Geography far from equilibrium

Abstract : Geography makes little use of the concept of equilibrium. Unlike economics , geographical inquiry is based on the recognition of differences and asymmetries among regions and civilisations. In this it does not refer to general mechanisms that would be equivalent to the market for fixing prices and equilibrat-ing supply and demand. Early geographers searched for explanations to the great variety of landscapes and ways of life that were observed all over the planet. Modern geographers study both the 'vertical' interactions between societies and their local milieu and the 'horizontal' interactions between cities and regions. This involves two opposing causes of territorial inequalities, spatial diffusion of innovation and urban transition. Whereas diffusion of innovation alone might result in homogeneity, combined with the dynamics of city formation the result is increasing heterogeneity and inequality. The phenomenon of increasing returns with city size is explained by higher population densities and connections multiplying the probability of productive interactions, as well as by adaptive valuation of accumulated assets. While there may be great wealth, in some large urban agglomerations large informal settlements of slums and shanties are still expanding. Global societal evolution is an open process with no fixed asymptotic point in the future: there is no final equilibrium state to reach for the world. Open evolution may hamper the quality of predictions that can be made about the future, but geographical knowledge of past dynamics may help to make forecasts more certain. Powerful analytical tools have been developed in the last five or six decades that greatly improve the quality of geographical work and its ability to provide stakeholders and decision makers with clearer insights for exploring possible territorial futures. Geographical Information Systems are now universally used in all kind of administrations dealing with localised services. Detailed geographical information from many data sources enables a shift from a macro-static view to a micro-macro dynamical view that is necessary for management and planning policies in a non-linear world. As a science geography remains deliberately far from equilibrium.
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Denise Pumain. Geography far from equilibrium. Jeffrey Johnson, Paul Ormerod, Bridget Rosewell, Andrzej Nowak, and Yi-Cheng Zhang (eds). Non-Equilibrium Social Science and Policy, Springer International, pp.71-80, 2017, ⟨10.1007/978-3-319-42424-8_5⟩. ⟨halshs-02008926⟩

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