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Geographical Perspectives on Development Studies  

Lise Nelson

The history of development studies as a field of academic inquiry can be traced most directly back to the Cold War era when public funding for “development studies” went hand in hand with international development as a state project, particularly in the United States. Economists, sociologists, and planners began to take the development of the “Third World” as an object of analysis, partially in response to new funding opportunities and a discursive context legitimating it as a field of study. By the 1960s, geographers began to take (so-called) “Third World” modernization and development as an object of research. Geographers’ engagement with development as intervention, and eventually the exploration of uneven global development as part of the “ebb and flow of capitalism,” can be divided into three waves. The first wave, visible in the early 1960s, took the quantitative spatial models dominant at the time in geography, such as those concerning urbanization patterns, transportation linkages, regional development, and population movement, and began to apply them to “Third World” contexts. This second wave, linked to the turn toward Marxist theory by a new generation of geographers in the 1960s, explored the uneven geography of wealth and power produced by capitalism and launched a powerful critique of development intervention as imperialism. The third wave of debates emerged in the late 1980s–early 1990s and is associated with poststructural and postcolonial critiques gaining traction at the time in geography and related disciplines.

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The Development of “Lands of Recent Settlement”  

Cristian A. Harris

Lands of recent settlement refers to countries settled predominantly by European migration during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as the United States, Canada, Argentina, Uruguay, Australia, and New Zealand. Current scholarship on the lands of recent settlement reveals a very active agenda of comparative studies covering a broad range of areas and issues: culture, institutions, gender, ethnicity, labor, national identity, geography, ecology, environment, noneconomic factors of growth, and transnationalization and globalization. In explaining the different levels of development between lands of recent settlement and the rest of the world, traditional explanations pointed to propitious external factors and factor endowments. These explanations include the analysis of the history of the United States based on the notion of “frontier development” and the staple theory of growth. Meanwhile, recent works debate whether institutions, culture, or geography plays a crucial role. These works focus on the social, domestic, geographic, and biological elements of development, the cultural and institutional legacy of colonialism, as well as questions on gender, ethnic, and national identity. Although they do not reject the importance of foreign demand, capital, and labor in explaining the development of the lands of recent settlement, they question the adequacy of interpretations based solely on economic factors. Ultimately, the most important contribution of the study of development of lands of recent settlement is in the area of an analysis of transnational networks and globalization.