By Robin Flowerdew, David Martin
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Additional info for Methods in Human Geography: A guide for students doing a research project (2nd Edition)
The purpose of your dissertation, then, is to produce warranted geographical knowledge. 1 Why bother with philosophy? You may already be wondering why you are reading this chapter. After all, what you want to know is how to do a dissertation in human geography. Abstract philosophising may strike you as irritating, distracting you from the main task in hand – doing geography. Why on earth must you bother with philosophy? The short answer is that you cannot avoid it, whether you like it or not! To do a dissertation is to provide answers to questions and by providing such answers you will be claiming to know something.
Note the key role given to the mental qualities of human beings. Human beings can intend to do things, have reasons for doing them and can reflect upon what they are doing. Thus intentionality, rationality and reflexivity are fundamental characteristics of human action, the subject matter of the social sciences, whereas the subject matter of the natural sciences, so the argument goes, responds only to the forces of nature without any of these human qualities. Glaciers do not think! Phillips provides a useful summary (1987: 105): The underlying point in all this is that the physical sciences, with their emphasis on uncovering the causes that produce effects, are not a relevant model for the social sciences for a simple reason: people act because they are swayed by reasons, or because they decide to follow rules, not because their actions are causally determined by forces.
Surely it is because we start with a set of beliefs about what sort of things influence what sort of other things and we know, or think we know, that the relative locations of Jupiter, Saturn or Uranus could not possibly be the sort of thing that has any impact on traffic flows or the operation of a housing market. This too, then, is a claim to know. If an astrologer came along to challenge the claim, how could it be justified? I am not looking for a serious answer at present but this is a serious question.
Methods in Human Geography: A guide for students doing a research project (2nd Edition) by Robin Flowerdew, David Martin