Area Studies

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Area Studies


a geographical science involving the comprehensive study of continents, countries, and large regions. Area studies demonstrates how the general lawlike regularities and typological features stemming from physical and economic geography are manifested in specific individual areas.

Area studies is one of the oldest branches of geography, emerging in the classical world out of the practical need for knowledge about various countries. For several millennia, since the time of Herodotus and Strabo, it has been universal in character, encompassing all aspects of nature, history, demography, economics, culture, and politics. As science has moved forward, especially in the 20th century, the systematic geographical sciences have grown rapidly, and their synthesizing elements have become more prominent. Concomitantly, the scientific level of area studies has been raised. In addition, physical geography and economic geography have gone their separate ways, so that Soviet literature on area studies has moved in two different directions, namely, toward an economic emphasis and toward a physical emphasis. Both tendencies take as their starting point the difference in the regularities characteristic of nature and society and in the fundamental incompatibility of natural and economic regionalization groupings (divisions of regions on the basis of both natural and economic features). In contrast, bourgeois geographers often disregard the fundamental differences between physicogeographical and economic-geographical regions.

The growing practical significance of area studies and its role in ideological education and cultural improvement have led, in the USSR, to the founding of comprehensive Marxist-Leninist area studies, in which elements of nature and society are examined from the viewpoint of social interests.

The Soviet geographer N. N. Baranskii played a great role in the growth of Soviet area studies, making a significant contribution to methodology and problem formulation. He distinguished two approaches to area studies: (1) “Area studies, by no means a special science, should be only an organizational form for bringing together varied information about a given country” (Ekonomicheskaia geografiia, Ekonomicheskaia kartografiia, 1960, p. 157); (2) Comprehensive area studies is one of the scientific disciplines that together form the system of geographical sciences; it is an important and indispensable part of this system.

The second approach is linked with the emergence of problem-oriented area studies, which is based less on an area’s “com-ponential” description and more on the key problems that shape the current status and developmental perspectives of the regional production structure of the economy and settlement pattern, as well as the fundamental features determining the use of natural and labor resources, the production base and the region as the scientific and technological revolution moves forward and as society and the environment enter into an increasingly complex interaction.


Baranskii, N. N. Ekonomicheskaia geografiia, Ekonomicheskaia kartografiia, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1960.
Gokhman, V. M., and G. M. Ignat’ev. “Stranovedenie.” In the collection Sovetskaia geografiia. Moscow, 1960.
Pokshishevskii, V. V. ‘“Mesto ekonomiko-geograficheskogo stranovedeniia v sisteme geograficheskikh nauk.” Izv. AN SSSR: Ser. geogr., 1960, no. 5.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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