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social sciences

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The locational analysis of social networks has been another theme, though one largely worked on in lesbian communities. All have noted how tenuous and fluid these networks can be, especially given the ubiquity of the threat of male violence against women in general and lesbians in particular.

Geography's historical attachment to fieldwork and the field has also prompted extended considerations of the locations of researchers and students, including the classroom itself. Much of this research focuses on the ways in which heterosexism works through the spaces of classroom and field to discipline researchers' and students' behavior.

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There is also a small American literature on quantitative analyses of voting patterns in gay-rights referenda and elections, most of which argues that both the diffusion of political ideas related to "gay rights" and the so-called "culture wars" can better be understood by looking at voting patterns and their socio-demographic correlates.

Some of the most interesting debates within queer geography have focused on the ways in which different social locations, such as class and ethnic identities, affect and are affected by queer identity. Studies show how different locations exhibit particular relations between people's class, ethnic, gender, and ableist identities that may either challenge or perpetuate homophobia and heteronormativity.

One rather heated exchange was instigated by geographer Heidi Nast, who raised questions about "queer patriarchy" among class-privileged gay white men in a commentary published in Antipode, a self-styled "radical journal of geography." Her piece elicited strong responses from such queer male scholars as Glen Elder and Matthew Sothern.


Place refers to the unique and meaningful confluence of social relations in time and space. It is a term typically used to capture the cultural dimensions of location.

Here, three themes emerge. First are attempts to understand the closet as material space rather than just a linguistic metaphor. Some of the earliest works in the discipline were given to arguments insisting on the need to explore these hidden, concealed, and erased spaces that were often right under geographers' noses. Gay bars are the most obvious example.

It is fair to say, however, that most work has focused on a second theme, which is the investigation of gay or lesbian neighborhoods and/or the navigation of queer folks through urban space. This scholarship has investigated a wide array of areas in cities and other places around the world, for example: Adelaide, Auckland, Belfast, Cape Town, Christchurch, Delhi, Duluth, New York City, Washington, D. C., Los Angeles, Montreal, New Orleans, rural North Dakota, Toronto, Vancouver.

A third but growing theme, as indicated above, pursues the rural placement of queer life. The collection by Phillips and others, De-Centering Sexualities: Politics and Representations Beyond the Metropolis (2000), pushes against the urban-metropolitan bias in queer geography, demanding that rural spaces also be explored, and showing that these are numerous, complex, and often very influential. His challenge has produced some interesting extensions confirming this basic insight.


A so-called "nature-society" theme (the study of the reciprocal relationship between human beings and their natural or biological environments) is a mainstay of geography, but has affected queer geography only minimally. The theme has been most significant in the geography of AIDS and HIV.

Medical geographers, epidemiologists, and others have mapped and modeled the spread of AIDS and HIV globally and nationally, with little concern for the social and cultural dimensions of the virus or its pandemic. Most ignorantly, they refused to consider the ways gay men, lesbians, and others fought to block the diffusion of the virus, as well as the cultural dimensions of sexuality that affect prevention and infection.

But other geographers have since tried to address these omissions. A "critical health geography" has emerged around this nature-society topic that today is vibrant and growing. It shows, among other things, how important to making sense of HIV/AIDS the spaces of the disease and its treatment, as well as of related subcultures, institutions, and political activism, can be.


The study of physical movement, including migration, commuting, and daily lifepaths, takes multiple forms in queer geography. Migration of glbtq people from rural areas, suburbs, and conservative parts of cities to other neighborhoods, for example, has been shown to be important in the gentrification process, as well as in the diffusion of queer political strategies and social values. Coming out of the closet, geographers argue, often is spatialized in the form of a migration from one place to another. HIV-positive gay men, for example, link their migration to issues of health-care accessibility, as well as homophobia and AIDS-panic.

Other forms of movement, such as daily commuting and leisure travel, have also been explored. The former has focused particularly on the constraints confronting lesbians in constructing safe daily lifepaths, while analysis of queer tourism (including so-called "sex tourism") and travel is a particularly burgeoning topic.

Given the discipline's historical links with imperialism and colonialism, it is not surprising that these historical linkages are also being explored. Most recently, there has been a growing interest in the relations between globalization, diaspora, and glbtq identities, much of which has argued that "Western" notions of "gay" and "queer" are themselves potentially "neocolonial" and "neoimperialist."

Such work tends to argue for culturally sensitive and indigenously-derived notions of sexual minority status, as well as for an awareness of how non-Western cultural experiences with sexuality have shaped Western imaginations on the subject


Geographers have long been interested in defining the regional structure of the globe. That is, they seek to make sense of the world by understanding its component parts geographically. From the standpoint of glbtq people and issues, this has tended to mean looking at how different sexualities are constructed and understood in different parts of the world, as well as the role that these constructions play in defining different regions.

Ironically, queer geography, including that about the so-called "non-Western world," remains primarily concentrated in English-speaking and "Western" countries. Nevertheless there has been queer research done by scholars elsewhere. This include scholars in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, the Caribbean, and South Asia.

Most recently, this work has turned its attention away from trying to describe and understand regions per se, and towards understanding "transnationalism," "hybridity," and "multiculturalism" in a globalizing culture and economy. As with much of the new work done under the rubric of movement, much of this scholarship stresses two-way relationships between the "West" and non-"Western" places, as well as new "spatial forms" such as transnational queer identities, political movements, and authority structures.


In sum, geography is a marginalized, misunderstood, and often ignored approach to glbtq topics, yet it has much to offer because it approaches the topic from a spatial perspective rather than an abstract or exclusively historical one.

The homophobia within the discipline is being challenged by an expanding international group of glbtq scholars whose work exemplifies the geographic imagination across the themes of location, place, movement, nature-society, and region. Future work certainly will continue on these lines, especially with respect to globalization. What is less predictable is whether the rest of the social sciences and humanities will appreciate this geographical imagination.

Michael Brown

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social sciences >> Overview:  Anthropology

Anthropology, the first of the social science disciplines to take sexuality--and particularly homosexuality--seriously as a field of intellectual inquiry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, has achieved a new impetus in the post-Stonewall era.

arts >> Overview:  Architecture

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual people have contributed significantly to the field of architecture and to the creation of queer space.

social sciences >> Overview:  Census 2000

Census 2000 revealed that there were 594,391 gay male and lesbian couples in the United States, living in 99.3 percent of all U.S. counties; nearly a quarter of these couples are raising children, and these families live in 96 percent of U.S. counties.

social sciences >> Overview:  The Closet

If the closet has served to institutionalize homosexuality as shameful and inferior vis-à-vis the legitimate heterosexual culture, it has also provided a space of possibility for subversive sexual and political acts.

social sciences >> Overview:  Cultural Studies

The field of cultural studies has significance for glbtq people because of its concern with social and sexual politics, its focus on subcultural production and consumption, and its commitment to progressive social change.

social sciences >> Overview:  Demographics

Recent surveys and data collection efforts hold the promise of providing a more accurate demographic picture of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Studies

Gay, lesbian, and queer studies are separate but related fields of cultural inquiry that attempt to establish the centrality of gender and sexuality within a particular area of investigation.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gentrification

Glbtq people have been in the vanguard of gentrification, a process of renewing neighborhoods that has both positive and negative effects.

social sciences >> Overview:  Identity Politics

Not limited to activity in the traditionally conceived political sphere, identity politics refers to activism, politics, theorizing, and other similar activities based on the shared experiences of members of a specific social group, often relying on shared experiences of oppression.

social sciences >> Overview:  Political Science

Political scientists have generated insights important to the study of sexuality through research into glbtq participation in formal politics, studies of sexuality as a category of power, and reconceptualizations of the relationship between sexuality and politics.

literature >> Overview:  Post-modernism

Post-modern theory has led to the problematizing of marginalized and "other" peoples and cultures and to viewing homosexuality as a social construction.

social sciences >> Overview:  Rural Life

Rural life offers both challenges and satisfactions for glbtq people.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sociology

As an academic field, sociology has only recently begun to examine sexuality, and members of the profession are divided over glbtq concerns.


Bell, David, and Gill Valentine, eds. Mapping Desire: Geographies of Sexualities. London: Routledge, 1995.

Brown, Michael. Closet Space: Geographies of Metaphor from the Body to the Globe. London: Routledge, 2000.

_____. RePlacing Citizenship: AIDS Activism and Radical Democracy. New York: Guilford Press, 1997.

Elder, Glen. Hostels, Sexuality and the Apartheid Legacy: Malevolent Geographies. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2004.

Gates, Gary, and Jason Ost. The Gay and Lesbian Atlas. Washington, D. C.: The Urban Institute, 2004.

Knopp, Lawrence. "Ontologies of Place, Placelessness, and Movement: Queer Quests for Identity and Their Impacts on Contemporary Geographic Thought." Gender, Place, and Culture 11 (2004): 121-34.

_____. "Sexuality and the Spatial Dynamics of Capitalism." Society and Space 10 (1992): 651-69.

Nast, Heidi. "Queer Patriarchies, Queer Racisms International." Antipode 34 (2002): 874-909.

Phillips, Richard, Dianne West, and David Shuttleton, eds. De-Centering Sexualities: Politics and Representations Beyond the Metropolis. London: Routledge, 2000.

Valentine, Gill, ed. From Nowhere to Everywhere: Lesbian Geographies. Binghamton, N. Y.: Haworth Press, 2003.

_____. "(Hetero)sexing Space: Lesbian Perceptions and Experiences of Everyday Spaces." Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 11 (1999): 395-413.


    Citation Information
    Author: Brown, Michael  
    Entry Title: Geography  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated December 29, 2004  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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