Hubbard et al.'s main aim in Thinking Geographically is to present the contemporary ways of non-mainstream (i.e. Marxist, postmodern, poststructural...) thinking to the students of geography, and by doing so to demonstrate that theory matters in understanding the reality. An excellent literature review as it is, Thinking Geographically seems to betray its name, though. The book is more about introducing `post' ways of thinking than about `spatiality'. Except in a few chapters like the one on globalization the idea of space is secondary or miniscule throughout the book. Thus, if I was asked, I would name the book "Thinking Thinking for Geographers".
Shifting from how well the book fares in doing what its title suggests to how well it fares in doing what it does, the book offers an excellent collection of `new' ideas that aim to challenge the traditional ways of thinking on concepts and on the real world. The aim of this `new' social theorizing is to move away from the traditional `narrow' definitions of concepts and replace them with the ones that are more social and humane (hence more dynamic and contingent). Situating themselves against the certainties and reductions of positivism and modernism, `post' ways of thinking question both their `truth claims' and knowledge accumulation strategies (p. 75). "I mistrust all systematizers and I avoid them" once said Nietzsche; in that sense, the `new' social theory follows a Nietzschean path.
Examples to the non-traditional ways of thinking about the world abound in the Thinking Geographically volume. Among this multitude, the ones on governance and globalization stroke me most. First, contrary to the traditional identification of governance with the institution of government, Hubbard et al. present a broader understanding of governance as flexible and facilitative forms of partnership between government representatives (the state), business (the market), and other non-government agents (civil society) (p. 175). This type of governance understanding challenges both the dominant capitalist categorization of the state, the market, and civil society as independent realms, and the Marxist critique of this view, which considers the state the mere embodiment of the interests of the bourgeoisie. Second, opposing the arguments which claim the withering away of the state in this global age, some social scientists argue that what takes place is only a rearrangement of the roles of the state, not its extinction (p 189-90). As there has never been a capitalism independent of state intervention (here a Wallerstein would rather say "nor could there be") , contemporary version of capitalism does not (cannot?) function without the regulatory role of state. If the role of the modern state of the 19th century was to feed and protect the economy , the role of the "supermodern" state of today is "to create a suitable local political environment which is supportive of neoliberal economic development," (p. 179).
As for the `new' ideas on globalization, Wallerstein's elaboration on the `semi-periphery' concept offers an interesting understanding of world politics and economy. Whereas the traditional modernist and capitalist view higher-middle income developing countries (such as Mexico, South Korea, and Argentina) as "success stories" which should set example to the rest of the developing and underdeveloped countries, Wallerstein opts for a Gramscian view and argues that the mere existence (or production) of these relatively rich developing countries, which he calls "semi-periphery", provides ideological justification to the inherently unequal global capitalist system, thereby stabilizing it (p. 213). Put simply, semi-periphery is needed to make a capitalist world-economy run smoothly.
Hubbard et al. also do a good job in covering the `text'. "Post" thinkers offer three important contributions to our understanding of texts. First, they broaden the concept of text and make it include anything that possess meaning and is open to interpretation. Thus, in addition to the conventional `written' texts that we have, landscapes, pictures, social get-togethers, etc. are also texts of which meaning is given by both the author (the actor) and the reader (the viewer). Second, `new' social theorists emphasize the role of the reader in assigning a meaning to a text. They claim that every text has multiple meanings and these meanings change from one reader to another. This argument directly challenges the positivist claim that social phenomena can be studied objectively. Objectivity is a fiction for the "post" thinkers; and in that sense, they once again follow Nietzsche who said, "against that positivism which stops before phenomena, saying `there are only fact,' I should say: no, it is precisely facts that do not exist, only interpretations..." Finally, some "new" thinkers argue that texts cannot be studied in isolation from other texts. They suggest that a text cannot have an autonomous meaning, but only a series of unstable meanings produced intertextually (p.137). Thus, for example, the writings of Martin Heidegger cannot be grasped without a simultaneous `reading' of either the writings of Edmund Husserl or the socio-political environment in the interwar Germany.
Lastly, I also want to admit that Hubbard et al.'s approach to body and money did not make sense to me. In particular, the argument that all social interactions are embodied seems to me no more than a truism. Well, we need a body to live, anyhow; thus, everything humane must be embodied. The same is true for money. The argument that money cannot exist outside society and that it gains its functions and meanings through social practices (p. 155) does not offer me a `new' perspective, because money is an instrument of exchange between people, anyway. Thus, so far as the chapters on body and money are concerned, Thinking Geographically is hardly thinking and barely geography.