David Harvey's writing encapsulates the inspiration and vision of the People's Geography Project. The following are excerpts from his article, "On the History and Present Condition of Geography: An Historical Materialist Manifesto in The Professional Geographer, Volume 36, Number 1, February 1984.
Geography is too important to be left to geographers. But it is far too important to be left to generals, politicians, and corporate chiefs. Notions of "applied" and "relevant" geography pose questions of objectives and interests served. The selling of ourselves and the geography we make to the corporation is to participate directly in making their kind of geography, a human landscape riven with social inequality and seething geopolitical tensions. The selling of ourselves to government is a more ambiguous enterprise, lost in the swamp of some mythic "public interest" in a world of chronic power imbalances and competing claims. The disenfranchised (and that includes most of us when it comes to interest rates, nuclear strategy, covert operations, and geopolitical strategizing) must be heard through the kind of geography we make, no matter how unpopular that voice within the corridors of power or with those who control our purse strings. There is more to geography than the production of knowledge and personnel to be sold as commodities to the highest bidder. The geography we make must be a peoples' geography, not based on pious universalisms, ideals, and good intents, but a more mundane enterprise that reflects earthly interests, and claims, that confronts ideologies and prejudice as they really are, that faithfully mirrors the complex weave of competition, struggle, and cooperation within the shifting social and physical landscapes of the twentieth century. The world must be depicted, analyzed, and understood not as we would like it to be but as it really is, the material manifestation of human hopes and fears mediated by powerful and conflicting processes of social reproduction. Such a peoples' geography must have a popular base, be threaded into the fabric of daily life with deep taproots into the well-springs of popular consciousness. But it must also open channels of communication, undermine parochialist world views, and confront or subvert the power of dominant classes or the state. It must penetrate the barriers to common understandings by identifying the material base to common interests. Where such a material base does not exist, it must frankly recognize and articulate conflict of equal and competing rights that flows therefrom. To the degree that conflicting rights are resolved through tests of strength between contending parties, so the intellectual force within our discipline is a powerful weapon and must be consciously deployed as such, even at the expense of internalizing conflicting notions of right within the discipline itself. The geographical studies we make are necessarily a part of that complex of conflictual social processes which give birth to new geographical landscapes. Geographers cannot remain neutral. But they can strive towards scientific rigor, integrity and honesty. The difference between the two commitments must be understood. There are many windows from which to view the same world, but scientific integrity demands that we faithfully record and analyze what we see from any one of them. The view from China looking outwards or from the lower classes looking up is very different from that from the Pentagon or Wall Street. But each view can be represented in a common frame of discourse, subject to evaluation as to internal integrity and credibility. Only in this way the myriad masks of false conflict be stripped away and the real structure of competing rights and claims be exposed. Only in this way too, can we insure that the geography we make is used and not abused in the struggles of our time.
An Historical Materialist Manfesto
The tasks before us can now be more clearly defined. We must:
We have the power through our collective efforts as geographers to help make our own history and geography. That we cannot do so under historical and geographical circumstances of our own choosing is self-evident. In part our role is to explore the limits imposed by the deadweight of an actually-existing geography and that explores the realms of freedom beyond material necessity, that opens the way to the creation of new forms of society in which common people have the power to create their own geography and history in the image of liberty and mutual respect of opposed interests. The only other course, if my analysis of the trajectory of contemporary capitalism is correct, is to sustain a present geography founded on class oppression, state domination, unnecessary material deprivation, war, and human denial.