Economic Geography: Definition, Importance, Branches/Scope, Approaches in Economic Geography

Definition of Economic Geography

Economic geography is a branch of geography which is concerned with the location of economic system, the spatial organization and growth of economic system and people use and abuse of earths resources. Economic geography is concerned with analysing the spatial aspects of economic systems; just as the aim of economic theorist is to develop economic models using a relatively small number of variables to help explain observed economic phenomena.

The aim of the location theorist is to build spatial models of economic systems using relative small number of variables to help explain the spatial distribution of the location of production and consumption of the spatial interactions evidenced by transportation, communication, and trade and of the regional difference in growth and development. Thus, the economic geographer is concerned with analysing the space economy. However, economic geography seeks to explain rationality in locating human features, it is the science of spatial organization, how man organizes space. Economic geography started as a commercial geography. Some resources are found where they are as a result of environmental factors such as climate, temperature and soil etc.

Interface Between Economic and Geography

Economic geography is concerned with rational development and testing of theories that explain and predict the spatial distribution and location of production exchange and consumption of goods and services.

Geography on the other hand is concerned with understanding of how spatial systems operates, that is, the use of resources, determining location, patterning of space and growth of regions, while economic is concerned with how economic systems operates, that is, the mechanisms of allocating resources, determining prices, distribution of incomes and promoting economic growth and development. Economic geography emphasis the need for control in the spatial allocation of resources; it involves the study of spatial organization. An economic system is spatial and it is the primary concern of the economic geography. Economic geography deals with the geography of mans struggle to make a living as such, it concerns itself with the production of the social and material conditions of man existence. It is firmly a social science which has been primarily placed upon the production and use of the environmental and manmade materials and conditions of the earth.

History of Economic Geography

Economic geography traces its roots to the emergence of highly practical field of commercial geography; this new subject provided prospective merchants and governments with information on products and exports of the principal regions of the world. Commercial geography had grown up as the Western European nations expanded their trading relationships and empires across the globe, creating a demand for commercial information about the world regions that previously had been unknown to the Europeans. One of the first textbooks in the field was written in the mid-17th century by the geographer BENHARDUS VARENIUS to provide practical commercial information for Amsterdam merchants.

The search for better explanations led next to a more theoretical economic geography that focused on the study of the relationships between economic activity and the physical environment. This was based on the theory of environmental determinism which explains that economic differences were caused by environmental factors. This theory however, failed to explain the diversity of economic in similar physical environment and ignored the freedom of individuals to make their own choices within limits of what they can produce. Economic geography emerged and concerned itself with areal variation in production and economic regions that resulted. The focus was on the enquiry into similarities differences and linkages within and between areas.It is however interesting to note that George Chisholm is the father of modern economic geography.

Methodological approaches in Modern Geography

Different approaches have been employed in the study of modern economic geography these include

  • Models and Theories
  • Scientific methods of enquiry (inductive and deductive)
  • Quantitative analysis (a form of symbolic models), while others include
  • Iconic models i.e. miniature physical models (least abstract photos plans)
  • Analogue models, more abstract photo plans. For example, topographic map
  • Symbolic models, most abstract properties of objects represented in symbols for example mathematic models such as formula and equations.

Models are used based on two ways

  1. As inductive research methods: building a model to show relationship between variables in a real world system by selecting only relevant variables (simplifications, measuring the variables and constructing the models), this is done by setting up hypothesis.
  2. As deductive research method: validating or invalidating an idea, hypothesis or theories by testing it with models containing testable proportions. Therefore, in deductive method, data are gathered and used to test the constructed models in order to prove their validity or otherwise.

Scopeof Economic Geography

However today, economic geography has been broken down into five different branches or topics of study which include theoretical, historical, regional, critical and behavioural economic geography. Each of these branches is different from the other because of the approaches economic geographers in the branches use to study the world’s economy.

Branches of Economic Geography

  1. Theoretical economic geography: this is the broadest of all the branches economic geography and geographers within this subdivision mainly focus on building new theories for how the world’s economy is arranged.
  2. Historical economic geography: this examines the history and development of spatial economic structure using historical data. It studies how centers of population and economic activity shift, what patterns of regional specialization and localization evolve over time and what factors explain these changes. Economic geographers look at the historic development of an area to understand their economies.
  3. Regional economic geography: this aspect of economic geography looks at the economies of specific regions around the world. Economic geographers look at local development as well as the relationships that specific regions have with other areas.
  4. Critical economic geography: critical economic geographyis an approach taken from the point of view of contemporarycritical geographyand its philosophy. Geographers in this field study economic inequalities and the dominance of one region over another and how that dominance impacts development of economies.
  5. Behavioural economic geography:carefully studies the cognitive processes underlying spatial reasoning, locational decision-making, and behavior of firms and individuals.

New Economic Geography

With the rise of thenew economy, economic inequalities are increasing spatially; the new economy is however characterized by globalization, increasing use of information and communications technology. The growth of knowledge goods, and feminization, has enabled economic geographers to study social and spatial divisions caused by the rising new economy, including the emergingdigital divide. The new economic geographies consist of primarily service-based sectors of the economy that use innovative technology, such as industries where people rely on computers and the internet. Within these is a switch from manufacturing-based economies to the digital economy. In these sectors, competition makes technological changes robust.

These high technology sectors rely heavily on interpersonal relationships and trust, as developing things like software is very different from other kinds of industrial manufacturing. It requires intense levels of cooperation between many different people, as well as the use of tacit knowledge. Because of cooperation becoming a necessity, there is a clustering in the high-tech new economy of many firms. (Wikipedia)

Additionally, some specific topics are also included in economic geography which are also related to the economy, they include

  • Agricultural geography
  • Geography of international trade
  • Geography of finance
  • Geography of resources
  • Geography of industry
  • Geography of transportand communication