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Critical geography takes a critical theory (Frankfurt School) approach to the study and analysis of geography. The development of critical geography can be seen as one of the four major turning points in the history of geography (the other three being environmental determinism, regional geography and quantitative revolution). Though post-positivist approaches remain important in geography the critical geography arose as a critique of positivism introduced by quantitative revolution.
Two main schools of thought emerged from human geography and one existing school (behavioural geography) which made a brief comeback. Behavioural geography sought to counter the perceived tendency of quantitative geography to deal with humanity as a statistical phenomenon. It flourished briefly during the 1970s and sought to provide a greater understanding of how people perceived places and made locational decisions and sought to challenge mathematical models of society, in particular the use of econometric techniques. But the lack of a sound theoretical base left behavioural geography open to critique as merely descriptive and amounting to little more than a listing of spatial preferences.
Radical geography emerged during the 1970s and 1980s as the inadequacies of behavioralist methods became clear. It sought to counter the positivist quantitative methods with normative techniques drawn from Marxist theory: quantitative methods, it argued, were not useful unless alternatives or solutions were given to problems.
The final and, arguably, most successful of the three schools was humanistic geography, initially formed part of behavioural geography but fundamentally disagreed with the use of quantitative methods in assessing human behaviour and thoughts in favour of qualitative analysis. Humanistic geography used many of the techniques that the humanities use such as source analysis and the use of text and literature to try to ‘get into the mind’ of the subject(s). Furthermore, Cultural geography revived due to humanistic geography new areas of study such as Feminist geography, postmodernist and poststructuralist geography began to emerge.
Behavioral geography is an approach to human geography that examines human behavior using a disaggregate approach. Behavioral geographers focus on the cognitive processes underlying spatial reasoning, decision making, and behavior. In addition, behavioral geography is an ideology/approach in human geography that makes use of the methods and assumptions of behaviorism to determine the cognitive processes involved in an individual's perception of, and/or response and reaction to their environment.
Behavioral geography is that branch of human science, which deals with the study of cognitive processes with its response to its environment, through behaviorism.
Issues in behavioral geography
Because of the name it is often assumed to have its roots in behaviorism. While some behavioral geographers clearly have roots in behaviorism due to the emphasis on cognition, most can be seen as cognitively oriented. Indeed, it seems that behaviorism interest is more recent and growing. This is particularly true in the area of human landscaping.
Behavioral geography draws from early behaviorist works such as Tolman's concepts of "cognitive maps". More cognitively oriented, behavioral geographers focus on the cognitive processes underlying spatial reasoning, decision making, and behavior. More behaviorally oriented geographers are materialists and look at the role of basic learning processes and how they influence the landscape patterns or even group identity.
The cognitive processes include environmental perception and cognition, wayfinding, the construction of cognitive maps, place attachment, the development of attitudes about space and place, decisions and behavior based on imperfect knowledge of one's environs, and numerous other topics.
The approach adopted in behavioral geography is closely related to that of psychology, but draws on research findings from a multitude of other disciplines including economics, sociology, anthropology, transportation planning, and many others.