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human geography



HUMAN GEOGRAPHY FOCUSES on interpreting and describing the various ways in which humans in all places and cultures adapt to and possibly modify their natural geographic environments.
At the local or national scale, human geographers look at how economic, political, and cultural issues are related to spatial organization in different parts of the planet.
How have humans modified topography, changed microclimates developed and changed rivers, lakes, and even coastlines? Human geography is distinguished from PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY by its focus on human activities regardless of specific cultures.
Changes related to different cultures or social systems is the realm of CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY.
REGIONAL AND GLOBAL PATTERNS Today, human geography also looks at regional and global patterns.
Because of the spread of modern technology, humans today can make changes in the natural environment at a much faster rate and much grander scale than at any other time in human history.
In addition, conflicts such as war can cause immediate and widespread environmental damage, such as the oil fires and spills during the various conflicts in IRAQ and KUWAIT or the widespread killing of wildlife in various African conflicts.
The extent of environmental degradation and pollution in the former Soviet Union and the demise of the ARAL SEA are other examples of human-created changes in geography.
Like physical geography, human geography is divided into a wide range of subtopics.
These include economics, transportation, cultural geography, urban geography, and political geography.
For example, human geography, when dealing with environmental issues, is not limited to natural dynamics but also takes into account the fact that there are distinct social, economic, and political environments.
The problems dealt with by human geography have varied over the course of time.
In addition, new models and technical abilities affect how problems in the human-physical environment are approached.
Given the diversity of philosophies and models for the description and analysis of human-environment interaction, it would be more appropriate to speak of a plurality of human geographies rather than one single human geography.
In 1992, David N.
Livingstone noted different approaches to the discipline.
According to this English geographer, the whole set of problems, subjects, and concepts that have developed over time have come to form part of this tradition and to be called human geography.
From the time of the explorers to the drawing of maps, from the days of proposals for the study of industrial locations to the study of the distribution of wealth throughout the world, or the spaces constructed by "gay" communities or "okupas," up to the time of the survey of the surface of the Earth with remote sensors and cartography based on GEOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION SYSTEMS (GIS)-all of this has come to be a part of the human geography tradition and to distinguish it from the type of history and cultural or social and political analyses and description developed by other disciplines.
It is possible to distinguish four significant events that help to understand how different problems and subjects have become defined as human geography.
These events were: 1) the formal recognition of modern geography (1870-1920); 2) the development of pragmatic perspectives (1950s); 3) the manifestation of radical and critical views (1970s); and 4) the development of what has been termed a postmodern approach along with more traditional cultural geographies (1980s and 1990s).
FORMAL RECOGNITION (1870-1920) Human geographies developed in most European countries were influenced by the German, French, or British schools of geography and sometimes by all three together.
Some maintain that it was in these three countries that the discipline was first institutionalized as something distinct from history and geology.
Between the mid-19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, and in the context of the construction and redefinition of national states and the process of imperialism and colonial expansion, geographical knowledge was clearly related to the extension of political and economic power.
As it was considered, geography offered the kind of knowledge that made it possible to acculturate and integrate or control local populations.
During this period, human geography became a distinct program in the curriculum.
For example, the first chair in human geography was set up in 1870 within the context of the unification of Germany, and under the responsibility of the geographer-philosopher, Friedrich Ratzel (1844-1904).
France recognized the importance of teaching geography after the loss of the territories of Alsace-Lorraine to the Germans.
This was France's context for the creation of the chair of human geography under Paul Vidal de la Blache (1854-1904).
Ratzel developed a project for anthropogeography based on the analysis of the influence of natural conditions on humanity.
For Ratzel, the greater the attachment to the earth (as Ratzel called the territory) the greater would be the need for a society to maintain its physical possession.
Ratzel believed that it was for this reason that the state was created.
The analysis of the relations between state and space was one of the main topics in anthropogeography.
The development of any society would imply, as he saw it, the need to increase the size of territory and hence to conquer new areas.
One can readily see the seeds of Adolf Hitler's Lebensraum (expanding "living space") in this approach to the state.
On the other hand, the Frenchman de la Blache was critical of anthropogeography as an approach to human geography.
Rather than being interested in the influence of natural conditions on societies, de la Blache sought to analyze how societies could challenge nature and come to develop an environment suited to their needs.
Within this framework he formulated his concept of the genre de vie (lifestyle), understood as a historically constructed relationship built up by different human groups with their surroundings, based on the use of available technologies.
This was a view that emphasized human abilities and influences in modifying the physical earth itself.
For this geographer, natural human regions and regional study was seen as an expression of lifestyle, which was the whole object of study of human geography.
Seen in the light of this approach, for de la Blache, the map of France was the result of the harmonizing of its different regions.
In the light of the theories and studies of de la Blache, the concept of a region (the study of the particular relation of a set of diverse elements in a given area) became one of the key concepts in human geography.
In Great Britain, the Royal Geographical Society was responsible for the institutional and financial organization of the two chairs in geography, one at Oxford University and the other at Cambridge University.
The first was assumed by Halford J.
MACKINDER (1861-1947).
The second fell to Francis Guillermard (1852-1933).
Mackinder considered that geography could be useful to statesmen since it is an integrating discipline, in which studies can be made of the causal relationships between man and the environment.
These studies can be conducted in specific areas and have as their purpose the analysis of these relationships on a global scale.
Toward the end of the 19th century, biology was considered to be the most modern discipline.
In the light of such thinking, the concept of geography as a natural science was the guarantee required for it to achieve qualification as a science.
Thus, no one hesitated to qualify geography as a natural science, thus placing evolution at the heart of any geographic explanation.
For French geographers, human geography was a discipline that leads to knowledge of the relationship of societies with their environment.
For Russian geographers, the purpose of geography in education was to reveal the battle of human beings with nature, thereby leading to a better understanding of the relationship between the two.
Some Russians stressed that the study of human diversity implies showing what constitutes families of different peoples, bringing them together regardless of any racial differences, beliefs, or lifestyles.
On the other hand, other geographers placed work as the mediator between the physical environment and society.
North American cultural geography presented by Carl SAUER (1889-1975) is one of the few proposals of that time that attempts to rise above a global and North American evolutionary framework (particularly as it was developed in the UNITED STATES by H.
Barrows, T.G.
Taylor, R.D.
Salisbury along with W.
DAVIS and E.
Semple.).
In fact, Sauer makes the whole concept of culture, linked to the anthropology, the key to the transformation of the natural landscape or the visible forms of nature into a cultural landscape.
PRAGMATIC PERSPECTIVES In the years after World War II and to the beginning of the Cold War, regional analyses of human geographies had become the principal activity conducted in the field.
As financial capital was directed to the reconstruction of postwar Europe, a group of planning organizations were attempting to define the best locations for productive activities.
They did this using a set of geographical engineering models that would define social problems before they became major challenges.
The joining of the human geographies of political and economic perspectives led to the birth of a focus on pragmatic versus theoretical or descriptive studies.
For most of the geographers following this line, mathematical language and models were considered to be the most appropriate methods for true science.
Human geographies that emphasized descriptive accounts were exchanged for a more statistical approach.
Neoclassical models were formulated in the belief that subjects would behave rationally and with a view to seeking a maximization of earnings and opportunities.
Now human geography became viewed as a discipline entrusted with spatial analysis.
From this time on, spatial organization became the principal object of study of human geographers.
The scientific base was to begin with an assumption that geographic space was to begin de novo--that is, without people or prior history.
In short, the approach was, "All things being equal, then'¦" Within these assumptions, the planner could move freely within geographic space, the only variables would be questions of distance, direction, and connection (linkage).
The geographic region was understood as the space in which internal differences are minimized and everything beyond its boundaries would be of much greater difference or variance.
Under the idea of pragmatic geography (as another subset of human geography) there were various trends.
First, quantitative geographers studied the relations and interrelations of different geographic phenomena, local variations of physical landscape, and the impact of nature on societies and of the latter on the environment.
These were all to be numerically expressed and understood.
The second trend involved geographers who used systems theory.
Hence it is given the name "systematic" or "modeling geography." For example, the geographer Brian Berry defines models as key to the formulation of explanations.
A third school of pragmatic geography is represented by a focus on the geography of perception.
Drawing on the instruments of behavioral psychology, the followers of this trend try to analyze the subject valuation of space, both in the case of the behavior of the urban dweller and that of native African communities.
It is focused on culture as the key to the creation of human geographies.
A part of the legacy of the approach of pragmatic geography has been the evolution of GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SYSTEMS (GIS), a field in which the concept of abstract space and the formulations of a mathematical character continue to play an important role.
And it is a practice now widely used by many fields of science, both physical and social.
RADICAL, CRITICAL HUMAN GEOGRAPHIES As part of the sociology of its era, the decades of the 1960s and 1970s witnessed a major political convulsion in the field of human geography.
In addition to the controversies surrounding the Vietnam War, it was a period during which many of the long-established European colonies in Africa achieved independence.
Various social movements, such as those in defense of human rights, the rights of women, and the protests of an ecological character all appeared on the world scene and were especially intense in Europe and the United States.
Many contemporary human geographers not only participated in these movements but also began to question their own practices.
The crisis to be identified in geography was a symptom of other crises occurring in capitalism, politics, and science.
Some human geographers now considered that scientific knowledge should not only serve for the understanding of society, but should also help to guide and transform it.
Positioning themselves simultaneously against both classical and quantitative geography, they tried to establish the basis of a new science that, as they saw it, would help create the basis of a new society.
These geographers called themselves radicals in the UNITED STATES; in other contexts, such as the French, the Italian, the Spanish or the Latin American world, they were referred to as critical geographers.
Both the radical and critical schools of human geography followed the philosophical tenets of Marxism and stressed first and foremost the importance of economics (not the natural environment) when it comes to the interpretation of social dynamics.
Second, they stressed the role of ideology in the production of knowledge, opposing the idea that there is any possibility of creating an objective or value-neutral science.
Both the radical and the critical geographers reverted to the concept of space already worked upon by the pragmatic geographers in order to provide the social content it had consciously omitted (to be scientifically neutral) when formulated in the 1950s.
Radical and critical geography was a shift to emphasizing human economics and philosophies in the creation of human geographies.
The approach known as active geography was opposed to the applied geography promoted over the decade of the 1950s.
The first manifestation of this approach was found in Geographie Active (1964) the name of a book written by Pierre George, Yves Lacoste, Bernard Kayser, and R.
Guglielmo.
This book undertook an analysis designed to reveal the contradictions of capitalism in different regional geography frameworks.
Thus, a type of geography was formulated for regional analysis that would reveal inherent social contradictions such as poverty, malnutrition, and precarious housing.
The proposal for active human geography also gave a new significance to actual fieldwork in the countryside.
Thus, for example, in the Anglo-Saxon context, William Bunge proposed the organization of expeditions to communities living in conditions of poverty in order to help them overcome their situation, establishing a priority for social welfare over academic work.
Following the interdisciplinary exchanges that were opened up by the pragmatists, the radical and critical geographers exchanged ideas with other social sciences.
This further removed human geography from its earlier emphasis on the physical environment.
This exchange can be seen in the influence of the book by sociologist M.
Castells, La Question Urbaine (1972), or the philosopher Henri Lefebvre's La production de l'espace (1974) on the urban geography of the period.
Among the radical geographers, one of their most representative works is Urban Justice and the City (1973) by David Harvey.
Harvey questioned the liberal theories of the city and took on a socialist posture.
He adopted the Marxist theory of rent in order to analyze the valuation of urban space.
He then studied the use of the land in terms of use/value categories and exchange value.
This sort of analysis enabled him to understand the active importance of spatial forms in social processes, an approach that he later developed in works dealing with the role of capital in the generation of unequal space usage and the compression of space/time.
In one sense, it was a human geographic view of socialism rather than the traditional emphasis on how humans modify the physical environment.
For critical geographers, particularly in Latin America, one of the most important texts has been Por uma Geografia Nova (1978).
The author, Milton Santos (1926-2001), showed that it was possible to conceive of personal ideas that could be applied to the interpretation of the third world.
In effect, his analysis of the specific nature of urban processes in underdeveloped countries and his theory of banal space (the daily space for solidarity where men, living and feeling, have the opportunity to create a new history) are an example of this.
Santos offers multiple ways of perceiving social space.
First, space appears as a social product, born of human action.
Second, it signifies accumulated work, the incorporation of capital into land surface, which creates lasting forms known as "roughness." These manifestations of "roughness" turn out to be space legacies that end up by influencing the pattern of contemporary action.
In this sense, spatial patterns are the product of past processes that also condition the future.
Now there were human geographers who simply followed a modified version of the philosophical view cogito, ergo sum-"I think, therefore I am." POSTMODERNISM This approach led the human geographer Edward Soja to argue that while modern times have granted primacy in their explanatory role to history and time, postmodernism should open up the way to the social sciences, allowing them to achieve "the spatial turn." Such an approach would be ideal for the analysis of changes and urban dynamics in cities such as Los Angeles.
Such a city has particularly diverse geographic landscapes, constantly undergoing a process of change, and continually being reshaped by local and state practice, by internationalization, and by the globalization of work and trade.
The city is produced, lived in, and provides for not only a middle class society, but also women, children, old folk, gays, lesbians, a multitude of ethnic minorities, the unemployed and the poor.
With the approach prevailing until now, it was difficult to identify any urban fragments associated with the place of residence of certain social classes or the establishment of certain productive activities.
In fact, global cities such as NEW YORK or LONDON are composed of a discontinuous collage of partial human geographic landscapes that no longer respond to the old center-periphery pattern.
Approaches such as this may also be used for geographies of rural and regional environments.
Human geographers now have conducted a series of studies governed by this perspective.
Some of the work along these lines includes: a) gender studies, b) postcolonial studies, and c) new cultural geographies.
Gender studies originated in the feminist movement of the 1960s.
One of the basic points of these studies was the recognition that distinct gender geographies are to be found throughout all societies and all of history and that they always play a role in the organization of patterns of human geography.
For example, in the geographic patterns resulting from the locations chosen by multinational clothing manufacturers and shoemakers in different parts of the world, there is a pattern that increasingly seeks female workers willing to work at home on a part-time basis.
This means there is a new kind of manufacturing geography, one not focused solely on large plants.
Gender studies have also shown the need for a new kind of urban management and planning geography, an approach that looks at the needs for mobility and recreation of women and families.
Postcolonial geographic analysis begins by studying the human organization of space both under the colonial experience and how it exists today.
The book Orientalism, written by Edward Said (1935-2003), is considered to be the basis for this field.
Said maintained that the way in which we view the East from the West is the result of a Western cultural bias or mindset.
Such a vision of the East was presented as exotic, sensual, culturally inferior, and backward-all of which supported imperial European expansion between 1870 and 1914.
In this context, colonial space (geographies) became an area of contact where diverse cultures met, collided, and fought.
Postcolonial studies have also tried to listen to those who were the object of the colonial experience and had often been silenced by the European discourse.
They attempt to give space to voices that come from countries that went through colonial and live their consequences today (economic dependence, dictatorship, exclusion of women).
Postcolonial researchers are also now being called upon to research image construction for the Muslim world and the immigrant Muslim populations, as reflected in political discourse and in the communications media.
These findings are proving useful both for the justification of the new imperialism and for the imposition of restrictive migration policies, both aspects are used for understanding the political transformation and the globalization of the world.#