Specialization in the Structure and Organization of Geography

Michael F. Goodchild, Donald G. Janelle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


Specialty groups are a relatively recent innovation within the Association of American Geographers (AAG), but have grown rapidly to play a major part in the functioning of the organization. This paper examines the role of specialization within and between disciplines, with special reference to geography, as a response to the complexity of knowledge and of scientific activity, and as a phenomenon of social organization. The scale and basis of organization of the specialty groups are seen as responses to needs for communication and survival. Natural and empirical views of the organization of disciplines and other academic divisions within the field of knowledge, and of the processes operating on individual career paths, are discussed. The empirical (or pragmatic) view provides the basis for analyzing the membership of AAG specialty groups to determine the structure of the current discipline and the trends to which it is subject. A multidimensional scaling and an elementary linkage analysis of the cross memberships of specialty groups for 1984 show patterns of affinity and divergence of topical interest and of general research paradigms. The revealed cores of the discipline confirm the earth-science, man-land and spatial traditions identified by Pattison (1964). In contrast, the area-studies tradition does not display any unified core, but links to the general body of geography through systematic concerns. Applied geography, historical geography and cartography are most central to the structuring of specialty group memberships and appear to be prominent sources of unity for those groups that represent the different traditions. A diversity-of-interest measure, based on an information statistic, reveals that sociodemographic (age and sex), institutional (Ph.D.-granting departments), and technological factors also play significant roles in structuring the pattern of specialization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages28
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 1988
Externally publishedYes


  • elementary linkage analysis
  • geography
  • information statistic
  • multidimensional scaling
  • sociology of knowledge
  • specialization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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