Text Book

Teaching is great, and year after year, I try to improve and update my courses, and I enjoy to see how our students grow intellectually. In our master programme a little bit less than 100 students graduate each year. In this way, the impact of our teaching is probably higher than the impact of high rated scientific publications. But as lecturer, after many years of teaching, one also would like to see my efforts in teaching materialised and symbolised in a different way. For my teaching in statistical research methods, this resulted in a textbook on Applied Statistical Methods in Geography and Environmental Sciences (in German).


Since the publication of this textbook already some years have passed, and the means of communicating the contents of our courses have changed. Currently I am, therefore, working on an on-line course on Qualitative Research Methods (in English), partly in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Zurich.

As a third similar kind of project I am also working on a textbook (in English), in which my teaching of Social Theories in Geography, is summarised. In this text-book I do not just want to introduce current social theories to our students in a hands-on way, but also want to put them in a historical and a geographical context, since it is increasingly seems to get forgotten, that social theories, despite the fact that they are often presented as ‘grand theories’, emerge out of a specific societal and geographical context, and address the topical issues relevant in these historical and geographical situations. To understand, interpret and apply these theories correctly, we need to take these contexts into account. It is my ambition to do so in this textbook. It will certainly take longer until this manuscript will be completed. A tentative table of contents is:

Social Theory for Geographers
Huib Ernste

 1.    Introduction (20 p)

Geographical ways of seeing the world
Theorising the spatiality of human activities

Geography as Science
Space as reality
Spatial laws and social realities
Spatial universalism and socio-cultural relativism?

Core issues (recurring themes)
Story lines of theorising
Geography of theorising
Doing theory
The structure of the book
Some advice

2.    Classical Paradigms (20 p.)

Classical geographical thought

Nature, Race and Space: The horrors of Biology
From Biology to Social Practices and Geography-Making

Classical social thought

Immanuel Kant’s contradictions
Hegel’s paradox

Enlightenment/positivism vs. romanticism/interpretivism
Pre-modernity, modernity, post-modernity
Conclusions: The Wisps of the Classics

3.    Functionalist and Systems Theory Paradigms (20 p.)

Key elements of functionalist thinking and views
Biological analogies and implications
Classical Evolutionism in socio-cultural theory

Durkheim, Spencer, Parsons, Maturana & Varela

Functionalist Geography
Human Geography and spatial planning
Luhmann’s Systems Theory in geography
Conclusions: Overcoming Biology

4.    Structuralist Paradigms (20 p.)

Geography as Science
Space as realitiy
Spatial laws and social realities
Spatial universalism and socio-cultural relativism
Conclusions: From Space to Society or from Action to Space

5.    Rational Choice Paradigms (20 p.)


Skinner, Homans, Blau

Rational Choice Theory

Hobbes, Mill, Coleman, von Mises

Space and decision making
Christaller and beyond
Conclusion: Irritation and Progress

6.    Cognitive Paradigms (20 p.)

From Behaviourism to Cognition
Behavioural Geography
From perception of space to spatial perception
Images of Places
Labels and advertisement
Conclusion: Cognitive structures and space to act

7.    Marxist and Critical Theory Paradigms (20 p.)

A short historical overview

Marx, Althusser, Lukacs

Key Elements of Marxist and Critical Views of the Social
Frankfurt School

Adorno, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Benjamin, Freud, Habermas, Gramsci

David Harvey’s theoretical turn
Political Economy and Critical Realism


Critical Geography
Conclusions: From economic determinism to socio-economic structuring

8.    Phenomenological Paradigm (20 p.)

Basic elements of Phenomenology

Husserl, Merleau-Ponty, Plessner, Schütz, Berger-Luckmann

Constructing Reality and constructed geographies
From Behaviour to Action
Action and Meaning
Meaningful geographical Realities

Space and Place

Critical Phenomenology and New Phenomenology


Conclusion: From individual meaning making to societal meaning making

9.    Symbolic Interactionist Paradigms (20 p.)

From Simmel to Goffman

Simmel, Mead, James, Dewey, Blumer, Goffman

Goffman’s micro geographies
The sociality of the Spatial
Chicago School
Conclusion: From geography of the body to symbolic interactions

10.  Post-modern and Post-Structuralist Paradigms (20 p.)

From Durkheim to Foucault

Durkheim, Saussure, Derrida, Foucault

Geography of Discourse and Counter-Discourse
Geography of Power
Post-Structuralist critique
Conclusion: All that is solid melts into air?

11.  Structurationist and Relational Paradigms (25 p.)

From Structure to Structuration to Practice

Pierre Bourdieu

Habitus and Structuration
Society and Appropriated Space
Fields and Capitals
Spatial Capital?

Anthony Giddens

Agency and Structuration
Rules and Ressources
The Spatial and the Temporal

Process of civilisation


Practice Theories


Actor Network Theories


Assemblage Theory

Deleuze, Delanda

Conclusion: From parts to the whole

12.  Challenges of the present (15 p.)

The contextuality of recurring issues
What is next?



Total ± 300 pp.