Economic Geography

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economic geography

[‚ek·ə′näm·ik jē′äg·rə·fē]
A branch of geography concerned with the relations of physical environment and economic conditions to the manufacture and distribution of commodities.

Economic Geography


(also economic and social geography), the social science that studies regularities, or patterns, in the location of social production and the conditions and particulars of its development and location in various countries and regions. The regional aspect of social reproduction under specific sociohistorical conditions is the subject of research in economic geography.

Economic geography studies problems in the regional distribution of the economy in close relationship with the operation of objective economic laws. Of major importance are the integrated and comprehensive examination of investigated phenomena, the analysis of the sociohistorical conditions of countries and regions, the consideration of natural conditions and resources, and the primarily geographical aspect of all research. Unlike industrial branch economics, which studies the location of the productive forces of a given branch of industry, economic geography also studies the regional structure of the economy as a whole.

Economic geography is part of the system of geographic sciences (seeGEOGRAPHY) and has particularly close ties with physical geography. Economic geography’s ties with the other natural sciences that study natural conditions have been strengthened as the importance of the ecological problem has grown; this development reflects the general reorientation of contemporary geography toward ecology. Economic-geographical research is an important part of the integrated and comprehensive study of the interaction of nature and society, which is of interest to both the natural and the social sciences.

Economic geography is also interconnected with the historical sciences (particularly with historical geography), the history of national economies, demography, ethnography, and economic cartography. It also occupies an important place in area studies and military geography.

One of the most important concepts of economic geography is the geographic (territorial) division of labor (including the international division of labor), which results in the formation of economic regions in a country. In turn, the system of economic regions is the basis of the territorial structure of a country’s national economy. Other fundamental concepts of economic geography include location of productive forces, economic-geographical location, and the territorial-production complex.

Economic geography is divided into general economic geography, the economic geography of branches of the economy, the geography of the world economy, population geography, political geography, and regional economic geography. General economic geography studies regularities in the location of production in general and of individual branches of production. The best-developed subdivisions of the economic geography of branches of the economy are industrial geography, agricultural geography, and transportation geography. The geography of social services, recreational geography, and natural resources geography are currently emerging as well-defined subdivisions. Because of the special role of the population as the producer and final consumer of material goods and services, population geography has a synthetic character rather than an orientation toward branches of the economy. Regional economic geography investigates existing countries and regions and incorporates elements of all subdivisions of economic geography. General and regional economic geography are inseparably related: on the one hand, general regularities achieve local manifestation within individual regions; on the other hand, the analysis and synthesis of regional combinations make it possible to elicit regularities in economic location.

Differences in regularities of location of production, caused by differences in the socioeconomic systems of various countries, necessitate the division of economic geography into the economic geography of socialist countries and the economic geography of capitalist countries.

The economic geography of socialist countries not only describes and explains economic-geographical phenomena and processes, it also strives to make recommendations for improving the location of production and the territorial structure of the economy. By contributing to the scientific substantiation of the planning of the national economy, economic geography helps solve the problem of ensuring maximum satisfaction of the growing needs of society while simultaneously maintaining ecological stability. Solution of the problem is facilitated by the public ownership of the means of production and by a planned development of the national economy.

The influence of socialist production relations on the development of the productive forces has a favorable impact on the geographic division of labor and on location of the productive forces, both within each socialist country and in the world socialist system. The economic geography of socialist countries reveals the regularities that determine the rational planned location of production and the formation of territorial-production complexes. Chief among such regularities is the development and location in socialist countries and regions of production facilities in territorial combinations and proportions that will ensure the greatest effectiveness of the economy. Economic geography studies the harmonious combination of specialization and integrated development of economic regions within the framework of a single plan for the development of a country’s national economy. The economic geography of socialist countries is characterized by a constructive approach, in which its research findings are used in the practical socialist and communist construction of individual countries and of the whole socialist community (seeSOCIALIST ECONOMIC INTEGRATION).

In capitalist countries, where the location of production is spontaneous and at cross-purposes, economic geography frequently fails to study concrete socioeconomic conditions and is often used in the interests of capitalist monopolies to justify the location of enterprises in the quest for maximum profits. Some economic-geographical works attempt to offer theoretical substantiation for a geographic division of labor that places industrially developed countries and regions in opposition to backward countries and regions producing agricultural goods and raw materials; the latter countries and regions are exploited by the bourgeoisie of the developed countries. Such a division of labor hinders the development of the productive forces in the less-developed countries.

Marxist-Leninist economic geography scientifically analyzes location of the productive forces and the structural and regional changes in the capitalist countries, and it reveals the contradictions and economic disproportions inherent in the countries’ economies.

In the developing countries that are carrying out progressive social reforms, economic geography is afforded the opportunity of helping develop national economic recommendations.

History. References to and descriptions of the economies of individual countries and peoples can be found in works by geographers of antiquity and the Middle Ages. The practical requirements of trade, government, and warfare were important factors in the rise and subsequent development of economic geography. Statistics, as the aggregate of economic and demographic information, later became a data source for the formation of economic geography. In prerevolutionary Russia, elements of economic geography were included in works by statisticians working for zemstvos (district and provincial assemblies), in military statistical reports, and elsewhere. The increased geographic division of labor, the strengthening of trade ties, and the formation of a world market created a need to systematize and analyze information on the production of and trade in commodities (the commercial geography of the 19th century). The requirements of the practical administration of government, especially in countries with a vast territory, necessitated scientifically substantiated economic regionalization. In prerevolutionary Russia, economic-geographical research on economic regionalization was conducted by K. I. Arsen’ev, P. P. Ogarev, P. P. Semenov-Tian–Shanskii, D. I. Mendeleev, and V. P. Semenov-Tian-Shanskii.

Owing to the broad development of the geographic division of labor within various countries and in the overall world economy in the era of imperialism, economic-geographical research has been conducted in most countries, primarily by scholars from the developed capitalist countries. The works produced have been largely descriptive, and in most cases the theoretical substantiations have been apologetic in nature and have contained elements of racism and geopolitics.

As bourgeois economic geography developed, several schools were formed that incorporated various theoretical concepts. The discipline was significantly influenced by the anthropological school, which viewed social (including economic-geographical) phenomena from the standpoint of biological laws (seeANTHROPOGEOGRAPHY). The concepts of geographic determinism, environmentalism, and geographic possibilism were widely applied in economic geography. For a long time, bourgeois economic geography developed along the lines of chorological concepts (the German geographer A. Hettner and the American geographer R. Hartshorne), considering as the primary task of geography the study of the unique features and particulars of individual places and thereby actually denying the significance of generalizations and the search for regularities. Great renown was won by the French school of human geography and the cultural landscape school (the German geographer O. Schlüter), whose adherents stressed detailed characterizations of economic-geographical phenomena and the pictorial description of countries. A major contribution to the formation of bourgeois economic geography was made by the works of economists (the German economists J. von Thünen and A. Weber), who promoted the elaboration and introduction of technical and economic methods in economic-geographical research.

The development of the economic sciences was of decisive importance in the formation of economic geography. The laws of social development and geographic division of labor discovered by K. Marx and F. Engels created the basis for formulating a genuinely scientific economic geography. K. Marx’ Das Kapital, F. Engels’ Anti-Diihring, and works by V. I. Lenin, such as The Development of Capitalism in Russia, New Data on the Laws Governing the Development of Capitalism in Agriculture, and Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism, were of fundamental importance to economic geography.

As a constructive science that actively influenced the territorial structuring of the national economy, economic geography began developing after the Great October Revolution. Socialist construction in the USSR made broad demands on economic-geographical research. A great deal of material was collected in compiling the plan of the State Commission for the Electrification of Russia (GOELRO), in carrying out economic regionalization, and in drafting the first five-year plan. The theoretical principles were based on Lenin’s pronouncements in the “Draft Plan of Scientific and Technical Work” and other documents concerning the rational location of production and national policy. Lenin attached much significance to economic geography and included the study of the economic geography of Russia as part of the mandatory minimum for all higher educational institutions (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 42, p. 427). Especially important in this respect was the research on economic regionalization conducted by the State Planning Commission and the commission of M. I. Kalinin, with the active participation of G. M. Krzhizhanovskii, I. G. Aleksandrov, L. L. Nikitin, and others.

The location of the productive forces of the USSR was discussed at party congresses, during which many concepts of economic geography (such as the basic economic region and the economic nucleus) were introduced into scientific parlance. The resolutions of the Twenty-fifth Congress of the CPSU made provision for a vast program of improvements in the location of productive forces, for development of existing territorial-production complexes and industrial centers and the formation of new ones, for rationalization of transportation and economic ties, and for expansion of scientific research on the location of productive forces (Materialy 25-go s”ezda KPSS, Moscow, 1976, pp. 223–24).

A major role was played by N. N. Baranovskii in developing the principles of Marxist-Leninist economic geography in the USSR. In addition to Baranovskii, significant contributions to the consistent development of the methodology and techniques of economic geography were made by N. N. Kolosovskii, V. F. Vasiutin, Ia. G. Feigin, and I. A. Vitver; the concept of economic regionalization was further developed by Kolosovskii, P. M. Alampiev, Iu. G. Saushkin, and V. M. Chetyrkin. In addition to the thorough study of theoretical problems associated with the location of production, important applied studies were made of individual republics, oblasts and raions. Special expeditions were carried out, and economic maps and atlases were prepared and published.

In the development of contemporary economic geography, the postwar period has been characterized by a new upsurge in economic-geographical research. Theoretical problems of economic geography have been elaborated by E. B. Alaev, Baranskii, R. M. Kabo, O. A. Konstantinov, V. V. Pokshishevskii, A. E. Probst, Saushkin, B. N. Semevskii, and others. Applied research in regional geography and the economic geography of branches of the economy has been conducted on a broader front by scholars in the various Union republics.

The formation of a world socialist system has prompted works investigating the economic geography of foreign socialist countries (V. P. Maksakovskii and I. M. Maergoiz). There has been an increase in the proportion of studies devoted to the developed capitalist countries\V. M. Gokhman and S. B. Lavrov) and the developing countries (V. V. Vol’skii and Ia. G. Mashbits), and the geography of the world economy has received more attention (M. B.Vol’fandM. S.Rozin).

New problems have expanded the purview of population geography, determined the rise of natural resources geography (I. V. Komar and A. A. Mints), and intensified interest in general research on the history of economic geography (N. P. Nikitin and Saushkin).

At the same time, ever increasing attention has been devoted to methodology and the search for ways of applying mathematical-economic modeling and other methods in economic-geographical research (M. M. Albegov, M. K. Bandman, N. I. Blazhko, A. G. Grinberg, V. V. Kistanov, and S. A. Nikolaev).

The development of Marxist-Leninist economic geography in socialist countries has been affirmed in the development of a new geography of the national economy that corresponds to the interests of socialist society. Congresses of Communist and workers’ parties in socialist countries devote much attention to territorial problems of development of the national economy. Economic geographers have compiled master plans for the future regional location of productive forces.

In the inception and all stages of development of Marxist-Leninist economic geography, a struggle has been waged against the concepts of bourgeois economic geography, which are based on vulgar political economy, philosophical idealism, and geopolitics. Spatial economy, a popular contemporary school in the economic geography of capitalist countries (associated with the German economist A. Lösch and the American economist W. Isard), attempts to resolve the problem of the location of enterprises by using the abstract principle of minimum expenditures of capital, labor, and time without regard for the specific socioeconomic conditions of the regional organization of production. Some economic geographers view economic development processes with respect to regions as the diffusion of innovations, or they may associate the processes solely with poles of growth. Because of its attempts to avoid analysis of the contradictions of capitalism, bourgeois economic geography fails to reveal regularities in economic geography, even though descriptive characterizations contain many concrete data, individual generalizations of some value, and techniques that, if critically applied, can be very useful to the development of economic geography. More and more geographers in the capitalist countries are striving to offer an objective analysis of economic-geographical phenomena.

Methods. Economic geography uses its own methods as well as general scientific research methods. It analyzes statistical data on the location of production, economic relations, and other features of the regions under investigation. It also conducts direct studies of populated areas, enterprises, and microregions (the task force selective study of key specimens) in combination with the complex analysis of statistical data from planning, land management, and other institutions. Research is oriented both toward the individual branches of the economy and toward regional complexes. In the latter case, a special role is played by the economic-geographical synthesis of materials, which makes it possible to reveal the regional unity of elements of a given economic structure. Important methods include the comparative geographic method, which reveals particulars of the economic development of individual countries and regions, and the cartographic method, which makes it possible to build a unique spatial model, both descriptive and symbolic, of an economic region.

Various types of economic calculations (balance sheets, technical and economic calculations, and the like) and mathematical techniques of quantitative analysis (correlation analysis, mathematical modeling, linear and nonlinear programming techniques, set theory, and the theory of graphs) are used to solve constructive problems involved in justifying the location of production facilities and in comparing proposals for the location of productive forces. They are particularly essential in the study of mass economic-geographical phenomena stemming from an intricate complex of causes and effects. Mathematical economic models are primarily used in the preplanning stage of economic-geographical research and in the solution of problems involving the optimum location of production. The most important mathematical economic models are economic branch models, models of the development of regional complexes, and interbranch and interregional models of the location of the national economy within a country. The optimum location of production is ultimately determined by using a global model, for which local models are only the first stage of development.

Efficiency of production is the criterion used to judge the optimum location of production in a socialist economy. Economic-geographical calculations take into account various economic indexes, in particular, regional differences in the discounted expenditures per unit of output, which depend on the quantity, quality, and location of natural resources, geographic location, transportation conditions, the degree of concentration of production, the technological level of production, specialization, cooperation and combination, the degree of development of a region, and the degree of development of the region’s infrastructure. In the formalization of such indexes, it is essential to take into account the specific features of the socioeconomic system of a given country and the regularities characteristic of the given society, that is, whether it is socialist or capitalist.

The qualitative content of economic-geographical phenomena and processes is primarily revealed by conventional methods of analysis, as supported by structural and systems approaches.

The contemporary development of economic geography is characterized by the development of interdisciplinary research on the basic subject. Research may be conducted from various points of view: the ecological aspects of production-related activity, population settlement, and consumption; the sociological and demographic aspects of social reproduction (in their spatial expression); the population’s living conditions (this orientation gives economic geography common interests with medical geography and city planning); and evaluation of the resource prerequisites of economic activity. Goal-programming techniques are becoming increasingly important. Such developments expand the framework of economic-geographical research, help make economic geography a self-contained discipline, and integrate the discipline with other geographic and social sciences.

The development of scientific principles for the optimization of the location of socialist production reveals the fruitfulness of the integrated development of countries and regions, which makes it possible to detect “bottlenecks” in individual regions, uneconomical shipment arrangements, and untapped potential in the economy of individual regions.

Scientific research. In the USSR scientific research in economic geography is conducted by the Geographic Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, the Institute of Geography of Siberia and the Far East, the Institute of Economics and Management of Industrial Production of the Siberian Division of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, the Geographic Institute of the Pacific Ocean of the Far East Scientific Center of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, and subdepartments of economic geography of branches of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR; research is also conducted by geographic institutes, departments, and sections of the republic academies of sciences. The location of productive forces is studied by the Council for the Study of the Productive Forces of the State Planning Committee of the USSR, by a number of economic institutes, and by local scientific institutions (for example, by economic institutes attached to the state planning commissions of the Union republics). A great volume of research is conducted at universities—in particular, Moscow University, Leningrad University, the Latvian University, and the universities of Kazan and Tartu—and at other higher educational institutions. The Geographical Society of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics serves as a public forum for economic geography.

Major centers of economic-geographical research in other socialist countries include economic and geographic institutes of academies of sciences (the Institute of Geography and Spatial Organization of the Polish Academy of Sciences, the Geographical Institute of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences, and the universities of Prague and Bratislava), scientific research institutes attached to planning agencies, and subdepartments and departments of economic geography at higher educational institutions.

There has been considerable development in international cooperation in economic geography. Economic geographers of the USSR and other socialist countries participate in various international geographic forums, including international geographic congresses, and in the work of the International Geographical Union and its commissions. At the Twenty-third International Geographic Congress in Moscow (1976), approximately one-half of the papers presented were devoted to economic geography.

Economic geography is primarily a university science in the capitalist countries. Also important are geographic societies and various associations in which there is active interest in the topics of economic geography. Work in economic geography is frequently financed by foundations and capitalist monopolies, and economic geographers work in military, statistical, and other institutions as well as local government agencies and private firms.

The developing countries are faced with the need for economic-geographical research to analyze local natural resources, to ascertain optimum avenues of economic development (especially in the state sector), to effect a rational location of production, and to ensure favorable conditions for participation in the international division of labor. (See alsoGEOGRAPHIC INSTITUTES and GEOGRAPHICAL JOURNALS .)


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