Not a geography of what doesn’t exist, but a counter-geography of what does. Rereading Giuseppe Dematteis’ Le Metafore della Terra

Juliet Fall, Claudio Minca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The shaping of geography as a discipline has been the result of a combination of productive and successful communication and missed opportunities, of presence and absence, of fluid travels of ideas and projects, but also of closures, impediments, good lessons that got lost. This paper suggests that using a counterfactual approach to draw attention to specific geographies that remained unfulfilled and poorly known helps to think beyond linear genealogies. By discussing a particular book called Le Metafore della Terra by Giuseppe Dematteis, published in Italian in 1985 but largely unknown in English-language geography, we reflect on what happened when it was published – and also specifically what did not happen and, cautiously, what might have happened. In his book, Dematteis took issue with geography and geographers’ past and contemporary mistakes, suggesting that the depoliticization of geographical knowledge had served merely powerful interests, rendering the imagining of alternative worlds impossible. He picked apart sacred tenets of the geographical tradition: escapist fantasies of exploration and conquest, the poorly problematized use of scale, the faith in the power of cartographic reason, the metaphysics of organicism, and the magical belief in the power of the market. Here, by extending the idea of counterfactual histories to look inwards to the discipline of geography itself, we choose to engage with what might have happened if this particular critical approach to geography had become better known, exploring why this radical project for the discipline was cast aside, including by the author himself. In so doing, we consider how scholars are located in so-called ‘peripheral’ places of production of geographical knowledge, discussing how this helps to understand the circulation and non-circulation of certain ideas. We use these alternatively rewritten geographies to show how dominant linear narratives of the emerging of critical thinking in the 1980s tell us an incomplete story, suggesting instead a tangled, multiple history of the discipline. We are interested in how scientific knowledge is communicated and received, how this exposes both the multi-sited nature of knowledge production and circulation, and cultural and national differences in the reception of science, and what this says about the possibility of critical thinking and progressive ideas having real impact.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)542-563
JournalProgress in Human Geography
Issue number4
Early online date27 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2013


  • biography, counterfactual geographies, Giuseppe Dematteis, history of geography, Italian geography

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