PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2021, Vol. 40 ›› Issue (7): 1235-1245.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2021.07.013

• Reviews • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Progress of the material geography studies with the perspective of “following the things” and implications

LIN Xudan1(), ZHU Hong2,3, YIN Duo2,3,*()   

  1. 1. School of Geography, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
    2. School of Geography and Remote Sensing, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China
    3. The Research Center for Human Geography and Urban Development in Southern China, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China
  • Received:2020-10-29 Revised:2021-01-27 Online:2021-07-28 Published:2021-09-28
  • Contact: YIN Duo;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(41971184);National Natural Science Foundation of China(41901173);Team Project of Natural Science Foundation of Guangdong Province(2018B030312004)


With the trend of "cultural turn" and "material turn", material geography has become one of the most active and burgeoning areas in social and cultural geography. Cultural geographers have turned their interests again to the material culture using an interdisciplinary perspective. Material geography has inherited the focus on humans and endeavored to get rid of the shadow of Fetishism since the "cultural turn". Its research focuses on the materiality, knowledge production, cultural identity, and social power relationship behind the material. Material geography's ontology, epistemology, and methodology do their revolution in response. For instance, "following the things" as a methodological perspective is brought up uniquely. To be specific, mobility is highly emphasized in the perspective of "following the things" because it sheds light on the human-place relations and different sociocultural contexts during the flow of things. Therefore, it is of great significance to do research on the material. In addition, considering the goal of completing the process of building a moderately well-off society in all aspects by 2020, we need to focus more on material's mobility and social value production in China in order to achieve great national development. However, there exist only a few reviews on material geography, and there is no review concentrating on mobility in material geography in China. In order to fill the gap, in this article we reviewed the history, necessities, and tendencies of the material geography research in the Western discourse, illustrating how the material geography studies achieve the transformation from "surface" material studies to representation studies, then to more-than representation studies. We also identified four main research themes in this area: 1) the symbolic meanings of material; 2) linking material and people's identities; 3) material production and consumption; and 4) the power game and negotiation behind the material. This article illustrated that material geography puts the sociocultural phenomenon into the wider political, economic, and cultural system to discuss, and deploys more creative and comprehensive methods to figure out what traditional methods fail to do. Finally, the article summed up the limitations of these studies and listed some possibilities for further research in China: international game and negotiation of power, construction and re-construction of commodity networks, and daily life geography. In short, our research seeks to enrich the material geography research in human geography in China and open the academic conversation with the Western world.

Key words: material geography, following the things, mobility, social life, place, practice