Towards a Working Definition of Economic Geography

To students in Geography 207: Many different working definitions of "Economic Geography" are viable and can be found in textbooks. This variety stems foremost from the fact that every economic geographer looks at her/his discipline in a personal, subjective and often only slightly diverging way. Thus, I do not expect that you will recite any particular definition or accept my view of the field. Instead, I would like you to work on your own perspective of what this discipline is all about (and what it means to you) throughout the quarter.

Another reason for finding so much diversity among the definitions of the field and the content of textbooks is that Economic Geography is interdisciplinary involving explicitly geography, economics and business and implicitly other social and natural sciences. For the purposes of this class, I suggest that we begin to stitch together our own working definition by initially just looking at "economics" and "geography".

When we think of "Economics", the following words may come to mind representing concepts which we feel might be of particular concern to economists:

economic activities, markets, allocation, money, capital, competition, resources, development, growth, welfare, well-being, poverty, deliberate, purposeful, rational, optimal, efficient, and more... Since we cannot squeeze all of these and other relevant concepts into a concise formulation of our view of the field, we will have to summarize them and may come up with something like this:
"Economics is the study of purposeful human activities in pursuit of satisfying individual or collective wants" (which would amount to a "descriptive" definition); or
"Economics is the the study of principles governing the allocation of scarce means among competing ends" (which would be a more "analytical" definition).
However, economics itself consists of many different subfields and specializations (e.g. micro-economics {study of individual behavior} and macro-economics (study of aggregates, like total income or employment of a region or country), economic development, labor economics, urban economics etc.). Most of these subfields have found their way into the discourse in Economic Geography. However, the above definitions of Economics do not fit all these possible subfields equally well.

When we think of Geography, we often use the following words or concepts: location, site, place, access, spatial, regional, distance, separation, proximity, speed, mobility, transportation, resources, communication, agglomeration etc.
A quick and simple definition of Geography thus may be: "the study of the way in which society organizes itself in space".
Click here for a wider variety of more elaborate definitions.

Economic Geography:
Our attempt to combine the definitions of Economics and Geography may become a little messy, but let us try:
"In Economic Geography, we study the (locational, organizational and behavioral) principles and processes associated with the spatial allocation of scarce (human, man-made and natural) resources (which are also distributed spatially) and the spatial patterns and (direct and indirect, social, environmental and economic) consequences resulting from such allocations."

Are you still with me? Let's try a shorter version: "Economic geographers study the principles governing the spatial allocation of resources and the resulting consequences".

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