• Harlan H. Barrows;
  • history of geographical thought;
  • nature-society geography;
  • Carl O. Sauer


As visions of ecological crisis mark the daily headlines, industrial spaces of intensive energy and material consumption become a more intense object of political and social concern. In this article, I attempt to situate geography's relative neglect of the ecological underpinnings of industrial capitalism within the context of the history of geographical thought. I argue that the ways in which geographers read the hyphen in the phrase “nature-society” reveals epistemological limits to their object of study. I then offer three dramatically different readings of the hyphen and discuss how they have affected the lineages and trajectories of geographical research—Barrows's human ecology, Sauer's cultural landscape, and critical theories of social nature. I conclude by suggesting that geography needs to let go of its empirical and conceptual fixation on “nature”.