The Project


The project has two overall aims:

  1. Focusing on the discipline of geography the project’s first aim is to put internal communication structures into the spotlight. Building on these results, the project will analyze the extent of interdisciplinary research practices within geography. It is the first time that the traditional self-concept of geography is confronted with such an empirical investigation.
  2. Based on bibliometric data research and network analysis the project’s second aim is to contribute to the wider philosophical debate on the unity of science. Due to its central position between the natural and social sciences, it is possible to conceive geography as a microcosm of the whole of science which can be addressed methodically in a practical framework. In doing so, our goal is to make these abstract discussions about unity more concrete and comprehensible. Based on the investigation into research practices within geography the project aims to clearly define and illustrate the abstract scientific theoretical discussions concerning the integration of scientific content.

The German speaking field of geography (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland) is taken as an exemplary model to address our research aims.

Key Questions

By taking the well-known saying “geography is what geographers do” (Parkins, 1935) seriously (rather than just using it in a ‘humorous’ way), our focus is redirected to the actual research practice in geography. In light of geography’s self-descriptions and its self-images being a bridging discipline we ask: “What do geographers actually do?” What does their practice look like? Do geographers actually connect natural sciences and social sciences within their research – and if so, how and to what extent?

The research project is concerned with the following questions:

Key question 1

To what extent does the research structure reflect the often proclaimed unity of geography?

  1. How do divides between the main geographical sub-disciplines (e.g. human geography and physical geography) form as a result of current geographical research practices?
  2. Are there any bridges to be found between human geography and physical geography? And if so, do these bridges indicate some kind of integrative idea within geography?

Key question 2

What are the positions and functions of particular researchers within the perceived research structure?

  1. Which researchers play important roles (i.e. their research/publications being important references within the field) in strengthening the “pillars of unity”?
  2. Which positions do these “bridging” researchers have in the overall picture? And are they also important within their sub-disciplines?

Key question 3

Which research fields can be identified as interfaces between human geography and physical geography?

Key question 4

Why and in which thematic contexts do these interfaces occur? Is it possible to differentiate between various patterns of “bridging behavior”?

Research Design

The project is a scientometric study which analyses the current research practice in geography using both quantitative and qualitative methods. It is based on the assumption that scientific research is necessarily embodied in publications and that the latter are therefore suitable indicators of research practice.

In order to accomplish the research aims an empirical design using mixed methods was developed consisting of bibliometrics, social network analysis (SNA), and content analysis. These three methodological components are combined in a stepwise manner.

Component I: Bibliometric network analysis

The first methodological component is based on an extensive bibliometric network analysis. It is the basis of the investigation and also the starting point for further analysis (see components II and III).

Specifically, the citation behavior in geography is examined. From the analysis of “who cites whom”, insights into contextual references between geographical sub-disciplines are gained. The purpose is to identify the gaps and bridges within the disciplinary structure on the one hand (-> key questions 1a and 1b), and to determine the “bridging actors” (-> key question 2a) and analyze their positions within the academic network on the other (-> key question 2b).

Relationships between researchers who mutually cite each other are examined within a group of geography lecturers (of whom all have either a full professorship or a German “junior professorship”) in approximately 70 institutes of geography (faculties) in German-speaking parts of Europe (Germany, Austria, and Switzerland). The data is taken from two of the most comprehensive bibliographic databases: Scopus and Web of Science. Additionally, German-speaking geography journals that are not included in those databases are analyzed; thereby nearly all journal publications of the “geographical professorate” are incorporated into the dataset.

Component II: Content analysis of “bridging texts”


Based on the results of the bibliometric network analysis, the next empirical step focuses on the content and thematic aspects of research practice. The aim is to find geographical research topics which are subject to an increasing number of cross-sub-disciplinary references (-> key question 3).

By means of a network analysis a number of texts are identified as “bridge articles” and flagged for investigation. We define “bridging articles” as journal articles in which citations in both the human geography and physical geography sub-disciplines are found. These are texts in which a representative of one sub-discipline cites a representative of the other. The bridge articles are then thematically categorized to find “interfaces/bridging themes”. The resulting ranking focuses on the research topics discussed in the articles. The content analysis can therefore be understood as an attempt to identify and classify those research topics in which interdisciplinary relationships – in the form of citations – are found.

Component III: “Bridging citations”

After the topical categorization of the bridging articles and the identification of bridging themes, the citations themselves are investigated. In this third step, a functional content-based categorization of the “bridging citations” is performed. The main goal is to answer the question of why and how the bridging actually happens. This step is mostly related to the textual function of the bridging citations (-> key question 4).

Both, the bridging citations within one discipline and the “interdisciplinary” bridging citations are examined. “Bridging citations” confined to one discipline mean the cited references between two authors from different geographical sub-disciplines (human geography or physical geography). By contrast, interdisciplinary bridging citations are citations from geographers which bridge the border between the natural sciences and the social sciences/humanities by citing an author outside of geography.

In following a “hands-on” or interactive heuristic approach, we assume that the bridging citations can be categorized into the following preliminary groups:

  1. Methodology: references to the presentation or discussion of the chosen method
  2. Theoretical perspectives: references to the presentation or discussion of the chosen theoretical perspective
  3. Subjective relationships: refers to articles in which the same or similar research subject is explored
  4. Regional relationships (research area): refers to articles that focus on the same research area or geographical area
  5. Disciplinary/scientific theories: refers to articles which contain disciplinary or scientific self-reflection

Textual references are sorted and catalogued via content analysis with respect to the citation categories in order to examine the function of bridge building. In a second step, the textual references are evaluated in terms of content and functional significance.

Further Goals

Along with the goals directly related to the project (see above), the project also attempts to establish a basis that allows for comparative studies in the future. Throughout the implementation of this project, extensive qualitative and quantitative data will be produced and assembled. As far as technically possible and ethically justifiable, the primary data collected will be made open to the public through this website. Therefore the data will be available for further international, interdisciplinary, or historically comparative research projects led by other scientists.