Trajectories & Transitions

I started my PhD running away from Political Science/Political Geography as fast as I could, into Industrial Engineering and Computer Science-y topics. I’m still what many would call a “methodologist,” am wholly entertained by computational geometry & statistics, and enjoy math and programming a little too much to be fully motivated by applied work. 

But, gradually, I’ve started filtering back, situated with some top-flight quantitative geographers at the GeoDa Center for Spatial Analysis and Geocomputation, into work by Micah Altman, Andrew Gelman, Gary King, Jowei Chen, and Jonathan Rodden… tons of political scientists. Importantly, none of whom I was very familiar with when I finished my undergrad in political science and geography. 

Maybe this literature was over my head back then, but I think there’s a real dearth of serious treatment of this literature by quantitative geographers, for quantitative Geography. And, after reading the various published disagreements in the 90s and 2000s between Anselin, Fotheringham, O’Loughlin on one side, King on another, and Agnew on a third… it’s both incredibly motivating and incredibly interesting. It seems that there’s an opening for novel work that bridges the quantitative side of this triangle. There appears to be a newfound acceptance between the two communities as spatial modeling becomes more popular in Political Science and a resurgent quantitative Geography begins to tackle electoral issues. 

It feels strange to be getting back closer to this domain I ran so quickly from. But, I think I was so frustrated with what I saw as the particularist, soft-quant electoral geography that I’d run out of rope to give it. I believe I’d read the Agnew-King discussion on context before, but it certainly didn’t hit as hard then as it does now. 

Geography is both lost in and constructed by context, so it’s vital that geographers remember Merton’s “middle range.” Practical science sits somewhere between the most general of theories and the most mundane of particularities.

I guess I needed a bit of a detour through Engineering & Operations Research to really get it.  I don’t think I had the formal mathematical toolkit needed to really understand what the fuss was about. And, fortunately, in the time I spent developing it, a landscape I once thought was bare and sterile seems to have sprouted again. 

imported from: yetanothergeographer