Torsten Hägerstrand


Torsten Hägerstrand : biography

October 11, 1916 – May 4, 2004


Hägerstrand’s initial work was primarily quantitative, which is important as the discipline of geography was, when he published his first paper in 1942, a highly descriptive subject. In the 1950s he was a pioneer of geocoding statistical primary data. He developed models and statistical techniques, such as the time–space cube and time–space prism, which later became important in the development of geographic information systems that process and visualize movement data.For example: ; ; ; ; ; ; His work informed the likes of Allan Pred and Nigel Thrift, who helped take it to the English speaking world.; ;

Hägerstrand’s work contributed to the introduction of humanistic thought into geography, which led to the development of critical geography.Christiaan van Paassen, The philosophy of geography: from Vidal to Hägerstrand, in While his early work was largely quantitative, Hägerstrand’s later work paid closer attention to notions of embodiment and emotion.; Still, his methods were critiqued by feminist geographer Gillian Rose, who claimed that his models showed a masculine and falsely-ordered view of the world. More recent geographers have tried to combine time geography with the qualitative research and affective phenomenology of feminist geography.For example: ; ; ; ;

Development of Hägerstrand’s work has continued to form part of the basis for non-representational theory, and a reappraisal of his work by new generations of social scientistsFor example: ; ; ; ; ; and biologistsFor example: ; ; means that he remains an influential thinker today. In 2005, Nigel Thrift summarized five benefits of Hägerstrand’s time geography for contemporary social science: First, it provides a sense of concreteness, of the power of ‘thereness’, and it does so in a way—visually—that is still the preserve of too few social theorists. All those intricate diagrams were, in part, an attempt to describe the pragmatics of events, a theme which has now, in the work of writers like Deleuze, become fashionable in the social sciences and humanities but, at the time at which Hägerstrand was working, tended to be restricted to the field of philosophy, except for the work of social interactionists and ethnomethodologists which was often very imperfectly understood by other than a relatively small coterie of enthusiasts. Secondly, Hägerstrand’s work was an attack on the Durkheimian idea that space and time were social categories, collective representations which both derived from society and also dictated to society. […] Time-geography makes it possible to go beyond social constructionism by emphasizing the physical constraints on human action and the wider networks of competing opportunities that they set up which act to steer situations. […] Thirdly, and as a directly related point, those time-geographic diagrams did something else too. They radically lessened the distinction between humans and other objects. They provided a kind of neutrality of representation, even a democracy of description, of the world. […] Fourthly, Hägerstrand’s work espoused a geographical ethics, centred on the wise use of space and time. Although Hägerstrand would often use economic metaphors to describe that wisdom in the use of space and time, I am sure that he meant something broader and more encompassing which it seems to me to be well worth keeping hold of, a kind of democratic ethos of the cardinal dimensions, a conviviality in the use of space and time. Fifthly, Hägerstrand provided a language which could register the world in different ways. Perhaps one way of looking at Hägerstrand’s work is as a means of saying ‘hello’ in a language many can understand: drawing as a kind of visual Esperanto.