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The Myth of Continents

A Critique of Metageography

Martin W. Lewis (Author), Kären Wigen (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 383 pages
ISBN: 9780520207431
August 1997
$34.95, £27.00
Other Formats Available:
In this thoughtful and engaging critique, geographer Martin W. Lewis and historian Kären Wigen reexamine the basic geographical divisions we take for granted, and challenge the unconscious spatial frameworks that govern the way we perceive the world. Arguing that notions of East vs. West, First World vs. Third World, and even the sevenfold continental system are simplistic and misconceived, the authors trace the history of such misconceptions. Their up-to-the-minute study reflects both on the global scale and its relation to the specific continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa—actually part of one contiguous landmass.

The Myth of Continents sheds new light on how our metageographical assumptions grew out of cultural concepts: how the first continental divisions developed from classical times; how the Urals became the division between the so-called continents of Europe and Asia; how countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan recently shifted macroregions in the general consciousness.

This extremely readable and thought-provoking analysis also explores the ways that new economic regions, the end of the cold war, and the proliferation of communication technologies change our understanding of the world. It stimulates thinking about the role of large-scale spatial constructs as driving forces behind particular worldviews and encourages everyone to take a more thoughtful, geographically informed approach to the task of describing and interpreting the human diversity of the planet.
Martin W. Lewis is Associate Research Professor of Geography, Duke University, and author of Wagering the Land: Ritual, Capital, and Environmental Degradation in the Cordillera of Northern Luzon, 1900-1986 (California, 1992) and Green Delusions: An Environmentalist Critique of Radical Environmentalism (1994). Kären E. Wigen is Associate Professor of History, Duke University, and author of The Making of a Japanese Periphery, 1750-1920 (California, 1995).
"Despite the recent surge of interest in geographical concepts and ideas, most social, cultural, and political studies are riddled with unexamined spatial assumptions. The Myth of Continents initiates a much-needed consideration of this state of affairs. Through a wide-ranging analysis of such metageographical constructs as East, West, Europe, and Asia, Lewis and Wigen provide provocative insights into the nature and significance of the ways we usually divide up the world. Moreover, they do so in an engaging and highly readable style. Readers of The Myth of Continents will never again see the world regions in quite the same way."—Alexander B. Murphy, author of The Regional Dynamics of Language Differentiation in Belgium

"An exciting, thoughtful, engaging, innovative book that demonstrates the need to reexamine commonly held assumptions about the world's division into continents, East/West, First/Second/Third World, etc. Readers will be drawn to its 'big-think' quality of shattering commonly held assumptions and to its up-to-the-minute contemporary feel."—Benjamin Orlove, coeditor of State, Capital, and Rural Society: Anthropological Perspectives on Political Economy in Mexico and the Andes

"An important and long overdue housecleaning of old geographical concepts, based upon an impressively wide reading of regional literatures."—Edmund Burke III, editor of Struggle and Survival in the Modern Middle East

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