Feminist geography

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Feminist geography is an approach in human geography which applies the theories, methods and critiques of feminism to the study of the human environment, society and geographical space.[1]

The geography of women

The geography of women focuses upon description of the effects on gender inequality. In terms of theoretical influences, it focuses on welfare geography and liberal feminism. Geographically, feminist geographers emphasize on constraints of distance and spatial separation. As Seager et. al. argues, gender is only the narrow-minded approach when understanding the oppression of women throughout the decades of colonial history. In such, understanding the geography of women would mean taking a critical approach in questioning the dimensions of age, class, ethnicity, orientation and other socio-economic factors (2004).[2] An early reproach of geography of women approach was that gender roles were mainly explained as gender inequality, such as housewives and mothers, in combination with the some concept of spatial constraint. However, Foord and Gregson (1986) argued that the concept of gender roles narrows the focus to women, emerges from a static social theory, and presents women as victims. Furthermore, it gives a narrow reading of distance even though the geography of women displays how spatial constraint and separation enter into the construction of women’s position. Theorist Edward Said critiques the idea of geographical spaces in such a context where our actions on gendered practices of representation are fabricated through dominant ideological beliefs (2004).[3] In relation to the misrepresentation of gender roles and taken-for-granted movements on feminine rights, we see that the challenges of the colonial present lies within the confinement of women in limited spatial opportunities. Hence, feminist geographies should consider and trace the inter-connections in all aspects of daily life; in other words, gender should be applied and developed in terms of space.[4]

Socialist feminist geography

Socialist feminist geography seeks to explain inequality and the relationship between capitalism and patriarchy. It uses Marxism and Socialist feminism to explain the interdependence of geography, gender relations and economic development under capitalism. Socialist feminist geography revolved around the questions of how to reduce gender inequality based on patriarchy and capitalism. It has theoretical influences on Marxism, socialist feminism. The geographical focus is on spatial separation, gender place, and localities. One of the key theoretical debates within socialist feminist geography revolved around the question of how best to articulate gender and class analysis. For instance, drawing on of married mainland Chinese immigrant women living in New York City. While women remain the primary object of analysis, and gender remains the primary social relation, Zhou is intensely aware that many other factors, such as class, also affect women’s post-migration experiences and circumstances.[5]

There are two scales that socialist feminist geographers first worked primarily. First, at the urban scale, Anglo-American feminist geographers focused on the social and spatial separation of suburban homes from paid employment; this was seen as vital to the day-to-day and generational reproduction of workers and the development and maintenance of traditional gender relations in capitalist societies.[6]

Socialist feminist geographers widely attending to the ways that gender relations differ from place to place not only reflect, but also partly determine local economic changes. Judith Butler’s idea of citationality expands on the concept of the lack of agency to facilitate the presence of women within the discipline of geography. In such, we come to the awareness that whenever performative measures are taken to diminish women’s rights in geographical space, the conventions around it adapt around this context to make it seem as the norm.[7] Likewise, feminist geographers are also drawing on a broader range of social, and particularly cultural theory, including psychoanalysis and post-structuralism, in order to develop a fuller understanding of how gender relations and identities are shaped and assumed. This has led to fundamental rethinking of the category gender, and the contradictions and possibilities presented by the seeming instability and insistent repetitions of gender norms in practice. The focus on multiple identifications and the influence of post-structuralist and psychoanalytic theories has brought feminist geographers into dialogue with other strands of critical geography. But another consequence is that theoretical differences among feminist geographers are more obvious than in the past, but according to Monk 1994 the national differences between America and British geographers may be diminishing as both parties pursue new directions.

Feminist geographies of difference

Feminist geographies of difference concentrate upon the construction of gendered identities, differences among women, gender and constructions of nature by using cultural, post-structural, postcolonial and psychoanalytic theories, which writings of women of color, lesbian women, gay men and women from third world countries. In terms of geography, feminist geographers emphasize on micro-geographies of body, mobile identities, distance, separation and place, imagined geographies, colonialism and post-colonialism, and environment or nature.

Since the late 1980s, many feminist geographers have moved on to three new research areas:

First, feminist geographers contest and expand the category of genders between men and women. The difference in the construction of gender relations across race, ethnicity, age, religion, sexuality and nationality, becomes interesting for feminist geographers. Additionally, feminist geographers are also increasingly attentive to women who are positioned in various ways along the multiple axis of difference.

Second, in order to get better understanding of how gender relations and identities are formed and assumed, a broader extent of social theory, particular culture, are drawn by feminist geographers. Feminist geographers are more able to discuss and debate after the focus on multiple identifications and the influence of post-structuralist and psychoanalytic theories.[8]

Third, a key area of discussion is about the difference between relativism and situated knowledge, and ways to reconcile partial perspectives with commitment to political action and social change.

Critical human geography

Critical human geography is defined as “a diverse and rapidly changing set of ideas and practices within human geography linked by a share commitment to emancipatory politics within and beyond the discipline, to the promotion of progressive social change and to the development of a broad range of critical theories and their application in geographical research and political practice.” (Johnston 2000).[5]

Critical human geography comes from Anglophonic geography in the mid-1990s. It presents a broad alliance of progressive approaches to the discipline. Critical human geographers draw on theoretical approaches such as anarchism, anti-colonialism, critical race theory, environmentalism, feminism, Marxism, nonrepresentational theory, post-Marxism, post-colonialism, post-structuralism, psychoanalysis, queer theory, situationism, and socialism. Much of the focus is on some of the key publications marking different eras in critical geography.

Critical human geography must be understood as multiple, dynamic, and contested.[9]

Rather than a specific sub-discipline of geography, feminist geography is often considered part of a broader postmodern, critical theory approach, often drawing from the theories of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Judith Butler among others. More recent influences include critiques of feminism from post-colonial theorists. Feminist geographers often focus on the lived experiences of individuals and groups in their own localities, upon the geographies that they live in within their own communities, rather than theoretical development without empirical work.[1]

Many feminist geographers study the same subjects as other geographers, but often with a focus on gender divisions.[10] This concern has developed into a concern with wider issues of gender, family, sexuality, race, and class. Examples of areas of focus include:

In addition to societal studies, Feminist Geography also critiques Human Geography and other academic disciplines, arguing that academic structures have been traditionally characterized by a patriarchal perspective, and that contemporary studies which do not confront the nature of previous work reinforce the masculine bias of academic study.[11] The British Geographer Gillian Rose's Feminism and Geography[1] is one such sustained criticism, focused on Human Geography in Britain as being historically masculinist in its approach. This includes the writing of landscape as feminine (and thus as subordinate to male geographers), assuming a separation between mind and body. The following is referenced from Johnston & Sidaway (2004),[12] and further describes such a separation and its influence on geography:

"'Cartesian dualism underlines our thinking in a myriad of ways, not least in the divergence of the social sciences from the natural sciences, and in a geography which is based on the separation of people from their environments. Thus while geography is unusual in its spanning of the natural and social sciences and in focusing on the interrelations between people and their environments, it is still assumed that the two are distinct and one acts on the other. Geography, like all of the social sciences, has been built upon a particular conception of mind and body which sees them as separate, apart and acting on each other (Johnston, 1989, cited in Longhurst, 1997, p. 492)'

Thus, too, feminist work has sought to transform approaches to the study of landscape by relating it to the way that it is represented ('appreciated' so to speak), in ways that are analogous to the heterosexual male gaze directed towards the female body (Nash 1996). Both of these concerns (and others)- about the body as a contested site and for the Cartesian distinction between mind and body - have been challenged in postmodern and poststructuralist feminist geographies."

Other feminist geographers have interrogated the ways in which the discipline of geography itself represents and reproduces the heterosexual male gaze. Feminist geographers such as Katherine McKittrick have asserted pointed critiques of the ways in which we see and understand space are fundamentally bound up in how we understand the hegemonic presence of the white male subject in history, geography and in the materiality of everyday space. Building off of Sylvia Wynter's theories of the racialized production of public and private space, McKittrick challenges “social landscapes that presume subaltern populations have no relationship to the production of space” [13] and writes to document black female geographies in order to "allow us to engage with a narrative that locates and draws on black histories and black subjects in order to make visible social lives which are often displaced, rendered ungeographic.”[13] McKittrick stakes claim in the co-articulation of race and gender as they articulate space and she writes, “I am emphasizing here that racism and sexism are not simply bodily or identity based; racism and sexism are also spatial acts and illustrate black women’s geographic experiences and knowledges as they are made possible through domination.”[14]

List of related geographers

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Rose, Gillian (1993). Feminism & Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816624188. 
  2. Seager, J., & Nelson, L. (Eds.). (2004). Companion to Feminist Geography. Williston, VT, USA: Blackwell Publishing.
  3. Gregory, D. (2004). The colonial present. (pp. 18-19). Victoria: Blackwell Publishing.
  4. Massey, Doreen (1990). Space, Place, and Gender. University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Longhurt, Robyn (2002). "Geography and gender: a 'critical' time?". 
  6. MaccKenzie, S.; Rose, D. (1983). Industrial chang, the domestic economy and home life. 
  7. McKenzie, J. (2001). Perform or Else : From Discipline to Performance. London, GBR: Routledge.
  8. Monk, J. (1982). On not excluding the other half from human geography. 
  9. Warf, Barney (2010). Encyclopedia of Geography Critical Human Geography. University British Columbia-vancouve. 
  10. McDowell, Linda (1993) "Space, place and gender relations" in Progress in Human Geography 17(2)
  11. Moss, Pamela, 2007 Feminisms in Geography: Rethinking Space, Place, and Knowledges Rowman & Littlefield Publishers ISBN 978-0-7425-3829-0
  12. Johnston, R.J. & J. D. Sidaway. (2004). Geography and Geographers. London: Arnold, p. 312.
  13. 13.0 13.1 McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2006. p. 92 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "mckittrick" defined multiple times with different content
  14. McKittrick, xviii

Further reading

  • McKittrick, Katherine. Demonic Grounds: Black Women and the Cartographies of Struggle. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
  • McDowell, Linda (1992) Doing gender: feminisms, feminists and research methods in human geography. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 17, 399-416.
  • McDowell, Linda; and Sharp, Joanne P. (eds). (1999). A Feminist Glossary of Human Geography. London: Arnold.
  • McDowell, Linda. (1999) Gender, Identity and Place: understanding feminist geographies. Cambridge : Polity Press, 1999
  • Pratt, Geraldine. (2004) "Working Feminism." Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Gillian Rose (1993) Feminism and Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge Univ. of Minnesota Press
  • Seager, Joni and Nelson, Lise. (eds) (2004) Companion to Feminist Geography (Blackwell Companions to Geography). Blackwell Publishers, ISBN 1-4051-0186-5
  • Valentine, Gill. (2004) Public Space and the Culture of Childhood. London:Ashgate
  • Johnston, R.J. & J.D. Sidaway. (2004). Geography and Geographers. London: Arnold. Chapter 8: Feminist geographies.
  • Simonsen, Kirsten. (2007). "Practice, spatiality and embodied emotions: an outline of a geography of practice". Human Affairs, 17(2), 168-181.

Scientific journals