The Myth Of Continents: A Critique Of Metageography

The Myth Of Continents: A Critique Of Metageography

  • Publish Date: 1997-08-11
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Author: Martin W. Lewis Kren Wigen
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In this thoughtful and engaging critique, geographer Martin W. Lewis and historian Kren Wigen reexamine the basic geographical divisions we take for granted, and challenge the unconscious spatial frameworks that govern the way we perceive the world. Arguing that notions of East vs. West, First World vs. Third World, and even the sevenfold continental system are simplistic and misconceived, the authors trace the history of such misconceptions. Their up-to-the-minute study reflects both on the global scale and its relation to the specific continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa?actually part of one contiguous landmass.

The Myth of Continents sheds new light on how our metageographical assumptions grew out of cultural concepts: how the first continental divisions developed from classical times; how the Urals became the division between the so-called continents of Europe and Asia; how countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan recently shifted macroregions in the general consciousness.

This extremely readable and thought-provoking analysis also explores the ways that new economic regions, the end of the cold war, and the proliferation of communication technologies change our understanding of the world. It stimulates thinking about the role of large-scale spatial constructs as driving forces behind particular worldviews and encourages everyone to take a more thoughtful, geographically informed approach to the task of describing and interpreting the human diversity of the planet.
If you consider geography an objective science, think again. According to Martin W. Lewis and Karen E. Wigen, even the concept of continents is open to interpretation. Why, for example, do Europeans consider their little peninsula a whole continent while the vast territories of India and China are mere subcontinents? Contrast this worldview with that of the Indian mapmakers who depicted South Asia as the world's largest land mass and Europe as marginalized "hat-wearing islands." During the Cold War, the world was even further divided, this time into first, second, and third worlds. But how you classify the various regions of the world, Lewis and Wigen posit in The Myth of Continents, depends very much on where you happen to be standing at the time.

Having bravely exposed the ethnocentrism at the heart of geography, Lewis and Wigen then offer up their own division of the globe based on "world regions" rather than continents. Under such a scheme, Europe would become Western Eurasia, while the Western Hemisphere would become North America, Ibero-America, and African-America (divisions based on linguistic, cultural, and/or racial criteria). Whether or not you agree with the authors' division of the world, The Myth of Continents is a lively and thought-provoking exploration of a subject many of us take for granted. After reading this book, you'll never look at a map of the world in quite the same way.

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