Harvey advocates “a peoples’ geography” in contrast to his understanding of an existing geography that been “…presented in such a way as to prey upon fears and feed hostility.” He asserts that all production of geographic knowledge, including his own, is contextual, and after a brief survey of the development of the geography discipline, makes a case for his approach as the best way to serve current social needs.
Harvey traces geographic knowledge types chronologically and gives a reason for each phase of development: cartographic mapping to serve imperialism; bio-resource mapping to serve the world market; human resource mapping to serve wage-labor capitalism. He continues with more recent developments of geopolitical and land-use surveys, as well as focused academic studies which present a particular political nuance (such as race or feminist studies). All of these, he suggests, are undertaken in a capitalist context.
This history results, Harvey says, in an academic discipline struggling between too-broad meta-narratives, plagued by a dualist structure (human/physical geography, quantitative/qualitative methodology); and too-focused studies, easily absorbed outside the discipline (into economics, geology, psychology). Harvey argues that in order to be cohesive, geography needs to reveal both global social transformation and unique events using “a common language to voice common concern.” The cohesive element of geography must be its effort to constantly address all aspects of social justice.
Harvey’s manifesto declares a-political geography pointless; geography must be “…an intellectual discipline that can play a vital, creative, and progressive role in shaping the social transformations that beset us.