The radical approach in geography is only about twenty-five years old. Radicalism grew as a major criticism of quantitative geography, positivism and traditional regional geography.
The origin of radical geography can be traced to the radical geography movement which started in the 1960s in the USA. There were three prominent issues of international concern behind the movement, viz., the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement of the Blacks, and the all-pervasive phenomenon of poverty in urban ghettos which generated social tension.
The radicalists put emphasis on the need for a revolution in both theory and practice of geography. Thus, the radical approach is value-based, especially the theory of labour value, as against the supposedly value-free approaches. Radicalists stress that, with the changing production techniques, the symbiotic relationship between human beings and the environment also changes accordingly (a relationship from which the vital elements of the composition of society arise).
Radicalism believes in economic classes and the Subsequent class struggle as the cornerstone of historical materialism. Most of the radicalists have a strong Marxist base and take a holistic view of economics, society and polity.
According to Peet (1977), radical geography grew, by and large, as a negative reaction to the established discipline.
The main criticisms against radicalism are as follows:
(i) Radicalism reduces human beings to a passive existence in the field of historical and structural determinism. Rather than being a product of history, human beings become the creators of history.
(ii) The radicalists are victims of Marxist orthodoxy; thus they stress more on time over space.
(iii) The radicalists lack flexibility in a fast- changing world of knowledge. So, the radical interpretation of geography suffers from an undue dogmatic analysis of ‘space’.
Recent trends in radicalism show, according to Peet and Thrift (1969), tolerance to criticism from within.
(i) Marxist ideas themselves became subject to criticism.
(ii) The collapse of Communist countries forced a rethinking on the matter.
(iii) Radical geographers had no empirical study on the erstwhile Communist countries.
(iv) Radicalism has become more professional and a substantial number of radicalists of the 1960s and the 1970s joined the ‘establishment’.
By the end of the 1980s, some geographers like Peet and Thrift termed radicalism ‘the political- economy perspective’ whereas others like D. Harvey continued supporting its closeness to Marxist theories.