A hierarchical framework for concepts in physical geography

K. J. Gregory, John Lewin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


The word concept is widely used in physical geography but seldom defined. Developing from an earlier proposal of concept types in geomorphology, this paper considers a structure for categorising concepts in physical geography in the light of sciences and philosophy more generally. It reviews where our concepts derive from, and their relation to kinds, universals and categories, whilst also indicating the lack of an agreed clear distinction between them. Because an unstructured diversity of concepts has previously been proposed in physical geography by different authors, a new provisional hierarchy is constructed. This is cognisant of specific developments in a range of disciplines, including formal concept analysis, lattice theory and hierarchy theory. A ‘concept of concepts’ hierarchy of six categories is proposed in which multidisciplinary (superordinate, contextual meta-concepts) and fundamental, operational and ancillary categories provide a 6 × 5 framework. This enables attention to be focused on stimulating conceptual underpinnings that can be tested at different levels in future learning, teaching and research. This can support the formation of knowledge structures and monitoring procedures that keep in step with ways that are characterising other disciplines
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)721-738
Number of pages18
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number6
Early online date03 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2018


  • concepts
  • kinds
  • universals
  • categories
  • physical geography trends
  • structure of learning
  • Concepts


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