Short Paragraph on Two Schools of Human Geography (Determinism and Possibilism)

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Human geography is the relationship between hu­man and natural environment. There are two schools of human geography.


1. Determinism

2. Possibilism

1. Determinism/Environmental Determinism:

The essence of the determinist school of thought is that the social, cultural life of society or of a nation is governed by physical factors (climate, drainage, flora, fauna) of environment. Man is considered as a pas­sive agent and the environmental factors determine their attitude and life style.

During the era, different geographers attempted to explain the phenomena that human action is con­trolled by environment and Greek and Roman geog­raphers were the first to introduce this idea.


Aristotle explained the differences between North­ern Europeans and Asian in terms of climatic causes. Strabo (Roman geographer) says, “slope, relief cli­mate are works of God which governs the life style of people.” This environmental causation continued throughout the nineteenth century.

Fredrich Ratzel, the founder of “new determinism”, supplemented ‘classical geographical’ determinism with elements of “social Darwinism”. He argued that “similar location led to similar mode of life”. Citing examples of British Isles and Japan that both have insular location which provides natural defence against invaders.

Environmental determinism is regarded as over sim­plistic because it has neglected the cultural factors which also affect human behaviour. However deter­minism had been criticized:

(i) It is not a universal hypothesis which can be tested empirically. People make their own his­tory, culture and are creatures of rules. Hence, man is not a product of his environment but cre­ation of his rules and customs.

(ii) Spate criticised the fanatic approach by saying that “environment itself is a meaningless phrase”. Without man environment does not exist. He con­cluded that geographical environment is only one of the factors of territorial differentiation that acts through society.

2. Possibilism:

Febvre and other geographers tried to explain the man and environment relationship in a different way, tak­ing man as an active agent in environment. He named this point of view as “possibilism”. According to him, the true and only geographical problem is that of uti­lization of possibilities as there are no necessities but everywhere possibilities. This concept was advocated in the writings of Vidal de Lablache and Brunahes in France, and Bowman and Carl Suer in U.S.A.

Although the philosophy of possibilism became very much popular after First World War, it was Vidal de Lablache who advocated & preached the philosophy of possibilism and was a staunch supporter. He de­veloped the “School of Possibilism”.

The possibilists argued that it is impossible to ex­plain the difference in human society and history of that society with reference to the influence of physi­cal environment. The philosophy of possibilism is the belief that people are not the products of envi­ronment, but, in fact, the work of man not the earth and its influence are the starting points. Accord­ing to possibility, nature is never more than an advisor.

The possibility approach was criticized by G. Taylor. He says that since only an advisory role is assigned to a geographer, so his function is not of interpreting nature’s plan and so society as a whole should make choices. Taylor was largely right when he wrote that the task of geography is to study natural environment and its effect on man and all problems connected to man. Moreover possibilism does not encourage the study of geographical environment but promotes over anthropocentrism in geography.

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