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Scientific positioning

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The Unit’s project is rooted in the field of Spatial Analysis. Indeed, ESPACE, together with other French and foreign laboratories, belongs to the current of Theoretical and Quantitative Geography, whose primary objective is to understand complex systems by means of a set of methods including Spatial Analysis. But what does that expression mean for ESPACE and what is specific to the research conducted by the Unit in that field?

Spatial Analysis is often seen only as a set of methods and tools used for measuring how phenomena (such as spatial self-correlation, interpolation, concentration or dispersion indices for example) are spread in space. Integrating these techniques into SIG-type software has made their use commonplace, but it has also contributed to confusing Spatial Analysis and geomatics. This simplistic view tends to be prevalent but is not ESPACE’s view. For the latter, Spatial Analysis is first and foremost a philosophy, a way of viewing geography from a spatial standpoint. This position consists in taking explicitly into account the characteristics of the space in order to determine in what way they participate in the organisation of space. Indeed, space is seen as a fully-fledged player, yet devoid of finality, both organised and organising. Territorial systems have a spatial organisation which exercises constraints on a society’s projects, decisions and behaviours but which is also a potential that stakeholders re-examine and reassess constantly depending on their needs and aspirations and in comparison with other territories’ dynamics and potential. The primary objective of Spatial Analysis is to underline the spatial component in spatial and social interactions.
When it began, in the United States in the years 1960, Spatial Analysis had a theoretical part to it; then in the eighties, under North-European influence, research became more pragmatic and put the emphasis on designing tools enabling one to solve concrete problems regarding spatial organisation. Nowadays, whereas both aspects of Spatial Analysis coexist, research concerning the latter is predominant.

Research work carried out by ESPACE geographers concerns both, but ESPACE’s specificity lies in the constant attention given to theoretical and methodological issues, and in the wide diversity of methodologies that are being developed. Self-assessment has highlighted the number of ground-breaking and innovative works carried out in Spatial Analysis by the unit in the last 30 years, the introduction of methodologies derived from other sciences and their adaptation to geographic issues, also conceptual creativeness and the theoretical positions which emerged recently.

Without neglecting the operational chapter of Spatial Analysis research, and while maintaining the diversity of its themes and problems, ESPACE wishes to pay more attention to theorising, conceptualising and formalising Spatial Analysis in its future research work. This is a long-term undertaking.
Researchers are convinced that spatiality helps to understand nature/society interactions and that a spatial approach to problems facilitates looking for inter-relations between the “physical” and the “human”, the “natural” and the “social”, these being fundamental interactions for understanding territorial and environmental systems. But space/nature/society interactions are still little known, therefore the project’s other major objective is to get to know these interactions better. This objective is not new, it was already included in the previous project. Sociologists and geographers will continue to combine expertise in order to deepen fundamental knowledge of nature/society interactions, which is indispensable for modelling complex systems and also for better understanding the role of space in the functioning of anthropised natural systems. The resulting new knowledge will be useful for establishing new nature/society relations.

ESPACE intends to continue demonstrating the social usefulness of Spatial Analysis via its programme of research which includes a part of action-research. As previously, the unit wishes to conduct innovative fundamental research leading to operationality and carried out in interaction with the civil society.