Geographia Polonica (1985) vol. 51

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Changing views of the city in British geographical research

Brian T. Robson

Geographia Polonica (1985) vol. 51, pp. 37-50


To think back twenty-five years — just one generation — in urban geography is to enter a quite other world. When I was in university in 1958, twenty-five years ago, we had no formal course in urban geography. In studying what now we would call urban topics, the texts that we could call on were few and far between and were predominantly descriptive, historical and evolutionary. I recall reading Griffith Taylor and the apocalyptic views of Lewis Mumford. Some of the ideas of central place theory were just beginning to seep into the British curriculum from America. Twenty five years on, what intellectual gymnastics the new urban geographers have been through. We have had a wealth of research and a welter of textbooks. Yet now it would be a brave man who could confidently define the scope of urban geography or resolve its numerous apparent aims and concerns. Many would even question whether it exists as a subject. It was as long ago as 1968 that Castells asked 'Y-a-t-il une sociologie urbaineV; he could as well have asked it of a geographie urbaine. More than the subject as a whole, urban geography has bent and twisted its way through a panoply of different emphases, of different philosophical starting points and of different goals. Has it, like the city itself, flourished briefly if dramatically as a kind of intellectual comet with a brief if brightly shining head and a tail that is long in its dying?


Brian T. Robson, Department of Geography, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK