REGIONS, SEMPLE, AND STRUCTURATION
KATHLEEN E. BRADEN
(DR. BRADEN is an associate professor of geography at Seattle Pacific University, Seattle,
Ellen Churchill Semple's regional studies of eastern Kentucky and the Mediterranean are examined in light of present-day structuration theory. Important elements of this theory are well displayed in Semple's work: place as process, emphasis on physical environment and human institutions, and humans treated as agents of change and victims of place constraints.
FOR many years I have been listing myself as a Soviet regional specialist. Recent events have not been easy on me, and with the breakup of the Soviet Union, I have found myself experiencing an identity crisis and even a sense of loss. It was such a neat region: easy to define in its established political boundaries, distinct in people's imaginations, and unified by a language, knowledge of which was a secret initiation key to rigorous research based on primary sources. Now I am a specialist without the object of specialization. The place that was the Soviet Union still exists but is transformed. Additionally, the structural aspect of the specialization has been lost. Communism was a tidy, failing enterprise to criticize, and now a new reality comes crashing in to muddy the analysis. What is a regional geographer to do? Must a person cease to be a regional geographer when there is no region? These questions are part of the burden that regional geography has long borne. In this article I focus on Ellen Churchill Semple as a regional geographer by examining her work on the Mediterranean and eastern Kentucky. The links between my opening remarks and Semple's work lie in the role of time and dynamism in regional geography. I assert that Semple did account for these process items, which have been defined in recent explorations of structuration theory (Giddens 1976, 1979; Pred 1984). It is disregard for this concept of place as process that intellectually limits the traditional Soviet specialist and that must ultimately inform any new regional approach we create in geography. I apply the elements of structuration theory to Semple's work on the Mediterranean, with some attention to her early article on the Appalachian area of Kentucky. The elements I discuss are dynamism of region, or place as process; the role of institutions, the role of nature; and the individual as agent and victim.
Almost thirty years ago, John K. Wright published a gentle critique of Semple's work, in which he called attention to her use of language. In a way, she did an injustice to her work through her lack of guile and obfuscation. Semple wrote what she meant. Wright (1966, 159) calls such sweeping generalizations categorillas and notes that they abound in Semple's writing. Although Wright discusses her use of adverbs and words like "wherever," I am interested in her subject-verb combinations. What actions does she describe occurring in a region-that is, what is the role of process? Who is the agent of an action, and who is its victim or receiver? Critics of her work have traditionally asserted that nature was always the agent, humankind the victim. I can make no new revelation about her regional works to refute that contention, but I do think that she gives more notice than she has been credited for to the elements of structuration theory and the changing agent victim relationships of humans and nature. Here are passages from two seminal works; notice the key subject-actionobject formation in each.
The morals of the mountain people lend strong evidence for the development theory of ethics. Their moral principles are a direct product of their environment, and are quite divorced from their religion, which is an imported product. The same conditions that have kept the ethnic type pure have kept the social phenomena primitive ... (1910, 586)
When the Lydian army under Croesus invaded the Persian territory of Asia Minor in 546 B.C., they found the Halys River impassable; under the direction of Thales of Miletos, who had spent some time in Egypt, they diverted part of the river and made the channels fordable. (1931, 115)
In the first quotation, nature is the agent, humans are the victims: conditions affect ethnic types, and environment creates morality. In the second quotation, humans are the agents, and nature the transformed victim: rivers are diverted and rivers are utilized. In the latter case, humans make choices to modify or at least to overcome the environment for their own purpose.
STRUCTURATION THEORY AND REGIONAL GEOGRAPHY
To appreciate my contention that Semple offers at least a rudimentary structuration theory, we must first briefly examine the theory. Geographers have long been familiar with the dichotomy between regional geography and topical or systematic geography, between opinions of geography as art or as science. Much of the discourse has been riddled with value judgments and prejudices about either the rigor or authenticity of one subfield versus another, which has merely reinforced the original dichotomy. Other voices assert that the dichotomy is illusory, because all geographical inquiry occurs in the regional context.
Beginning in the 1980s, the term "new" regional geography began to appear and launched the discipline on the quest for another Grail; perhaps geographers were tired of being defensive about the old version but were not certain what the new one should be (Pudup 1988). Several integratingsocial theories have emerged to inform the search for the new regional geography. The one I examine here is structuration as propounded by the sociologist Anthony Giddens and elaborated by geographer Allan Pred. Giddens (1976, 1979) sought to eliminate the dichotomy between the structure of society and the behavior of individual agents by demonstrating that neither is independent of the other. Humans both create and in turn are socialized by societal structures, a system of rules and events in a given time and space. The system has this temporal and spatial dimension; the structure does not. Giddens refers to locales as the use of space to provide settings for interaction.
Pred (1984) applied structuration theory to the idea of place. He included these ingredients: time-space, biographies of individuals, power relationships between individuals and institutions, and the natural world or physical setting. He argues that place is a process, not a thing, and that both nature and society are simultaneously transformed. By extension of his thesis, regional geographers may be liberated, almost like Kurt Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, to become unstuck in time and space.
Spatially, this means that regions need not be defined as contiguous in physical setting. Temporally, it means that regional geographers need not be disenfranchised with the apparent demise of their region, for example, the Soviet Union. Soviet geographers themselves perhaps have long understood this notion of historic context much more than Western geographers: few Soviet regional studies take a purely contemporary viewpoint. If the region called the Soviet Union is a process, not a thing, then my analysis need not end with an institutional shift or a redefinition of borders. Pred's structuration approach of place "becoming" also suggests new techniques to conduct study that include the time dimension.
An intriguing by-product of this approach is how to label this multidimensional, time-wafer stack of a region. Names become an important element of discourse and regional identity, and as a region is a human construct, its identification in a specific slice of time-wafer also informs its character. Semple used subtitles to set her regions in the historic context-The Geography of the Mediterranean: Its Relation to Ancient History. We know by glancing at the title that her Mediterranean is not the same on a map as is the Mediterranean of the European Community. But we also believe that the region-process called Mediterranean exists, transcending time. How do we find a similar time-transcendent region called the Soviet Union? Regional names matter.
STRUCTURATION THEORY APPLIED TO SEMPLE'S WORK
Does reexamination of Semple's regional geographies provide some guideposts for the new regional geography? The elements of dynamism of region, or place as process, the interplay of institutions, individuals, and physical settings, and the dual role of humans as agents of change and victims of actions are all present in Semple's works. Pred (1984, 279) argues that places and regions have been portrayed as little more than frozen scenes for human activity, but there is much in Semple's regional geographies to suggest an incipient framework of structuration.
Semple was interested not only in how the environment influenced human behavior but also in how geography influenced human history. Her regional geographies were inherently set in historical context, or at least drew heavily on history, as in the Appalachia study, if she discussed contemporary issues. The two works considered here are her massive study of the Mediterranean in ancient times (1931) and her short treatise on the Anglo- Saxons of eastern Kentucky (1910). Semple's viewpoint that the natural environment influenced or even determined human societal responses is clearly stated in the two works, but acknowledging her categorillas on this account does not negate the fact that the elements of structuration theory do emerge when one examines these writings. Semple drew on a definite time context for her exploration of region; she wrote about human beings both as agents and as victims, although her discussion of the latter draws the most attention. She incorporates environment and human institutions in the context of events and space.
The very plan of her Mediterranean book gives a clue as to the emphasis she placed on various elements in a region. Part I, on the natural environment, receives 137 pages; Part II, on barriers and breaches, is allotted 122 pages; Part IV, on human maritime activities, gets 129 pages. The remainder, 315 pages, not including bibliography and index, is devoted to vegetation and agriculture, which is mainly a narrative of case study after case study of human modification of the Mediterranean environment. For each demonstration of a natural constraint on human affairs, she offers an example of how humans overcame it. For every barrier, humans found a breach.
ROLE OF NATURE
The physical environment appears to hold center stage in Semple's work, until one recalls that it is only valid in the context of human reaction to nature. But the physical world of the Mediterranean, for example, does determine much of the ancient history related by Semple in the book. The Mediterranean "creates common history," and it provides a melting-pot setting for the regions as well as a crossroads. It creates paths to stimulate commerce and allow invasion. It drives colonization outward from the region's heartland, and it contributes characters of mythology. It even stimulates, and therefore creates, civilization itself. Likewise, Semple attributes the backward society of the Appalachian Anglo-Saxons to their isolation. "Man has done so little to render this district accessible because nature has done so little" (Semple 1910, 564). She argues that the mountains acted as a barrier to communication, which inhibited commerce, which in turn impoverished people, which then prohibited highway construction: a vicious circle of backwardness set off by the mountains.
Semple writes respectfully about nature, and her critics have contended that she gives it too much credence in determining human affairs. Yet she also writes about it with reverence and sometimes even poetically. In her work on North America, Semple (1903, 70) describes the movement over the same Appalachian barrier that was the culprit in the 1910 article.
But in spite of dangers and hardships, the trail through the wilderness had its joys-the charm of the wondrous Appalachian forests, the flicker of sunlight through the high-reaching trees, the plunge into a tunnel of green through the tender spring underbrush, the sense of strong, pulsating life with the upward climb, finally the deepdrawn breath on the summit before the outstretched billows of land, and the hope of opportunity beyond.
Of course, in this passage she describes the feelings of the people who moved through the mountain barrier. In the discourse on the hill people of Kentucky, she implies that their ancestors were the odd offshoot who decided to stay.
Semple does not ignore the importance of institutions governing human affairs. She offers quite a few categorillas about government, law, civilization, and primitive behavior. She is as judgmental about disobeying proper institutions as she is grandiose about environmental determinism. A good example of her emphasis on institutions is her description of irrigation projects in the ancient Mediterranean. Throughout the chapter on irrigation (Semple 1931, 433-473), she describes the social context that allows different irrigation and land-reclamation responses to environmental constraints. But she also stresses that irrigation requires concerted, cooperative, collective effort; it is not the product of the isolated farmstead. "All citizens, by labor or taxes, contributed to the construction and maintenance of the irrigation works, all were entitled to share the benefit, and all learned a lesson in the sovereignty of law" (Semple 1931, 469).
In her view, the natural environment does much to influence what type of institutions arise in a region, but those institutions in turn build canals, modify river channels, overcome mountain barriers, grow food in unfriendly climates, and even change the environment forever, as with deforestation. Nowhere does she make the argument for institutional importance more strongly than in the chapter on irrigation. She notes that humans moved southward into arid zones, an action accomplished over time and space by individuals working in structures created by themselves and their institutions amid interaction with nature. Her regional geography of Mediterranean irrigated lands in ancient times is structuration theory in practice.
HUMANS AS AGENTS
One can easily find a multitude of examples in Semple's works demonstrating humans as victims of the environment, at least in the sense of the environment propelling a human reaction, both positive and negative. Semple already is well known for her description of humans as the object of the transitive verb, not the subject. But there are also numerous cases of humans as agents of change or modification of a regional environment, especially in the Mediterranean. In addition to the irrigation cited above, four other examples are noteworthy: river diversion, selective animal breeding, construction techniques, and destructiveness of human actions. People in Appalachia might also be limited by environmental constraints, but Semple describes adaptation to these limitations. People muddle through with agriculture and forestry; they keep bees to provide honey because sugar is not supplied through commerce (Semple 1910, 572).
PLACE AS PROCESS
Space and time cannot be separated in Semple's regional geography because they are so firmly acting in history. An example of this treatment is her characterization of the spatial notion of frontier not as a line but as a shifting zone of assimilation. Her Mediterranean landscape is one of constant change; individuals and societies come and go, assimilate and separate, branch out and populate space, shrink and decay. Likewise, Appalachia existed as Semple found it in 1910 because it had been frozen into an eighteenthcentury type of existence by environmental forces. "It is the great upheaved mass of the Southern Appalachians which, with the conserving power of the mountains, has caused these conditions to survive, carrying a bit of the eighteenth century intact over into this strongly contrasted twentieth century" (Semple 1910, 561).
There is a sense of dynamism to Semple's regional geography. To capture the essence of region, she may turn her focus more to the role of nature than do present-day scholars, but she is still sweeping several layers of time with her discussions. Semple's regions are animated: they are becoming places, not merely still photographs.
BARRIERS AND BREACHES
Two elements of landscape to which Semple devotes an entire section of the Mediterranean book are the isolating impediments of mountain barriers and the breakthrough cracks of breaches, or passes. She describes the barriers found to all four directions from the Mediterranean, but she illustrates in each case the human ability to find the breach and to use it advantageously. In these barriers and breaches is a summarizing clue to understanding her regional geography as evidence of early structuration theory. Spatially, the barriers enclose regions, but the boundaries are constantly in flux as breaks are located. Temporally, the barriers only isolate the regions as long as technology, human institutions, and even key individuals do not take advantage of the breaches. Nature and human society interact. Structures are created and changed, as in Giddens's definition, a system of rules that binds people together, both enabling and constraining them. Irrigation exists as an element of societal structure in ancient Greece, created by individuals given the natural environment, technology of the time, and locale. This element allows certain human actions to occur, even overcoming the constraint of environment, but further social institutions are required to maintain the element. Eventually, the system of irrigation becomes a restraining force on individuals who must participate in the system and who become locked into its organization.
Are the humans in Semple's geographies victims of the barriers or users of the breaches? The answer is both: they contribute to the total assemblage of items in structuration theory that define a region as a process. Semple offers several slices of time-wafer, with its attending environmental, individual, and institutional interactions, to describe a region. Unfortunately, she is constrained spatially and temporally. The context that propelled certain human responses for the "Rhode Island spinners" of her North America shifted, and the decline in fortune may be less attributable to environmentally determined causes than to changes in human institutions. Even in the timewafers she describes, there were certainly different responses to environment occurring in separate places on the globe. The unlimited space that in her opinion created American democracy did not determine that tradition simultaneously on the Russian steppe.
If there is to be a new regional geography and if structuration theory plays a role in finding new ways of knowing the concept of region, it is worth reassessing regional geographers such as Semple. The old informs the new, and perhaps the regional specialist will find that only strobe lights can truly illuminate a region.
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