Marxist geography

Marxist geography

Marxist geography is a critical geography which utilises the theories and philosophy of Marxism to examine the spatial relations of human geography. In Marxist geography the relations that geography has traditionally analyzed - natural environment and spatial relations - are reviewed as outcomes of the mode of material production. To understand geographical relations, the social structure must also be examined. Marxist geography attempts to change the basic structure of society.[1]

Philosophy and methodology

Marxist geography is radical in nature and its primary criticism of the positivist spatial science centered upon its methodologies, which failed to account or demonstrate the underlying mechanisms of capitalism and exploitation that underlie human spatial arrangements. As such, early Marxist geographers were explicitly political in advocating for social change and activism; they sought, through application of geographical analysis of social problems, to alleviate poverty and exploitation in capitalist societies[2]. Marxist geography makes exegetical claims regarding how the deep-seated structures of capitalism act as a determinant and a constraints to human agency. Most of these ideas were developed in the early 1970s by dissatisfied quantitative geographers; David Harvey is generally regarded as the primary trail-blazer of the Marxist movement in human geography.

In order to accomplish such philosophical aims, these geographers rely heavily upon Marxist social and economic theory; drawing on Marxian economics and the concept of historical materialism to tease out the manner in which the means of production control human spatial distribution in capitalist structures. Marx is also invoked to examine how spatial relationships are affected by class. The emphasis is upon structure and structural mechanisms; emphasis on this aspect of society has yielded results but also criticism.


Marxist geography's emphasis on constraints of structure upon human agency has been criticized extensively as deterministic; not allowing for the human agency and autonomy, whose action appears determined by capitalism's structural mechanisms in Marxist analysis. By contrast, Humanistic geography is a differing critical geography, which concentrates upon human will and autonomy in explaining geography's patterns. Unsurprisingly, much of the criticism directed at Marxists has emerged from the humanistic fold (though humanistic geography is itself seen as lacking for failing to account for behavioural constraints imposed by social structures).

Marxist geography is also subject to critiques of historical materialism and its applicability to modern day post-industrial and capitalist societies. The importance Marxists place on the notion of class is also subject to critique. Marxist geographers have responded in kind to these polemics.


  1. ^ An Introduction to Marxist Geography.
  2. ^ Harvey, David. 1973. "Social Justice and the City"

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