2006 volume 38(4) pages 647 – 664

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Portugali J, 2006, "Complexity theory as a link between space and place" Environment and Planning A 38(4) 647 – 664

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Complexity theory as a link between space and place

Juval Portugali

Received 31 March 2004; in revised form 6 September 2004

Abstract. Since the early 1970s, the notions of space and place have been located on the two sides of a barricade that divides what has been described as science’s two great cultures. Space is located among the ‘hard’ sciences as a central term in the attempt of geography to transform the discipline from a descriptive into a quantitative, analytic, and thus scientific, enterprise. Place, on the other hand, is located among the ‘soft’ humanities and social philosophy oriented social sciences as an important notion in the post-1970 attempt to transform geography from a positivistic into a humanistic, structuralist, hermeneutic, critical science. More recently, the place-oriented geographies have adopted postmodern, poststructuralist, and deconstruction approaches, while the quantitative spatial geographies have been strongly influenced by theories of self-organization and complexity. In this paper I first point to, and then explore, structural similarities between complexity theories and theories oriented toward social philosophy. I then elaborate the thesis that, in consequence, complexity theories have the potential to bridge the geographies of space and place and, by implication, the two cultures of science. Finally, discuss in some detail conceptual and methodological implications.

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