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Book review: Warf, B.editor2006: Encyclopedia of human geography. London: Sage. 584 pp. 85 cloth. ISBN: 978 0 76198 858 8: Douglas, I., Huggett, R. and Perkins C., editors 2006: Companion encyclopedia of geography: from the local to the global. London: Routledge. 624 pp. 200 cloth. ISBN: 978 0 41533 977 3

Progress in Human Geography
The online version of this article can be found at:
DOI: 10.1177/03091325080320011007
2008 32: 171Prog Hum Geogr
Claudio Minca
pp. £200 cloth. ISBN: 978 0 41533 977 3
Companion encyclopedia of geography: from the local to the global. London: Routledge. 624
£85 cloth. ISBN: 978 0 76198 858 8 : Douglas, I., Huggett, R. and Perkins C., editors 2006:
Book review: Warf, B.editor2006: Encyclopedia of human geography. London: Sage. 584 pp.
Published by:
can be found at:Progress in Human GeographyAdditional services and information for Alerts:
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Book reviews 171
development may be achieved if we temper
our enthusiasm for private property by con-
sidering more public forms of ownership, such
as limited common property, and, in contrast
to the current penchant for overprotection,
take a more relaxed approach to intellectual
property rights. Although the rhetoric of
wealth creation via private property may lead
many to indifference about its distribution,
Rose’s unsettling of this argument neces-
sarily demands questioning property’s moral
basis and originary distribution.
Given that this book grew out of an
invitation-only conference on property, the
essays assume a high degree of familiarity
with many social science themes. The breadth
of topics covered makes it an invaluable plat-
form from which to re-think property and
space. Not only does this volume follow the
morphologies of property and the work
property does, but it also queries privatiza-
tion and propertization as the putative hand-
maidens of pax capitalistica. It remains an
open question whether globalization will
somehow render more legible the moral short-
comings of private property or whether, in the
words of Lefebvre, property will continue to
produce space that is ‘out of control’, serve to
marginalize the property-less, obscure dif-
ference and frustrate movements toward
a relationality critical of the distribution of
resources in the world.
Sean Robertson
Simon Fraser University
Hardin, G. 1968: The tragedy of the commons. Science
162, 1243–48.
Heller, M. 1998: The tragedy of the anticommons:
property in the transition from Marx to Market.
Harvard Law Review 111, 621–88.
Latour, B. 1993: We have never been modern. Trans.
Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Lefebvre, H. 1991: The production of space. Trans. Donald
Nicholson-Smith. Oxford: Blackwell.
Strathern, M. 1984: Subject or object? Women and the
circulation of valuables in Highland New Guinea.
In Hirschon, R., editor, Women and property: women
as property, London: Croom Helm; New York:
St Martin’s, 158–75.
–– 1988: The gender of the gift: problems with women and
problems with society in Melanesia. Berkeley, CA:
University of California Press.
Warf, B. editor 2006: Encyclopedia of
human geography. London: Sage. 584 pp.
£85 cloth. ISBN: 978 0 76198 858 8.
Douglas, I., Huggett, R. and Perkins
C., editors 2006: Companion encyclopedia
of geography: from the local to the global.
London: Routledge. 624 pp. £200 cloth.
ISBN: 978 0 41533 977 3
I have always been fascinated by academic
opus magna especially in Geography. The
very idea of a grand volume – or, better yet,
a series of grand volumes – offering an ex-
haustive reading of a subject brings back
memories of my time in the Institute of Geo-
graphy at the University of Trieste where I
spent my fi rst years as an academic literally
surrounded by grandi opere – large, leather-
bound tomes with titles such as La Terra
(‘The Earth’), Il Mondo Attuale (‘The world
of today’), Cosmos or Il Paesaggio Terrestre
(‘The terrestrial landscape’). In my mind,
these books were always associated with
the bearded geographers of the 1800s and
early 1900s, the product of an epoch that
witnessed countless attempts to catalogue,
to map, to provide the defi nitive summary of
specifi c fi elds of knowledge (or even, in the
case of some ambitious geographers, of ‘the
Earth’). This youthful fascination is still with
me, I have to admit, so when approached by
Progress in Human Geography to comment on
these two editorial initiatives I immediately
answered positively – if only because of my
curiosity about the understanding(s) that
could possibly drive an ‘Encyclopedic’
endeavour in this day and age.
A self-defi ned ‘Encyclopedia of (human)
geography’ is probably a far more ambitious
project today than the dusty descriptions of
the world offered by our disciplinary ancestors
in those leather-bound tomes. For this reason,
I would like to open my considerations with a
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172 Progress in Human Geography 32(1)
few thoughts about the very idea of putting
together an encyclopedia at the beginning of
the twenty-fi rst century. My fi rst impression,
in fact, was that of being confronted with a
genuinely postmodern (if we can still use this
term) intellectual product. A disciplinary
encyclopedia today is something between
the materialization of a ghost of nineteenth-
century bourgeois science and a seductive
citation of something that is not really there –
that is, the Enlightenment encyclopedia with
all its epistemological implications; some-
thing that we should read ‘as if …’. In other
words, since no one in the first decades of
this new century can still believe in the
possibility of producing an encyclopaedic
summary of any body of knowledge, an ‘En-
cyclopedia of (human) geography’ can only
be seen as either a sophisticated commen-
tary on what a book like this traditionally repre-
sents or/and a purely commercial enterprise
that speaks to the popular (still very ‘nineteenth
century’) understanding of geography and
its description of ‘the things of the world’.
I find quite curious, indeed, the recent
interest of several major publishers in the
social sciences in publishing initiatives of this
breadth; initiatives for which they obviously see
a market, considering the costs involved. Now
the interesting question would be whether
this market is simply provided by libraries (but
can these possibly absorb all the encyclopedias
being published these days?) or, rather, by the
resilience of a strange, early Modern desire for
exhaustiveness in some fi eld of knowledge,
presented as if it were characterized by clear
internal cartographies and boundaries. In other
words, is there a true intellectual currency
for encyclopaedic endeavours, or are we
just confronted with a more radical (but also
very ambitious) form of the commodifi cation
of ‘high culture’? There is no easy answer to
this question, of course, and I certainly cannot
even begin to comment on such a complex
intellectual issue in the space available here.
I do fi nd surprising, nonetheless, the appear-
ance of works such as these at a time in which
every academic is under pressure to publish
in refereed journals, caught in the vertigo of
the production and circulation of academic
ideas. I would assume that the artificially
accelerated pace of today’s academic pro-
duction would render quite diffi cult the re-
cruitment of the most suitable authors for
these works, both for the general devaluation
by academic institutions of any non-refereed
piece of writing but also for the competition
ignited by other similar editorial initiatives.
An ‘Encyclopedia of geography’, at this
moment in time, can thus be assessed adopting
very different – and sometimes confl icting –
criteria. What I will try to do in the paragraphs
that follow is to briefl y examine the two texts,
taking into consideration three things: the
cartographies of the discipline that they offer;
their respective intentions and, relatedly, their
capacity to reach out to their audience(s); and,
nally, their utility either for teaching purposes
or for the popular divulgation of geographical
knowledge. A contemporary ‘Encyclopedia of
… something’ (always in inverted commas!)
should be genuinely representative of the
‘present state of the discipline’ (I say this
with a healthy dose of post-Kuhnian irony, of
course), both in terms of topics and theories,
but also in terms of ‘who is writing what’.
It should be very accessible, both in terms
of ‘language’ as well as format. Considering
the (also) commercial nature of texts such
as these, the reader should immediately be
able to perceive the ‘spirit’ of the work, its
general framework and the different possible
‘readings’ that it offers. The text should, fur-
thermore, be easy to use, and the various en-
tries should be appropriately proportioned.
Finally, the graphics and presentation should
refl ect the general aims of the project and the
audience of potential readers.
Let us move, then, to the two encyclopedias
here considered. Two common characteristics
become immediately apparent. First, both
encyclopedias are, in my view, incredibly (for
an opera omnia) Anglo-centric. It is enough to
look at the affi liations of the respective writers,
as well as the selection of topics. The second
common characteristic is the surprisingly large
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Book reviews 173
number of entries written by the editors them-
selves. Do not get me wrong: the pieces
penned by the editors are well-crafted and
relevant; nevertheless, their conspicuous
presence in the volumes leaves the reader
with the uncomfortable feeling that the
editors did not always succeed in attracting
the most qualified experts in each field.
I suspect that the proliferation of a variety
of survey volumes and ‘companions’ in recent
years has had an impact on ‘recruitment’.
But let us look in a bit more detail at each of
the volumes.
Barney Warf’s Encyclopedia of human
geography, considered in its own genre (more
akin to a dictionary, to tell the truth), is defi n-
itely a successful editorial initiative. This is one
of those books that each of us would like to
have on his/her bookshelf: quick to use when
you need a reference, but also particularly
student-friendly. I, for one, have been using
it in my fi rst-year tutorials, especially when I
want my students to get a sense for how the
discipline approaches a specific argument.
The structure of the book is also in line with
its declared aims; the Introduction, in par-
ticular, is properly concise and, for this reason,
very useful, because it offers a clear sense of
the ‘philosophy’ of the volume, while remain-
ing accessible to a broader audience (as an
encyclopedia of this sort should be). The indi-
vidual entries are synthetic and, at the same
time, informative and easy to fi nd. The topics
are by and large well-chosen (despite a clear
North American bias to which I will return
below) and all the key concepts that one would
expect to fi nd in a volume like this appear to be
there. Finally, despite the pervasive presence
of the editor’s own hand, many of the key
entries are written by some of the best-known
scholars in the respective fi elds. This is a well-
crafted volume that, I believe, should be in the
collection of every university library.
Now, keeping intact my generally positive
assessment of this work, I would like to iden-
tify two major shortcomings of this reference
work: the distinctly American fl avour of the
geography here presented and the truly
inexplicable choice of the pictures on the
cover. Regarding the fi rst point: I already noted
at the outset of my review the virtual absence
of non-Anglophone geographers from the
list of contributors. Besides the geography of
authorship, however, the American imprint
of this volume is also evident in the choice of
including an entry on the ‘US Department of
Housing and Urban Development’ (HUD)
(p. 230), clearly irrelevant for anyone outside
of the US context; in theory, considering the
universal nature of an Encyclopedia, there
should be entries on each national depart-
ment of housing and urban development,
certainly all those that have had an impact on
the geographical concepts here discussed.
What is even more striking, however, is the
way in which the entry on the ‘history’ of the
discipline is presented, devoting a surpris-
ingly large amount of space – surprising from
any but an American point of view – to the
history of American geography, a history
that up to the advent of the Berkeley School
(itself influenced by continental ideas and
concepts!) was frankly quite irrelevant for all
other national geographies and, moreover,
for the international debate in the discipline.
This focus seems to me a deliberate choice
on the part of the Editor, a choice that in
my view negatively affects the quality of the
volume and its potential attractiveness for an
international audience. And it is a pity, because
this is just the type of book that many non-
English-speaking departments of Geography
would be inclined to purchase, even in times
of budget restrictions.
The emphasis placed on American geo-
graphy is, in fact, not just restricted to specifi c
entries but is, rather, an epiphenomenon of a
more general academic culture that pervades
the whole project. It is enough to read the
rst page of the introduction (p. xxv), where
the editor seems to suggest that the birth of
human geography can be understood es-
sentially as a reaction to the ‘Quantitative
Revolution’. This might be true for American
human geography; but how can one justify
the forgetting of the tremendous impact
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174 Progress in Human Geography 32(1)
on the discipline of the Vidalian Geographie
Humaine (here recalled briefl y in the ‘History
of Geography’ entry, pp. 217–25), together with
the influence of German-language debates
in the last part of the nineteenth century and
the fi rst half of the twentieth? We are not
talking about other ‘national’ schools here
but impacts and infl uences that fundamen-
tally shaped the very schools of thought that
Warf sees as the ‘pioneers’ of the discipline
of human geography. The cartography of
the discipline that emerges here is thus quite
problematic for a book of this potential reach.
By de facto marginalizing continental Euro-
pean geographies, their protagonists and
academic production (which dominated the
discipline up to the second world war), a very
partial – in both senses of the term – description
of the evolution of modern geographical
thought is presented to the reader. It is a
partiality that can also induce some serious
confusion: for instance, when describing the
Vidalian concept of chorology, this latter is
compared with the (Hartshornian?) concept
of areal differentiation (see p. 221). Such
confusion can only be explained with an
American-centric reading of western geo-
graphical thought.
The second problem concerns the images
chosen to decorate the cover: a series of
photographs of dark-skinned, only partially
clothed ‘primitive’ men and women, smiling at
the camera in a series of poses that recall the
worst colonialist and orientalist iconography of
many tourist brochures. For what reason were
these – and only these – images selected to
(re)present contemporary human geography?
We all know that books are travelling objects,
and that in their travels they communicate (and
produce) meaning, they materialize visions
of the world, they help translate words and
thoughts into action. What message does
the Encyclopedia of human geography want to
convey by adopting a visual anthropological
stance a la National Geographic, by presenting
contemporary human geography as a colour-
ful colonial exhibition? Why not pictures of
bridges, maps, cities, web pages, landscapes,
etc., instead of a Victorian catalogue of smil-
ing ‘primitives’? I am frankly puzzled, and my
only guess is that this was the brilliant idea of
the publisher’s marketing department, hop-
ing to attract the colonial gaze of potential
(and presumably backward) non-academic
Turning now to the Companion encyclo-
pedia of geography, I have to admit that I feel
somewhat perplexed by this two-volume
publication. The reason for my unease is that
I am not quite sure what exactly the point of
it is. First, it is not clear why these two volumes
are presented as an ‘Encyclopedia’. The
Editors declare in the introduction that the
Companion intends to offer ‘an integrated
view of geography through a unifying theme
of place and places at different scales of
change’ (p. xv); this is not only a diffi cult (and
highly problematic) academic claim to make
in these days, but also something far from
what the volumes actually encompass. Again,
I will try to be as moderate and prudent as
possible in my comments here, because the
philosophy that guides the whole operation
remains, frankly, obscure to me. I really
wonder if it was necessary to put together
about 1000 pages to create such an odd,
hybrid product. Unfortunately, we are given
few clues regarding the editors’ intentions in
organizing this massive collection, since the
introduction is extremely short (essentially
one page) and marked by an almost circular
argument about the guiding process: the
term ‘integrated’ is repeated four times
in the first 20 lines, as if an encyclopedia
should by definition be ‘integrated’ and as
though this would, in some way, refl ect the
nature and the state of the discipline of geo-
graphy today. No justifi cations and no dis-
ciplinary background are provided to support
the quite bizarre structure of the book. The
same perplexity remains while reading the
introductions to the different sections, which
consist of simple and orderly summaries of
the chapters that will follow. The different
parts are, in fact, very diffi cult to envision as
part of a single project, but rather seem to
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Book reviews 175
consist of a collection of individual papers,
some, it has to be said, extremely well-written
and illustrative. Furthermore, the various
sections are of widely varying size – there are
5 ‘chapters’ in the fi rst, 12, 7 and 9, respect-
ively, in the following three sections, 7 in
the fi fth (possibly the best part of the book,
together with Part I) and 24 (!) in the last.
This last portion, entitled ‘Responses to the
geographical drivers of change’, despite the
fact that it includes some very interesting
chapters, lacks any apparent logic; it almost
seems as though any and all ‘remaining’ chap-
ters were gathered here by default. Some
of the final chapters, in particular, have a
very traditional imprint, clashing (especially
in terms of a supposed ‘integrated’ view of
the discipline) with more cutting-edge ap-
proaches present here and there in the two
volumes. There is no conclusion, so we are
left with most of our questions essentially
To whom is this Companion addressed? It is
decidedly not conceived for a popular reader-
ship; at the same time, its self-representation
as an academic compendium of the discipline
would raise quite a few academic eyebrows:
‘we trust that by its unifying theme and by at-
tention to such issues as integrative thinking,
scale and multidisciplinary approaches, the
book will appeal to teachers and students of
geography. The Companion gives an integrated
view of modern geography’. If this is an ency-
clopedia of ‘modern geography’, then the
discipline is in a much more disordered state
that I thought. Besides, neither the language,
nor the format of this Companion even barely
try to address a non-English speaking market;
the extremely convoluted – which is different
from complex and articulated – mapping of
the discipline provided, would bewilder
anyone not employed in a British or North
American University. The stated choice
of working on three scales, the ‘local’, the
‘regional’ and the ‘global’ is undoubtedly
geographical but belongs to a tradition that
has been contested for a long time now.
Finally, I am not sure what ‘analysing in an
integrated manner’ (p. xv) can possibly mean
in contemporary geography, and to what
methodological approach this really appeals.
Having said that – and in the hope that
perhaps other readers will be able to better
discern the intention behind these two
volumes – it is important to note that some
of the chapters are particularly interesting,
well-written and provide a very useful review
of the topics in question. Many of the chap-
ters are also written in a nicely accessible style,
which is particularly important for a project
of these ambitions. But the main problem,
again, is that it is not clear to me why the dif-
ferent ‘pieces’ have been put together in this
way and also (implicitly) linked to many other
chapters of rather poorer quality and a defi n-
itely different academic ‘fl avour’.
In conclusion, Warf’s Encyclopedia of
human geography, despite its relatively ‘con-
ventional’ format and the shortcomings that
I outlined above, is in my view a publication
that we should all welcome, in part because of
its student-friendliness and accessibility for a
non-academic audience, in part because of the
clarity of its structure (although I would urge
the editor to change the cover in a subsequent
edition!). As for the Companion encyclopedia
of geography, I have to say that, despite the
excellent quality of many of its chapters and
the undoubtedly immense amount of work put
into it by the editors, I remain rather perplexed
regarding the overall nature of the project
and its size, especially if compared with its
never declared objectives and to other similar
Claudio Minca
Royal Holloway, University of London
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