First Advisor

Martha Works

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Geography




Geography -- Applications to sustainable development, Geography -- History, Geography -- Methodology, Thomas J. Wilbanks -- Criticism and interpretation, Karl S. Zimmerer -- Criticism and interpretation




This paper reviews significant geographic contributions to academic literature in the arenas of conservation, environmental thought, and "sustainable development", in order to understand why geographers have not been more central contributors to the sustainable development movement. A review of geographic literature reveals no lack of understanding on the "sustainable development" concept. However, the disciplines' contributions are lacking in numbers relative to published articles and in developing research and practical methods for directly benefiting the "sustainable development" movement. In fact, only a handful of geographers have made multiple literary contributions on the topic of "sustainable development."

The discipline of geography is well positioned to make positive contributions towards the "sustainable development" movement. Geographers possess strong roots in human-environment studies, the physical sciences, cross-disciplinary studies, and in geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing technologies. Geographers also contribute to scholarship concerning conservation, resource management, and environmental thought. Current literature is reflective of geographers understanding of the "sustainable development" concept as it relates to politics, economics, technology, and within the context of boundaries and scale.

This paper begins with a discussion on the definition of the "sustainable development" and its oxymoronic nature. Articles written prior to the 1960s provide a historical perspective on environmental thought and conservation prior to the quantitative and environmental revolutions of the 1960s and 70s, respectively. Reviews of the current geographic perspective on culture, boundaries, and scale within the framework of "sustainable development" provide geography's potential for insight concerning the many challenges facing the discipline and society in understanding and achieving sustainability.


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A research paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Science in Geography.

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