These brief summaries of three representative areas of research within behavioral geography by no means exhaust a field of inquiry that addressed problems of cognition and behavior at all levels from microspace to cosmology in environments ranging from polar tundra to inner areas of metropolitan cities. Not surprisingly given this diversity and the uneasy coexistence of separate schools of thought, there was an endemic climate of critical debate even during behavioral geography's halcyon years. Discussion about the validity of methodology, for example, was pervasive, especially with regard to cognitive mapping. It was commonly assumed that 'maps in the head' may be externally represented by asking people to draw cartographic maps or to rank areas from supplied lists. Yet, in reality, the abilities to draw maps, comment upon cartographic material, or to carry out ranking exercises depend heavily upon education. A subject's responses to mapping exercises may thus imperfectly represent spatial cognition. Moreover, there was no compelling evidence that the idea of a 'map in the mind', which Tolman had used as an analogy, meant that people actually have cartographic representations of the environment in their heads, regardless of the frequency with which that idea was asserted.
Similarly, there was concern about the social context of cognitive behavioralist inquiry. Although, for instance, many observers applauded natural hazards research for its coherent and cross cultural basis and for an approach that consciously built on previous work, others worried about its implicit agenda. A group of radical geographers then based at Clark University argued that it had primarily responded to parochial American interests and needed refocusing to give greater attention to thirdworld nations, which suffered disproportionately more human casualties but smaller loss of property than countries in the 'Western world'. There was also a fundamental objection to the use of the word 'natural' in relation to hazards on the grounds that in many cases it was poverty and landowning policies that forced large concentrations of people to be living in hazard prone zones rather than any deficiencies of knowledge.
The tenor of these arguments accorded with the root and branch criticisms of behavioral geography in general delivered by a group of radical, primarily Marxist, geographers in the 1970s. The earliest coherent critique came from Richard Rieser, then a graduate research student at the London School of Economics. Rieser, who was working on the cognitive maps held by residents of the isolated communities of London's Isle of Dogs in the years prior to the Docklands regeneration, became pro gressively more disillusioned with the direction of his research. Arguing that it was conceptually and methodologically flawed, he turned his attention to the broader picture to warn that cognitive behavioralism quarried dangerous and dehumanising theories (e.g., ideas about territoriality derived from ethology), led to psychologism (the fallacy by which social phenomena are explained purely in terms of facts and doctrines about the mental characteristics of individuals), and obscured the objective economic and social conditions that operate independently of the individual. Other radical critics, who had equally shown initial support for cognitive behavioralism, denounced its practices on similar lines. Notably, behavioral geography became branded as 'bourgeois thought' that had the ideological function of supporting the status quo in that, inadvertently or otherwise, its emphasis on the individual made it unlikely that the data collected would throw light on the true nature of social relations.
The directness of these comments and the standing of their authors as 'insiders' in the behavioralist movement meant that the force of the criticisms struck home, even if the extremity of certain pronouncements and, more specifically, their Marxist associations meant that it was possible for their thinking to be treated as the product of political polemic and therefore dismissed. That strategy proved less viable with those geographers identified with the humanistic stream. Similarly well regarded within human geography, these were individuals whose work, a few years earlier, had fitted into the broader behavioralist movement. In the late 1970s, however, they promoted 'humanistic geography' as a new omnium gatherum that loosely embraced diverse moral and philosophical standpoints, including idealism, existentialism, and phe nomenology. Humanistic geographers now attacked the materialist framework of positivism said to underpin much of behavioral geography and disputed the prevailing dichotomies between subject/object and between fact/value. They argued that 'cognitive' denoted deliberate and conscious thought processes and excluded consideration of the realm of the 'precognitive'. Worse still, they argued that behavioral geography's positivist basis depersonalized and dehumanized the people and places that were studied.
Signs of a schism were readily apparent and given formal expression in 1978 by Derek Gregory's influential book Ideology, Science and Human Geography. Gregory categorized phenomenology as a critique of positivism. Following an agenda which emphasized the importance of structure and agency, Gregory helped to propagate a view that treated 'humanistic geography' as a freestanding branch of geography, with roots deep in the heart of the discipline. Its erstwhile tactical connections with the cognitive science strand of behavioral geography were firmly severed.
As this interpretation gained support, cognitive behavioralism was treated by default purely as an off shoot of spatial science. Commentators on the development of geography reinforced this view by identifying behavioral geography with the style of scientific analysis reminiscent of mainstream experimental psychology. In particular, they repeatedly conflated 'behavioralism' with 'behaviorism' – the branch of psychology that reduced behavior to stimulus response and had associations with Skinnerian behavioral reinforcement and modification. The attribution of this dubious moral baggage also supplied grounds for identifying cognitive behavioralism with the worst aspects of scientific practice – reductionist, mechanistic, repetitious, and socially manipulative. According to this version of history, 'humanistic geography', the province of maverick geographers, had stood out against this trend and would act as the precursor of the new cultural geography. By contrast, behavioral geography could only look back to its brief heyday as a corrective to specific behavioral deficiencies of spatial science. Although this strategy possessed elements of caricature, there was no denying that, intentionally or otherwise, the new historiography was devastatingly effective in marginalizing behavioral geography.