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Marxism in Development Geography Evaluation Essay

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Marxist Geography is critical in nature, and it utilizes philosophy and theories of Marxism to look at the spatial relations of human Geography. Marxist Geography attempts to change the world as well as explaining it.

Marxism perceives human beings as gradually transforming or changing themselves in stages until social perfection is reached (Peet, 1977). This transformation is viewed as an aim towards which society should be moving. The change is brought forth by dialectical systems bringing about a new process which is again contradicted and the process is replicated (Richard 1985).

To effectively be able to comprehend geographical relations, it is important that the social-structure be observed. Marxism Geography tries to change the society by changing its basic structure. The forces behind the changing society are seen as entities which are the modes of production. They include capital, labour, class, capitalism, the market, the state and society.

Marxist geography looks at the conflicting forces between social processes and the natural relations together with the spatial relations. It revolves around the modes of production which mold the social structure, remold it continuously to form the superstructure of the society. This paper will critically look at Marxism geography of development (Kitchen and Thrift, 2009).

Marxism in Development Geography

David Harvey (1973) is the primary developer of the Marxist movement in human geography. According to Marxist geography, social formations of capitalism give birth to environmental and spatial problems, for example, destructions of habitats and uneven employment. It studies the inherent capitalism contradictions as they appear in landscape and relate with each other (Yeung, 2005).

This theory will explore the geographical paradigms brought out in Marxism geography, detailing the principles of Marxist geography with reference to the concepts of space and place. Kuhn (1962) came with the idea of paradigms and argued that periods dominated by one research mode, in science, are separated by periods of rapid change (Haggett 1990).

Paradigms are described by Harvey (1973: 120) as a set of accepted relationships, categories, concepts and methods, throughout a community at given time. Anomalies occur over time that cannot be explained by the existing paradigms. These accumulations continue to a point where it calls for investigation (Hagget 1990).

Revolution and creation of new paradigms may result when problems created by the anomalies are attempted to be solved (Harvey 1973). Marxism perceives human beings as gradually transforming or changing themselves in stages until social perfection is reached.

The Marxist geographers heavily depend on Marxist economic and social theories to show how the means of production in capitalist structures, control the human spatial distribution. By changing the workings of production, Marxist geography aims at changing the fundamental operations of social processes. This leads to investigations being done which leads to revolution and creation of new paradigms.

Kuhn’s analysis may not directly, be relevant to the evolution and structure of geography, but, its three elements can explain what has happened with the discipline (Johnston, 1997). Marxist geography is composed of a disciplinary matrix paradigm which has shared values with social theory world view paradigm, in contrast with spatial science geography (Johnston, 1997).

Human geography as explained by Johnston (1997) is a multiple discipline paradigm which is effectively in competition. Johnston’s view contradicts Kuhn’s view of a new paradigm which is almost universally accepted.

Development of Marxism geography

Marxist geography came into existence as a response to criticism on spatial geography, which dominated the, period (Richard 1985). Cox (2005) is of the view that the creation of the new paradigms is not a cheap process. Combining of the various bits and pieces of the Marxist world view ends up with quite an eclectic mix of concepts.

A Marxism in favor of exchange and competition instead of class and production, for instance it might be simply a concern of unequal outcomes (Cox 2005. 3). Marxism geography underwent a quantitative revolution other than the historical preoccupation with description of unique places in details.

Instead, this new science identified universal spatial laws, and concerned with applying scientific methods and creating models which could predict spatial patterns and human behavior (Cloke et al 1991).

Spatial science according to Johnston et al (2000) was based on a belief in positivism where observation, repetition and empirical research could be done, tested, verified and spatial laws of science uncovered. Humanistic geography was also in line with the Marxist geography in criticizing the spatial approach. It was in respect to spatial analysis also to the emergent Marxist geography (Cox 2004).

In Duncan and Ley (1982) paper, it was featured as a deterministic and economistic approach. Humanistic geography however, lacked strong theoretical underpinnings which dismissed it as a credible response to the challenge posed by the Marxist geography. The now called ‘the new cultural geography’ is the response that emerged in the early eighties.

Criticism of spatial science developed along two distinct lines. It did not consider the processes of independence and creativity among human beings, and it also ignored the effects of political, economical and social structures in developing spatial patterns (Cloke et al 1991). These two factors developed the humanist, in the first instance, and radical, in the second instance, strands of geography.

Marxist geographers incorporated Marxist’s ideas into Geography to come up with Marxist geography (Moseley et al., 2007). Other aspects like feminist geography got hooked up with Marxism and the attraction of the new cultural geography became very strong and dominated the field (Cox 2005). Embracing the universalistic view of Marxism mirrored what was taking place in the real world.

Harvey (1973) pointed out that class was, in fact, being sidelined by gender and race as pivots of oppositional politics in the United States. Harvey (1985a) outlines Marxist analysis key ideas, modes of production, which are the ways in which daily social life is produced reproduced and replicated.

Marxism main focus is on the capitalist mode of production, and he outlines the need for continued circulation of capital, profit being its core motive. Continuous circulation of capital can only be maintained if there is continuous expansion of commodities produced value and; hence economic growth is achieved.

Marxism major achievement was the identification and understanding of exploitation as central in capitalist form of development (Cox 2004). The relations of production that necessitated exploitation in the work place extended the same to the living place through commoditization of the living place (Harvey 1985b).

Critical human geographers argue that exploitation instead of being an essential of capitalism, it occurs in times at particular places depending on the circumstances. The economic growth achieved as a result of continuous expansion of commodity values, expects workers to increase the value in production by giving more in production, than they are given in exchange for their labor.

They, therefore, provide profits to the owners of modes of production. This gives rise to class relations in that capitalists who own the means of production prosper from the profits they get from exploiting the laborers, who in turn continue to be exploited. The workers must sell their labor for them to survive, and the owners of production continue exploiting them, hence replication of capitalism and exploitation (Marx, 1970).

This perspective is incorporated in the Marxism geography to help change the society by facing the problems facing them, which is majorly capitalism. Harvey (1985a) echoes Marxism notion that capitalism has inherent conflicts, which make it, subject to crisis. For example, capitalists will seek to use technology to replace living labor in order to diminish the powers of workers by gaining competitive advantage (Brenner, 1977).

This is in contrast with the fact that human workers are needed to the value expansion of commodities, the maintenance of capital circulation and creation of profits for the owners of production. Marxism’s belief is that capitalism will eventually fail because of these contradictions and, this will pave the way for a new mode of production (Marx & Engels, 1978).

Marxism geography not only criticized the spatial geographers for not taking account of the factors. They discovered in capitalist socio- economic and political causes of patterns in geography. They also criticized it for claiming objectivity through the support of positivism and the use of scientific methods. Research, argued by the radical geographers can never be value free.

The choice of what to study also requires judgment in value. Therefore, stating research values should be done and clearly stated. Marxism geography has come under a lot of criticism, being challenged by newer and developing ideas like cultural geography, postmodernism and feminism, though they later integrated themselves into Marxism geography making it the main idea in the field (Cox 2004).

For example, Howell (et al 2003) looks at class as only one factor in social patterns development, while there are others like ethnicity, sexuality, gender, color, language and even race. Rose, a feminist (1993, cited Holloway et al (2003) criticizes its male dominated analysis. Marxism geography has been questioned due to the backdrop of the changing world events and even the collapse of socialist states.


Space and place are the key concepts within the concept of Marxist geography. Some of the core ideas of Marxism geography can be deduced from the way the concepts of space and place have been analyzed. Marxist analysis reveals contradiction within capitalism through the analysis of space and place. This is explained by Harvey (1982), as because capitalism will try to unify and integrate space.

Marxism developed from criticism of spatial science and dominated the social theory of geography. Some of the criticisms have been integrated into the Marxist geography making it dominant. Marxist geography looks at space as a social construction and looks at the connections between places (Smith, 1984).

It is a vital and essential element in the geographical discipline development and potions of its analysis have been and still are widely accepted over the past 30 years. It is, however, facing the challenges of maintaining its importance and relevance in the face of emerging new ideas, changing times, and an overall changing world.

Humanistic geography, which provides most, criticism to Marxist geography, ironically is seen as lacking in explaining the behavioral constraints brought about by the social structures and the social agencies.


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Yeung, H. W. (2005). “Rethinking relational economic geography.” Institute of British Geographers, 30: 37–51.

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