Contemporary Approaches in Geography: Area, Spatial, Locational & Geographic Systems Analysis

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  • 0:03 Cultural Geography
  • 0:52 Spatial Analysis
  • 2:26 Systems Analysis
  • 4:42 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

If geographers study people and places, exactly how do they look at the information they find? In this lesson, we'll examine contemporary approaches to studying geography, including spatial, area, locational, and systems analysis.

Cultural Geography

Marie is very interested in people. She's fascinated by how people's environments can affect so much of their lives. From food choices, to religion, to how long people live, it seems like where a person lives has a huge impact on them.

Cultural geography is the study of how places differ and how people interact with the environment. Cultural geography links the social sciences (like sociology and psychology) with the natural sciences (like biology and evolution). The subjects that Marie is interested in, like how the environment affects how long a person might live, are part of cultural geography.

Let's look closer at how Marie can study cultural geography, including two common techniques, spatial analysis and systems analysis.

Spatial Analysis

Marie is interested in how geography can affect a person's life. For example, she was studying the way disease spreads and is interested in how where a person lives might affect how likely they are to contract a disease.

Spatial analysis, which is also called area analysis and locational analysis, is the study of human trends in a specific place. Think of the words 'space,' 'area,' and 'location,' and you can remember spatial analysis, area analysis, and locational analysis.

When thinking about a place, many people imagine a map. If I say, 'Texas,' you might think of a map of the shape of Texas, for example. Or, if I say, 'Nile River,' you might imagine what it looks like on a map.

Likewise, spatial analysis often includes looking at human trends on a map to see how the geography of a land might influence a trend. For example, this map shows how the bubonic plague spread across Europe:

Map of bubonic plague spreading across Europe
map showing bubonic plague in europe

Each color is a different time period. In this way, cultural geographers can see how the disease moved from one location to another across time.

Remember that Marie is interested in how disease spreads. She might make a map to show an epidemic that is spreading across her state. When she does, she might notice that the disease is starting at cities along a certain river and then spreading out to the land outside of the cities. Her spatial analysis of the epidemic has allowed her to see a trend in the spread of the disease.

Systems Analysis

Spatial analysis isn't the only thing that Marie can study in cultural geography. She can also look at statistics and trends in order to change the way things are.

Analysis meant to solve social problems based on geographic trends is called geographic systems analysis. In systems analysis, as with spatial analysis, Marie will be looking at trends in society across geography. But systems analysis is looking for a way to create or change systems in order to solve a problem, whereas spatial analysis is just looking for trends.

Remember that Marie has discovered that an epidemic is sweeping across her state and that the disease starts in cities that are on a river. In spatial analysis, this is as far as Marie goes. She looks at the information and says, 'Hmm...that's interesting.'

But in systems analysis, Marie asks the questions, 'Why is the disease spreading this way, and what can I do to help stop it?'

Marie knows that the river is used a lot by people to travel from place to place. Because the disease is likely spreading from city to city as people travel from place to place, Marie can warn people not to travel from city to city, but to stay near their homes. This way, the spread of the disease might slow.

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