Two new abstracts sent to ICHG2018 and AAG2018

My latest plan is to send two abstracts to the 17th International Conference of Historical Geographers in Warsaw, July 15-20 and the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting in New Orleans, April 10-14 in 2018. In the first case, the first abstract will hopefully be part of the following session:


Global Histories of Geography 19301990

Convenors: Ruth Craggs (King’s College London) and Hannah Neate (Manchester Metropolitan University)

Reflecting on the key centres associated with the emergence of geography as a spatial science in the 1960s Barnes (2002, 508) remarked: “Why are places in Africa not on there, or Asia, or Australasia?” thereby highlighting significant gaps in disciplinary histories and accounts of geography’s development in the second half of the twentieth century. By way of response, this session aims to highlight work into the ‘global’ histories of geography in the period 1930-1990, a period marked by geopolitical transitions including WWII, decolonization and the end of the Cold War.  We are looking to make links with scholars who are carrying out research on the history and practice of geography, specifically in submissions that explore scholarly communities of geographers whose contribution to the development of geography in the twentieth century often goes unrecognised in the ‘canon’ of geographical research.

Possible themes for papers:

  • Papers focusing on geographers from the global South, Indigenous geographers in settler states, Asian geographies and geographers, geographers from the former Eastern Block
  • Biographies of individuals or groupings of geographers
  • Accounts that highlight how geography was being pursued in other ‘centres’
  • The role and development of national and international disciplinary associations and networks
  • Geographical knowledge, expertise and intersections with decolonization and the end of the Cold War


Historical geographies of the “quantitative revolution”: Towards a transnational history of central place theory

Geography’s “quantitative revolution” has been a true textbook chronicle in the discipline’s canonical history. However, historical research has only recently seriously begun to unravel the geographical contexts of its emergence, which is complicated by the simplified narratives that emerged in critical revisionism from the 1970s. This paper offers an interpretative framework from the perspective of the historical geographies of scientific knowledge (HGSK), by focusing on Christaller’s central place theory (CPT) to deconstruct the common Anglo-American narrative, arguing that it has concealed other contexts in the “Second” and “Third” worlds. Early applications (especially in Germany, Poland, Netherlands, Israel) and the wider European discourse of “central places” call for a reevaluation of the canonized narratives of CPT. The globalization of CPT is interpreted through the rising American hegemony in the early Cold War era, which led to the Americanization of German location theories in modernization theory discourse. Networks behind the American, British and Canadian centres show the importance of European locations, such as the Swedish hub in Lund, and the “planning laboratories” of Asian, South American and African contexts after decolonization. Soviet and Eastern Bloc reformism and the institutionalization of regional planning from the late 1950s summoned CPT in the service of centralized state planning, and ignited debates of adaptability between “socialist” and “capitalist” contexts. By reflecting on some of these cases, this paper argues for a transnational history of CPT by readdressing issues of narrativity and historical periodization, and shows the need for provincializing and decolonizing dominant Anglo-American geographical knowledge production.


“The Ghana job”: Opening semiperipheral Hungary to the decolonized developing world

Based on interviews, archival and media sources, this paper looks at how post-WWII socialist Hungary developed foreign economic relations with decolonized countries, by focusing on the emergence of Hungarian development and area studies and development advocacy expertise towards developing countries. The paper’s case study is the Centre for Afro-Asian Research (CAAR) founded at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1963 – from 1973 the Institute for World Economy (IWE) – parallel to similar institutions founded in the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc states. CAAR was established as a government think tank by József Bognár, a close friend to Prime Minister János Kádár and perhaps one of the most important figures in socialist era Hungarian reform economics and foreign policy-making. The institute rose as a consequence of the “Ghana job”: Hungarian economists led by Bognár developed the First Seven-Year Plan of Ghana in 1962. The associates of CAAR and IWE promoted export-oriented growth against import-substitution industrialization and summoned geographical development concepts such as “poorly developed countries”, “dependency”, “semiperiphery”, “open economies”, or “small countries” as alternatives to the Cold War categories of “capitalist” and “socialist” world systems. This shift in geographical knowledge production is connected to the geopolitical contexts of the Sino-Soviet split, the Khrushchevian “opening up” of foreign relations, the emergence of the “Third World”, and also the 1956 revolution in the case of Hungary. The role of Ghana and the Eastern Bloc is connected to the 1960s wave of transnational development consultancy and strategies of “socialist globalization”.


Hungary and Ghana, 1950s-1960s

21083554_1409636279072924_5180471301300472123_oMy research report to the Open Society Archives turned out to be a draft of a lengthy working paper that summarizes some of the materials I have been working with. You can read about my OSA research proposal here.

Even from this vastly text I had to leave out a lot of other materials. Unfortunately I will only have time to work again on this later, so I decided to share here some thoughts that could not be included.

One of the books that were very influential to me (but haven’t included into the draft) gave me a great overview of the early Eastern European relations towards decolonizing/ed Africa (the “Third World”). What I find most interesting is not only the relative autonomy of the Eastern Bloc in developing their foreign relations, but also the continuities between previous colonial era and postcolonial relations. Another issue is the role of China, not only how the Sino-Soviet split influenced the Soviet Union to maintain the relative autonomy of the Eastern Bloc, but also China’s early postcolonial trajectories in gaining a foothold in Africa.


“By 1958, well before substantial new opportunities arose south of the Sahara, East Europe’s trade with Asia, the Middle East, and some parts of Africa was already greater than that of the Soviet Union; ithad more than doubled since 1954 and amounted to approximately five per cent of the area’s total trade. Some of this commercial activity, of course, was no more than a partial return to normal trade patterns that had been interrupted by the war and later inhibited for political and ideological reasons. Yet the very fact that old patterns existed and could be resumed was important, since the arrival of East European traders and governmental representatives in Africa did not appear to the new states as a novel or menacing overture, but rather as a natural resumption of established policies.”

— Robert and Elizabeth Bass: Eastern Europe, in: Zbigniew Brzezinski: Africa and the Communist World, Hoover Institution, 1963, p. 88.

Hungarian development experts worked on the First Seven-Year Plan of Ghana

20993964_1407344005968818_1387830529126103512_nA magyar közgazdász delegáció megérkezése Accrába 1962-ben, hogy kidolgozzák Ghána hétéves tervét. Balról jobbra: Bácskai Tamás (Bognár asszisztense, egyetemi docens), Kós Péter (nagykövet), Kwame Nkrumah (a Ghánai Köztársaság elnöke), Bognár József (főtanácsadó), Székely Gábor (Bognár asszisztense, mérnökközgazdász).

The Hungarian delegation of economists arrive in Accra to develop Ghana’s First Seven-Year Plan in 1962. From left to right: Tamás Bácskai (Bognár’s assistant, associate professor), Péter Kós (first ambassador), Kwame Nkrumah (President of the Republic of Ghana), József Bognár (chief advisor), Gábor Székely (Bognár’s assistant, economic engineer).

Magyar Hírek, 1962. május 1.

Speaking from the Semi-Periphery: Decolonizing Geographical Knowledge Production in Socialist Hungary, 1960s to 1980s

In recent months I’ve prepared a new research plan/paper on the stuff I’ve been doing, connected to my work in the 1989 After 1989 project:

The “spatial turn” in the history of scientific knowledge has called into question abstract notions of scientific development and specifically national disciplinary and institutional narratives. The past two decades has seen a growing number of studies in the historical geographies of scientific knowledge (HGSK), aiming to understand where knowledge is produced and disseminated, and how the content of knowledge changes in motion and adapts to local contexts and social interests (Livingstone 2003; Powell 2007; Withers 2009). Recently, increased globalization has summoned an upsurge of research focusing on interconnectedness through knowledge networks and circulations, transnational histories and global comparative studies, arguing against the “methodological nationalism” of previous research in favour of alternative transnational concepts (Keim et al. 2014; Conrad 2016).

On the other hand, postcolonial and decolonial approaches have contested Eurocentric or Westcentric epistemological frameworks and discursive formations, providing a reassessment of multiple or alternative modernities and elucidating the hierarchical orders of knowledge regimes (Chakrabarty 2007; Boatca and Costa 2012). However, much of this original literature on postcolonialism focused either on the global centre or the former colonial world, silencing in-between semiperipheral contexts such as Eastern Europe under transitory and provincialised terms such as “postsocialism,” while there has been little theorizing between the “posts” (Chari and Verdery 2009). This marginalization process has also led to the concealment of Second-Third World relations and the interdependency of centre and periphery contexts in an interconnected global context (Ward 2010; Mark and Apor 2014).

While the perceived non-colonial background of Eastern Europe provided excuses for many in the region to distance themselves from postcolonial studies (Moore 2001), historical studies have nevertheless shown the existence of long-term structures of hierarchical dependency and East-West “civilizational slopes” even since the Renaissance and the Enlightenment (Wolff 1994), which have well endured into socialist and postsocialist times (Melegh 2006). This continuity is well captured by the self-Orientalizing development and geographical concepts in social science, geography and economic history (Petrovici 2015). These can be exemplified by various contexts: the enduring dichotomies of “Eastern” and “Western” development (Éber et al. 2014), the “catching-up” neoliberalist transitology (Stenning and Hörschelman 2008), the “civilizing mission” of European Union accession (Böröcz and Sarkar 2005), the subaltern adaptation of development policy models, and the uneven reproduction of Western academic hegemony.

This research argues for “decolonizing” diffusionist and neoevolutionist theories that have been appropriated as the dominant narrative of the global centre and imposed upon the Eastern European context (Boatca and Costa 2012). Simultaneously it argues for a global perspective of transnational interconnectedness in understanding Eastern European developments in the production of geographical knowledge. It does so by using contemporary literature in critical geography and international relations, and specifically in postcolonial, decolonial theory and world-systems analysis to deconstruct internalised structures of dependency and global hierarchies inherent in Eastern European geographical epistemologies. By “speaking from the semiperiphery,” it aims to reassemble local knowledge production on global geographical concepts, in light of overlooked global historical interconnectivity between “East” and “West.” The research aims to apply these theoretical insights to understanding how Hungarian reform economists tried to position the country in various global imaginations between the 1960s and 1980s in the context of integrating into the world economy and thus breaking away with Cold War concepts amidst increasing global competition and economic restructuration due to crises.

After World War II, the imperialist and nationalist-revisionist ambitions of the Hungarian state elite crumbled with the demise of the previous “high imperialist” era. The Communist takeover and the process of Sovietization created a new setting under the imperial and colonial influence of the Soviet Union, and a rise of economist experts succeeding the pre-WWII primacy of geographers. Stalinist orthodoxy summoned a dichotomous Cold War imagination of separate “capitalist” and “socialist” worlds, soon to be called “world systems,” while the production of geographical knowledge and textbooks on regional geography also followed this essential dichotomy. But the détente period after de-Stalinisation and the gradual opening up of diplomatic and trade relations due to an economic upturn in the world economy and the process of decolonisation led to reconfigurations in global geographical and development imaginations.

The maintaining of the Eastern European “buffer zone” necessitated the Soviet Union to foster trade relations both with the West and the so-called Third World. Eastern European reformers in Poland and Hungary pushed towards “market socialism”, as acquiring advanced technology and foreign currency from the West implied finding ways to finance development either through foreign loans or export-oriented growth, and facilitated exporting expertise and investments into the Third World and searching for state-led development models abroad, such as in Spain, South Korea and Chile (Bockman, Feygin and Mark forthcoming). These reformist ambitions generated a virulent debate and the emergence of new geographical concepts connected to the country’s shifting foreign trade policies and lobbying activity in international organizations (UN, UNCTAD, GATT) in order to manoeuvre between “East” and “West.”

While the concept of the “Third World” was disregarded by Eastern European socialist countries, they aimed to reposition themselves between “developed” and “undeveloped” countries in an urge to “catch up” with the West. By the 1970s in Hungary, some new concepts such as “semi-periphery,” “small economies” (Kádár 1971), “open economies” (Kozma 1980) had emerged in the Centre for Afro-Asian Research (1965-) and the Institute for World Economy (1973-) at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, which consequently developed the new field of area studies. In turn, some Western concepts, such as Wallersteinian world-systems analysis and the concept of “semiperiphery” were influenced by Eastern European economic historiography. In later developments, the series of Fejlődés-tanulmányok [Development Studies] published in 1978–1989 and journals such as Világtörténet [World History] introduced the new fields of development studies, world-systems analysis, centre-periphery thinking and postcolonial theory into the fields of area studies and international relations.

This research thus aims to understand through historical materials of scientific publications and policy papers connected to these institutions how alternative geographical conceptions of socialist globalization emerged and permeated global imaginations in area studies. The theoretical-methodological novelty of this research lies in connecting the approaches of transnational or global history, political economy and the history of ideas: Hungarian semiperipheral knowledge production is conceptualised in the interconnected contexts of centre-periphery relations.


Boatca, M., Costa, S. (2012): Postcolonial Sociology: A Research Agenda. In: Rodríguez, E. G., Boatca, M. (eds.): Decolonizing European Sociology: Transdisciplinary Approaches. Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate Publishing.

Bockman, J., Feygin, Y., Mark, J. (forthcoming): The Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and Alternative Globalisations 1950s–1980s. Manuscript.

Böröcz, J., Sarkar, M. (2005): What is the EU? International Sociology, 20(2): 153–173.

Chakrabarty, D. (2007): Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chari, S., Verdery, K. (2009): Thinking Between the Posts: Postcolonialism, Postsocialism, and Ethnography after the Cold War. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 51(1): 6–34.

Conrad, S. (2016): What is Global History? Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Éber, M., Gagyi, Á., Gerőcs, T., Jelinek, C., Pinkasz, A. (2014): 1989: Szempontok a rendszerváltozás globális politikai gazdaságtanához. Fordulat, 21.: 10–63.

Gille, Z. (2010): Is there a Global Postsocialist Condition? Global Society, 24(1): 9–30.

Kádár, B. (1971): Kis országok a világgazdaságban. Budapest: Közgazdasági és Jogi Könyvkiadó.

Keim, W., Celik, E., Erche, C., Wöhrer, V. (eds.)(2014): Global Knowledge Production in the Social Sciences: Made in Circulation. Corchester (UK): Ashgate.

Kozma, F. (1980): A nyitott szerkezetű gazdaság. Budapest: Kossuth.

Livingstone, D. N. (2003): Putting Science in its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mark, J., Apor, P. (2014): Socialism Goes Global: Decolonization and the Making of a New Culture of Internationalism in Socialist Hungary, 1956–1989. The Journal of Modern History, 87: 852–891.

Melegh, A. (2006): On the East-West Slope: Globalization, Nationalism, Racism and Discourses on Central and Eastern Europe. Budapest: CEU Press.

Moore, D. C. (2001): Is the Post- in Postcolonial the Post- in Post-Soviet? Toward a Global Postcolonial Critique. PMLA, 116(1): 111–128.

Petrovici, N. (2015): Framing Criticism and Knowledge Production in Semi-peripheries: Post-socialism Unpacked. Intersections, 1(2):

Powell, R. C. (2007): Geographies of Science: Histories, Localities, Practices, Futures. Progress in Human Geography, 31(3): 309–329.

Stenning, A., Hörschelman, K. (2008): History, Geography and Difference in the Post-Socialist World: Or, Do We Still Need Post-Socialism? Antipode, 40(2): 312–335.

Ward, S. (2010): Transnational Planners in a Postcolonial World. In: Healey, P., Upton, R. (eds.): Crossing Borders: International Exchange and Planning Practices. London and New York: Routledge. 47–72.

Withers, C. W. J. (2009): Place and the “Spatial Turn” in Geography and in History. Journal of the History of Ideas, 70(4): 637–658.

Wolff, L. (1994): Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization on the Mind of the Enlightenment. Stanford University Press.

Christaller in Africa

Peculiar or not so peculiar stories

Previously I wrote about the stories of Károly Perczel and László Huszár. Both were Hungarian architects, urbanists and regional planners, but the latter was also involved in planning projects in the Third World. His life story is incredibly interesting: he was an 1956 Hungarian emigré living in the UK, and after some years of university study and organization of (unsuccessful) emigrant resistance, he moved to applied urban and regional planning. Huszár’s most influential work (to him) was his first, 5-year assignment in Ghana from 1961 to redevelop a part of the country’s settlement system due to the building of the huge Volta dam. This dam was to provide cheap electricity for developing industry and infrastructure. As Huszár said in his interview (Nóvé 2001), the Ghana job supported by the United Nations meant a radical change in his life: it was his first real “planning” assignment, and from then on he focused all his efforts to urban and regional development in the Third World, mostly in East and North Africa, South and Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei).

Apart from his Hungarian context, Huszár’s story was far from unique. It was rather typical of human geographers in the US and UK to spend a few months or years in a so-called “Third World” or “developing” country and do some planning work in projects funded by post-WWII international organizations. Such organizations, formally seeking humanitarian aims, were the prime locutors of channeling American development funds and expertise into these peripheral, decolonized areas. The rising American hegemony was incited by rival Communist geopolitical and developmental aims, as expressed by W. W. Rostow’s “stages of growth” in his influential “Anti-Communist Manifesto” in 1960. This expanding US economy implied the development of basic welfare in developing countries in order to provide new markets for American goods, and the transfer or selling of manufacturing technologies (especially light industry) and providing huge loans. All this included applying top-of-the-notch Western planning theories in the quest for “modernizing traditional societies” in Weberian or Marxian fashion.

American “quantifiers” in Africa

The first pioneering works on the application of sophisticated mathematical techniques and statistics on spatial planning issues emerged in the second half of the 1950s. This was an effect of the “new geography” emerging after WWII in American (and not much later, UK) geography, which was soon to be called the “quantitative revolution.” To deal with vast amount of data, they needed computers and a staff heavily trained in statistics and modelling.

While David Harvey was working endlessly on his Explanation in Geography (1969), a very important work which summarized the main philosophical tenets of the “scientific method,” many others, such as Edward Soja were applying the same theories in development projects throughout the Third World. Although both Harvey and Soja turned out to be a Marxist, their young socialization with humanitarian liberalism led them to a belief in scientific methods towards social progress. Soja’s first big project was in Kenya (also by United Nations), from which he wrote his PhD at Syracuse University, and a year later published a book, The Geography of Modernization in Kenya (1968). His short biography explains the context:

“Soja attended Syracuse University where, among his teachers, was Eduardo Mondlane, the first Mozambican to hold a PhD and the founder of the Mozambican liberation movement, FRELIMO. At Syracuse, Mondlane developed the East African Studies Program which caught the interest of Soja.

In the early 1960s, Soja went to Kenya to study urban planning as the country underwent a transition from a traditional society to more modern forms of social, economic, and political organization. On return from fieldwork in February 1965 he taught about East Africa, as well as quantitative techniques.” (AAG)

Similar stories can be sometimes found in popular textbooks, like Approaches to Human Geography, where Gerard Rushton tells about his professional career. He received his training in mathematical geography and location theories at Iowa University, which was one of the prime nodes of the so-called “quantitative revolution” in the US during the 1950s and 1960s. Early in his professional career, he got involved in an important project:

“In 1970, the Ford Foundation asked if I would review a project in India that was designed to facilitate the provision of services to villages in areas where the green revolution was being promoted. The project was implemented by the Government of India and the Ford Foundation provided technical support. The project organizers in India stated that their approach was based on central place theory. I criticized their plan roundly, mainly on the grounds that it appeared to be trying to lay hexagons over the regions of interest to promote the development of villages close to the theoretical nodes. … Working for the Foundation was unlike academic work and living in their guest house and meeting the people coming and going from some of the best universities in the US and elsewhere was an interesting experience. … Two NSF grants allowed us to continue working in India and Nigeria on problems of locating services in developing countries.” (Rushton 2006: 175)

Concealing the periphery: “Second” and “Third” Worlds

In spite of these stories, if you read into the mainstream Anglophone human geography textbook narratives on how the story of the “quantitative revolution” is told, everything is about North American and British developments, because these were the sites of the so-called “revolution” (a self-invented term). Other pieces of this story were also remembered, extending to the Western and Northern European contexts. Notable is the relatively recent spotlight on Christaller’s Nazi past (Barnes 2006), the inclusion of which is a truly American characteristic (Nazis were evil), as it was already researched in Germany from the 1980s. Although these mathematical theories, like input-output methods, linear programming, probabilistic diffusion (Monte Carlo simulations), location theories and central place theory, etc. were deemed by these “new geographers” as universal scientific tools serving progressive change, you can findabsolutely nothing in mainstream narratives of its application in the so-called Second and Third Worlds. Maybe an initial remark of its Nazi past, the first Dutch applications, or very recently a pinch of the Israeli story, but considering Europe, still heavy silence sleeps upon the Eastern European case or its wider socialist applications. Completely nothing is told about African, Asian or South American contexts.

This is very strange, since in the 1960s and 1970s saw huge debates and strong curiousity between the “East” and the “West” on urban and regional planning methods. Since the application of modernization theories needed huge amounts of statistical data, developed infrastructure, high technology and expertise, and – most importantly – a centralized government to carry out these plans, discussions were often framed in the “market or plan” debate. The West was interested in the planned application of  these theories, while the East was interested in the high scientific and technological value of Western methods. This was ideologically played out in the US’s and USSR’s race over developing the Third World for obvious economic and political reasons. But to create a viable economy with marketable goods from scratch, one needed a strong state apparatus. How could efficient and long-term planning be achieved under the flexible conditions of world capitalism? This was the question raised not only by Western capitalists, but also their socialists counterparts, especially Eastern European countries which sought to turn to “market socialism” and export-oriented growth, and consequently searched for various strategies of integrating into the world economy (flexible price allocation, raised autonomy of companies, selective development of profitable sectors, etc.). The main arguments for relatively small Eastern European state-socialist countries seeking export-led development – such as Hungary – was that complex planning of the whole economy could be more easily carried out due to their small territory but high quality of professionals. Many Third World countries, such as Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah in the 1960s asked for professional assistance from Hungarian economists (e.g. József Bognár) to help model their development strategies on Eastern European trajectories. In Ghana, the Volta dam served as an important prequisite for providing the economic momentum for these developments.

One of my dissertation’s main theses is that mainstream narratives of the “centre” leave out “peripheral” contexts, which were actually the preconditions for developments such as the (American) “quantitative revolution.” Instead, we should look at the interdependent relations between the “centre” and the “periphery.” We are offered accounts on the knowledge base and developments of Anglo-Americanized theories, but the specific ways these, such as central place theory got internationalized and globalized  (or, we must add, contested) are yet concealed. Meanwhile, the narrative currency of the “quantitative revolution” is still high both in the West and postsocialist Eastern Europe: there is a universal appeal towards useful quantitative tools offering control over economic development, investments and capital accumulation, but without any questioning of the political economic relations serving as their aims and contexts of application. Behind the scences, the huge impetus of the American “revolution” in the 1950s and 1960s was the expanding US economy into the Third World, and the development of post-WWII international organizations (e.g. UN, World Bank) which provided both the humanitarian ideology, transnational infrastructure and development funds for modernization projects. While the “Second World” in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union were trying to refine the same ideas and theories for “socialist” economies, the “Third World” became a “living laboratory” – to use Helen Tilley’s words – for both so-called “capitalist” and “socialist” countries’ development trajectories.

Americans were pioneering this kind of mathematical and applied spatial research on identifying central places in Africa, which showed a remarkable postcolonial continuity by managing and administrating African territories. Central place theory could be used to reorganize the settlement hierarchy in a “rational” form, solving the urban-rural divide and setting a decentralized economy. For decentralization, however, a centralized state government was needed. “Rational” planning also needed the precise assessment of resources, and huge amounts of standardized data, which could only be retrieved through state censuses. Regional planners were important actors in opting for reliable data in their unquenchable hunger for numbers to be modelled and mapped.

The South African urban hierarchy

Take this great example from South Africa. An American geographer, Davies (1967) conducted a research to map the central places of the “country,” based on the first pioneering methods from the US, and the recent Population Census data taken in 1960. Contexts such as these were the perfect sandbox training for the planner seeking to test and verify deductive mathematical hypotheses. Suggestions could be made, as were done by Davies, on how to refine these methods developed in the US. The empirical and applied challenges posed by these environments became valuable experiences that could be circulated back to the “centre” in – as Bruno Latour would say – expanding cycles of accumulation. The African “test site” was an important element in expanding both the global verification of the theory through its “translation” into different environmental and political economic contexts, and also the expansion of a group of international experts, who could circulate through, adapt and connect these different contexts in transnational networks.


Central places of South Africa (Davies 1967: 16)

In addition, Davies notes that before Americans, Germans have already conducted such research:

“Research thus far has, however, not contributed a central place analysis of South Africa. This paper is concerned with the postulation of an urban hierarchy for the country as the first phase of a more comprehensive study of the detailed functional and spatial inter-relationship of its towns. … The only published central place study of South Africa is one by Carol in 1952 for the Central Karoo region. Carol, H. Das Agrageographische Berachtungssystem. Ein Beitrag zur Landschaftkundlichen Methodik dargelegt am Beispiel der in Südafrika. Geographica Helvetica, 1. (1952), p. 17-67.” (Davies 1967: 9, 18)

Since central place theory was developed in the end of the 1920s and early 1930s, Germans or other Europeans might have done some important research on African territories before the Americans did. But I have no knowledge of this yet. Nevertheless, colonial powers such as the British and the French were not much into this research, while location theories and central place theory mostly originated from German authors.

Hans Carol’s (1915-1971) article is a thrilling and very dense piece. Carol was actually a Swiss geographer working in Zürich, who later moved to York University (Toronto, Canada) in 1962 (see records). His study presents a full geographical account of the Karoo region in Hettnerian fashion, while also applying the new and modern methods of central place theory, which was far from common in geographical studies in the Europe. Apart from using Christaller and Bobek, it cites relevant studies from contemporary British authors who also adapted Christaller’s ideas (Smailes 1946; Dickinson 1947), and even refers to American geography (R. Hartshorne), but does not cite very recent American research (e.g. Ullman 1941), which was still immature, distant and peripheral from the European centre at that time. His first big study was on the area around Zürich, and he used this experience to do an analysis of the functional spatial structure of the Karoo region in South Africa. I think this whole story is a very good example of why we need to look at the entangled histories of how knowledge is made and legitimated through global or transnational connections.


The central places in the region of Zürich (Carol 1952: 30)


The central places of the Karoo region in South Africa (Carol 1952: 60)

Davies, R. J. (1967): The South African Urban Hierarchy. South African Geographical Journal, 49(1): 9-20.
Dickinson, R. E. (1947): City, region and regionalism. A geographical contribution to human ecology. London.
Nóvé Béla (2001): Interview with László Huszár (1932-2007). Record No. 748. Oral History Archives, Budapest.
Rushton, Gerard (2006): Institutions and Cultures. In : Stuart Aitken and Gill Valentine (eds.): Approaches to Human Geography. SAGE. pp. 171-177.
Smailes, A. E. (1946): The urban mesh of England and Wales. The Institute of British Geographers, transactions and papers, 5. 85—101.
Ullman, E. (1941): A Theory of Location for Cities. American Journal of Sociology, 46(6), 853-864.