Continuity and Marginality

Naturally, the process of marginalization was not immediate. Behavioral geography, albeit now defined sensu stricto as the ‘cognitive science’ strand, retained its adherents. Its future within academic geography after 1980, however, varied from country to country according to factors such as national research traditions and the extent of institutional support. In Europe, for instance, behavioral geography had only ever enjoyed patchy support outside of the British Isles, Scandinavia, and the Netherlands. In the Francophone areas, for instance, it never had a strong foothold in research or pedagogy despite an intellectual environment that included the heritage of Piaget and Merleau Ponty and drew strength from the cognitive tradition within French psychology. At best, behavioral geography’s relatively brief period of support in the early 1980s was confined to individual researchers based at widely scattered universities, including Lausanne and Geneva in Switzerland, Lie`ge in Belgium, and Montpellier, Rouen, Grenoble, and Strasbourg in France. In Great Britain, behavioral geography had reached its zenith by the mid 1970s. Never strongly represented outside of a handful of major university geography departments (notably University College London, Durham, and Bristol), it fared badly when researchers at these institutions either lost interest or turned to other preoccupations. Pedagogically, too, behavioral geography was ousted from the curriculum during the 1990s by the ‘cultural turn’, which saw the new cultural geography and reinvigorated historical geography courses covering elements of the same agenda.

The situation in the USA was different. The larger size of the academic community and lack of competing traditions – with the entrenched traditional version of cultural geography providing no direct rival – saw behavioral geography continue to occupy a significant place in both research and the curriculum. Specialty groups and the existence of thriving associations that promulgated multidisciplinary links, such as the Environmental Design Research Association, helped to sustain a critical mass of researchers, at least in the medium term. Behavioral geography also retained its presence in geographical education. For example, a 600 page textbook by Reginald Golledge and Robert Stimson, which appeared as late as 1997, offered students a striking new synthesis of material in the mold of the cognitive science stream, with a particular focus on spatial decision making and choice behavior. Yet imposing as the range of material cited might seem, first impressions could be deceptive. Even a cursory review of the contents made it clear that the crucial sources had appeared at least a decade, and often two decades, before that book’s publication. In reality, behavioral geography might maintain a niche, but the dwindling amount of new scholarship generated showed that it no longer represented the research frontier of the discipline.

Looking at the content of research since 1980, it is clear that what has appeared has continued long established trends, although with some notable innovations. The early 1980s, for example, saw two significant developments that might have improved the conceptual basis of behavioral geography. The first was an epistemological initiative that favored transactionalism – an approach to cognition which held that the values that people attach to different landscapes evolve from the interactions between people and landscape. The second was time geography. Based on ideas originally developed at the University of Lund by a group of Swedish geographers led by Torsten Ha?gerstrand, time geography developed the idea of a path that showed the movement of an individual over space and through time, subject to three sets of constraints: capability (including the need for food and sleep); authority (limits to the places where an individual is allowed); and coupling (places where an individual is required to be due to the requirement for interaction with others).

In principle, both perspectives had much to offer. Transactionalism provided a means of drawing together disparate approaches to human–landscape relationships, but came to prominence too late to attract researchers willing to develop the basic approaches through empirical inquiry and critical reflection. Time geography, on the other hand, had considerable indirect influence on geography, especially through its impact on Anthony Giddens’ theories of structuration, with Giddens explicitly relating his analysis of the function of localities to time–space paths. By the time that Giddens’ work appeared, however, there were few remaining that would wish to develop the underlying principles under the banner of behavioral geography or even to make connection with that area of inquiry.

Rather more success was experienced in specialist areas able to function with a handful of active researchers. Cognitive behavioral studies of children’s geographies continued to flourish, yielding impressive amounts of cross cultural research. The topics now developed included the child’s access to and use of the outdoor environment, attraction and avoidance behavior, the development of environmental cognition and its pedagogic implications, and policy oriented findings on improvement of children’s play spaces. At the other end of the age spectrum, gerontological studies by geographers focused on usage of services and facilities, residential preferences, and the contracting activity space of the elderly, especially in relation to fear and perceived threat. A further cluster of research centered on issues of disability, including real and perceived barriers to access in the built environment, social inclusion, and auditory and haptic environmental interpretation for the visually handicapped. Finally, cognitive mapping maintained its attraction, with the development of highly sophisticated quantitative methodologies and cultivation of linkages with GIS – both of which opened new avenues for multidisciplinary collaboration.