The Myth of Continents Book Review

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GMitchell Phillips
Growth of Geographic Thought
Book Review – The Myth of Continents
In recent history, geographers have become concerned with matters of language, and the way in which they communicate and speak about the world. One of the most basic geographical building blocks that one learns is the concept of continents. Everyone learns that there are seven continents, which are simply large landmasses which are ‘separated’ from one another, ideally by oceans. Although this is what how continents are defined, we know this is not always true. An obvious example would be the extremely arbitrary separation of the European and Asian continents. In the northern portion, they are separated by low, easily crossed mountains, and in the south the separation is the narrow Bosporus Strait, where the city of Istanbul is between the two continents. The Myth of Continents, by Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen, goes into great depth on usages of such terms as continents, first-third world, and global north-south or west-east. The majority of the book is devoted to criticizing the way in which we use these terms to partition up our world. While these terms are necessary if one is to teach about the world, they are also very subjective, and arbitrary. When speaking of the terms first-world, second-world, and third-world countries, we again see a very arbitrary division. All of Europe is usually grouped into the first world, while all of Asia is usually grouped in the third world. While this is generally accurate in terms of average incomes of these regions, there are also portions of Europe, such as Ireland or Portugal that could easily be put into the second or third-world category, because their incomes and living conditions tend to be much below the majority of Europe. Grouping all of Asia into the third-world is also problematic, due to the extreme ranges of incomes and living conditions present within just one country, such as China, or the generally high economic output...
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