geography’ involved the complementary development of theory and practice in pursuit of a disciplinary agenda reflecting enduring American values of individualism and opportunity. American geography, he argued, should be ‘a creative American social construct’, that extolled the efficacy of individual entrepreneurship and private markets in solving social problems.

Berry’s insistence on rooting American geography in American values revealed an ideological predisposition deeply rooted in his personal experience. Born to a working class family in the English West Midlands, Berry transcended the strictures of a rigid class system to attend university and, by his own account, was determined to outperform others so as to be recognized at least as an equal. From this formative experience came a tenacious belief in both the necessity for and the possibility of individual achievement. The centrality of this belief found repeated expression in Berry’s writing over several decades. In his 1972 exchange with David Harvey, Berry challenged Harvey’s structural Marxism by locating the ‘driving force of the American mainstream (in) the individual pursuit of status through achievement in the material world in a mobile society that places the greatest values upon individual initiative, private decision making, and competitive determination of success’. Berry stressed in his 1980 AAG Presidential Address that American geography should be predicated on particular American values, notably the ‘‘utilitarian belief that solutions to needs must be fashioned y out of individual efforts in the private sector, where ‘the stimulus of gain induces the hard work that is essential on the part of anyone wanting to succeed’. Ten years on, Berry used a 1993 editorial in Urban Geography to observe that ‘I was brought up in a philosophical tradition that values individualism and universalism.’’ These enduring values, signaled in the motto (Nihil Sine Labore) on the Coat of Arms he was granted in 2005, impelled both his personal trajectory as a dominant figure in twentieth century human geography and the spatial analytic style of human geography that is his enduring legacy.