April 8, 2020

Geographical Thinking

Geographical Thinking
Stevenson M. Que
Department of Social Studies Education, Faculty of Education
University of the Philippines – Open University, Los Banos, Laguna

Fort Nuestra Señora dela Soledad, Guam

As we move around this planet from point A to point B, we recognize and see that not only are the coordinates where we are standing at changes. People, plants, wildlife, language, and a lot more about the world unveils its diversity right in front of you. Thinking Geographically empowers us to learn not just the differences but also the relationship of all things, living and non-living, with each other no matter how displaced they are in the world that we live in. Travelling one thousand miles westward or eastward will not change your views as compared to traveling a few hundred miles north or south from your current location. How can we explain such phenomena to ourselves? Geography.

Almost everything about the world with respect to places, location, and the environment can be understood and explained by geographical thinking. People sometimes associate Geography with just the topographical make-up of a place or region but really, it is more than that. Geography tackles the differences and presents them in a way that people can distinguish the life and environment that a place is made up of based on how it is displaced near or far apart from another. Just like the scientific method that is being used by scientists to experiment and find solutions, geography as a social science also follows the same steps of observation and data collection, data analysis, and display and presentation techniques but revolves around a central element: space (ESRI Schools and Libraries Program, 2003).

Thinking geographically for me is having that sense to analyze problems about almost anything in the world with respect to how the environment, location, and all the life that exist within its vicinity has a direct effect to whatever the problem is. Geographical thinking can provide concrete conclusions as to why the behavior of a certain tribe is viewed as a taboo on another culture. Anthropologists can best explain such cultural questions and inquiries but having a geographical standpoint on thing can empower their analysis in formulating an answer to normative questions as such. Another example I can give would be in the field of economics. On one of the books I read entitled “Why Nations Fail?” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson (2012), a good comparison that was discussed was the case of two cities Nogales, Arizona in the USA and Nogales, Sonora in Mexico. Explaining the wide gap between two cities, or we can say a city divided by history into two, having an understanding of the ways how a place can be different even if they are directly adjacent to each other would give you the idea how things vary when it comes to the lives of the citizens living on respective cities.

Probably the most important ideas in geographical thinking is space. How space differs from one point to another, a space from another space, and all the lives and things that exist on a specific place directly affects the composition and its identity. Understanding how space affects both another space and the space itself will enable one with geographical thinking to answer questions that are beyond the clauses of geography as a social science. Understanding identity to a specific space or location depending on the demographics of the people and the composition of its environment can help anybody have a distinction to those places that can help them formulate solutions based on those identities. Another important idea is environment. Environment differs in a very dynamic sense and understanding how the surroundings both near and far can have a specific influence not just on the lives that are within the same environment but also the lives of other environment that depends on the other. A good example of this is the importance of the Amazon rainforest. Having a geographical thinking will give meaning to its importance not just to the people of Brazil or South America but also to the world since it is the largest rainforest and emits the most oxygen that is needed to sustain the lives of every living organism especially us humans.

In my own understanding, geographical techniques revolve around the same techniques within other research areas especially closely linked to history. Just like what was discussed in historical method, geographical experiments and studies for me revolve around three main stages. Data Gathering, Data Analysis, and Conclusion. Data gathering is an important part of any study. We gather as many quality data from authentic and credible data sources. Unlike history wherein facts are usually based on the people’s standpoints and accounts, geographical data is quantitative. Data about area, demographics, climate and all other geographical topics can be measured using tools and instruments that provide numeric value. Once the data has been collected, then it will be analyzed. Samples are very important because analysis of these will be the fortresses of the study that will provide theoretical frameworks on the development of conclusions. To analyze data, geographers now use GIS or Geographic Information Systems to compute the data and create visualizations from the given datasets that are fed as inputs. Visualizations vary from maps to matrices that don’t just talk about the physical component of a region but also the number of drug related Crime in Florida or to present the climate and vegetation change in the eastern United States (National Acamdemies Press, 1997). In my line of work in Marketing Analytics, we use a visualization tool called Tableau. This tool presents data into visual dashboards that can tell not just the measures but even creates a story that is beneficial to the marketing department. One of the visualizations that I use are maps to show how contacts are engaged and the rate of their engagement based on the US states that our company is catering at. Having that visualization can lead our executives into conclusions and decisions where our marketing dollars should be spent at to increase the company’s revenue. Even in the field of marketing, one can understand – through geographical techniques and thinking- how revenue can be maximized depending on the demographics and population of the people on the states that are competitive and those that needs more engagement programs.

Geography talks about the relationship between us human beings and the environment. Just as Susan Hanson suggested on one of her papers, geographers have this advantage that offers an unparalleled lens for understanding the world. This advantage can then be shared to non-geographers and can then improve their understanding and even can be advantageous to growing the number of geography practitioners (Hanson, 2004).

As a little boy, growing up memorizing the flags, capitals, and the location of all the countries in the World Map given by his uncle, I have always been fascinated by places. I had an early understanding of how people differ from place to place and that empowered me to be more understanding of the world I am living in and gave me the lenses to see the relationship between diversities. I am continually learning to think geographically, and hopefully someday I can call myself a Geographer.


Acemoglu, D., & Robinson, J. (2012). Why Nations Fail.
ESRI Schools and Libraries Program. (2003). Geographic Inquiry: Thinking Geographically. Retrieved from https://www.esri.com/Industries/k-12/education/~/media/Files/Pdfs/industries/k-12/pdfs/geoginquiry.pdf

Geographical Association. (2012, August). Thinking Geographically. Retrieved from Geographical Association: https://www.geography.org.uk/write/MediaUploads/Support%20and%20guidance/GA_GINCConsultation_ThinkingGeographically_NC_2012.pdf

Hanson, S. (2004). Who Are ‘‘We’’? An Important Question for Geography's
Future. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 715-722.

National Acamdemies Press. (1997). Chapter: 4 Geography's Techniques. Retrieved from Rediscovering Geography: New Relevance for Science and Society: https://www.nap.edu/read/4913/chapter/6#59


  1. Good work Stevenson. You seem to be on the right path, and I hope one day you will be happy to call yourself a Geographer :)

    1. Oh thank you so much Margaret! You have no idea how happy you made me feel with those words. I am very excited to graduate soon but still a few obstacles to face :)

  2. I think teaching geography and geography concepts has reduced over the years. Many people do not have an understanding of our world and where countries and places are located, let alone their relationship to living conditions and customs. - Margy

    1. I totally agree with you on that Margy, especially here in the Philippines where Geography has always just been a small component of the Social Studies Subject people grew up not to give much importance to it and it is sad. Hopefully it can grow back again through key people who will inspire many of its relevance and essence to the world


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