Mesogeography: Social physics, GIScience and the quest for geographic knowledge

The second of three GIS status update reports commissioned by PiHG:

Miller, H. J. (2017) “Geographic information science II: Mesogeography: Social physics, GIScience and the quest for geographic knowledge” Progress in Human Geography. Online publication date: June 9, 2017.  DOI:

Abstract: The 20th century witnessed the rise of social physics: the application of models and techniques developed for physical processes to social phenomena. Social physics left an enduring legacy in human geography via its stepchildren, spatial analysis and GIS, shifting geography from microgeography (description-seeking) and towards macrogeography (law-seeking). Social physics is back in the 21st century, and its renaissance with a concurrent rise in computational and data-driven approaches to science and policy raises a wide range of concerns, including the claim that this is just macrogeography writ large: a single-minded pursuit of social laws at the cost of treating people as particles and spatial context as abstract and sterile. I argue that this time is different: a more sophisticated social physics, spatial analysis and GIScience are emerging that emphasize heterogeneity and spatial context as key drivers of interesting behavior. I also argue that new social physics suggests another path to geographic knowledge somewhere in the middle: mesogeography – a focus on how processes evolve in spatial context. I discuss GIScience techniques and approaches that can facilitate the quest for mesogeographic knowledge.

Keywords: GIScience, social physics, spatial analysis, spatial context, spatial heterogeneity


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