Torsten Hägerstrand

Torsten Hägerstrand bigraphy, stories - Swedish geographer, inventor of time geography

Torsten Hägerstrand : biography

October 11, 1916 – May 4, 2004

Torsten Hägerstrand (October 11, 1916, Moheda – May 3, 2004, Lund) was a Swedish geographer. He is known for his work on migration, cultural diffusion and time geography.

A native and resident of Sweden, Hägerstrand was a professor (later professor emeritus) of geography at Lund University, where he received his doctorate in 1953. His doctoral research was on cultural diffusion. His research has helped to make Sweden, and particularly Lund, a major center of innovative work in cultural geography. He also influenced the practice of spatial planning in Sweden through his students.

Key publications


Academic career

Hägerstrand entered Lund University in 1937. His 1953 doctoral thesis Innovation Diffusion as a Spatial Process gained fame for its innovative use of Monte Carlo simulation of demographic development.; ; It showed how dynamic, incremental simulation of spatial processes could be used at the spatial scale of the individual as well as large spatial aggregates. Forty years later, geographer Andrew Cliff remarked on the foresight of Hägerstrand’s methodology: "Bearing in mind that much of the research upon which the book is based dates from a time when computers were almost nonexistent, let alone used by geographers, it is remarkable that the simulation methodology which is so critically dependent upon computing power should have been contemplated."

In 1969, he presented a paper entitled What about People in Regional Science? to the European Congress of the Regional Science Association in Copenhagen, Denmark. This paper, published in 1970, developed two concepts:

  • The need to study the individual in order to understand social and group practices. Modern cultural geographers commonly now study everyday practices on an individualistic basis, in order to understand larger scale patterns. The study of just groups creates a homogenization of reality and hides the truth.
  • A link between space and time that had previously been poorly developed. Historically, social scientists had treated time as a relevant but external factor to spatial features. Hägerstrand’s early work on innovation diffusion (studying the geographical spread of new technologies) made him realise that the two, though separate, were not independent of each other; they have what Lefebvre would call a dialectical relationship.


In 1992 Torsten Hägerstrand was awarded Lauréat Prix International de Géographie Vautrin Lud, the highest award in the geography research field.

He received honorary doctorates from University of Bergen, Norwegian school of economics and business administration, University of Trondheim, University of Bristol, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow and Ohio State University. The commendation accompanying the honorary degree at Ohio State University noted that "his work on innovation diffusion, carried out in the 1950s and 1960s, continues to be cited as a standard against which current research is measured" and that "this distinguished individual…inspired a generation of scholars around the world."

He was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, the Finnish Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy, and a member of Société de Géographie in France. He was also one of the founding members of Academia Europaea.

In 1968 Professor Hägerstrand received an Outstanding Achievement Award from the Association of American Geographers. In 1979 he received the Victoria Medal from the Royal Geographical Society.

Early life

Hägerstrand’s father was a teacher at a remote elementary school and the family lived at the school. Hägerstrand recalled that his early education was based on the pedagogical ideas of Swiss educator Johann Pestalozzi. Several of Hägerstrand’s students speculated that his holistic and visionary thinking was rooted in his early education:; He was taught local geography, history and folklore at home in the Pestalozzi tradition which was being introduced at that time. Cartography, geology, botany and agronomy were all interrelated parts of a more holistic understanding of processes within a spatial area. To start with, children learned about their immediate environment (e.g., the school room and the farm), then about the village, and gradually the whole district. As a pupil of Hägerstrand, it is easy for me to recognize parts of this tradition which later became what we today would refer to as an ‘integrative perspective’.