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The Passing of “Geography’s Empire” and Question of Geography in Decolonization, 1945–1980


Year published: 2020
Categories: Journal Article

Author / Authors:

  • Daniel W. Clayton


Critical engagement with the relations between geography and empire has become integral to the view that geography is a power-laden venture rather than an impartial or self-contained discipline. The literature on this imbroglio, however, focuses either on the imperial past or on present-day colonialisms and pays scant attention to the postwar era of decolonization (1945–1980). Why is this so? What happened when the empires that geography had helped to shape came to an end after World War II? What impact did decolonization have on the discipline? It is claimed that decolonization had a marginal place in postwar geography but can still be discerned, in buried forms, and that some geographers wrote about it with perspicacity. This contention is pursued with reference to the writing of Western (mainly U.S., British, and French) and some African and Asian geographers and probes how decolonization was differently positioned within different geographical traditions and debates and how geographical knowledge both advanced and challenged understanding of this process. This article promotes a comparative approach to the two facets of the title and delineates both differences and commonalities in geographers’ views and experiences. There are two key findings: First, geographers were much more interested in the everyday geographical violence of decolonization than in its high politics or the writings of revolutionaries; second, this concern prompted some to observe that questions of decolonization were subordinated too easily to ones of development.

Annals of the American Association of Geographers, DOI: 10.1080/24694452.2020.1715194


  • Journal Article