Geographic Thought

Meaning of Geographic Thought


With the rise of geographic science, the first currents of geographic thought also appear. From the 19th century, Geography saw different conceptions about the relationship between human beings / society and the environment / space.

Some currents have valued human beings more as a society and with their capacity to transform the space where they live; others believed more in the natural forces as preponderant elements in their way of life. Let us see below the main currents of thought in Geography and their different ways of understanding the relationship between society and space.

1. Geographical determinism

It appeared in the 19th century, in Germany, with Friedrich Ratzel, who believed that the environment is decisive in the life of the human being, that is, society, in a way, reflects space and its natural characteristics.

For this current, “Man is a product of the environment”, that is, the natural environment determines the conditions of life and the technical reproduction of society. Among the main ideas of this current is the theory of living space , in which space is decisive and physical characteristics such as relief, climate, vegetation and hydrography are decisive in the formation of society. This current had a great influence on the geopolitics of the 19th and early 20th centuries, since in defending the importance of space it ended up generating wars over territories.

Determinism influenced what we can call expansionism , the idea that the nation needs to conquer more territory, more physical space, because it is there that is the material, mineral, water wealth, etc. Some examples of countries where deterministic ideas have gained notoriety are Germany, Japan and the United States.

2. Geographic possibility

Possibilism was born in France, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the thinker Paul Vidal de La Blache. For him, man (society) manages to adapt the environment through technique, through work. La Blache dedicated himself to the idea of gender of life , based on the relationship between society and space. In this, the human being is not a product of the environment, but rather the opposite, since, through technique, with the advent of technological revolutions, the human being is able to transform space , adapting the relief, adapting to the climate , transforming river courses, building hydroelectric dams, for example.

There is a big difference between the previous trend, which defends that the human being was conditioned by the environment, and the Lablachian theory.

3. Regional method

Current that emphasizes the application of the principle of analogy, that is, of comparison. Thus, to better understand the space and social interactions within it, the comparison and differentiation of areas are key elements. The regional method also prioritizes the analysis of the interaction between natural phenomena.

This current gained greater notoriety in the 1940s, with Richard Hartshorne and Alfred Hettner, who defended the importance of creating benchmarks of analysis through the comparison of places, to better understand the regional space, to know local realities, their qualities, their socioeconomic problems. and, thus, making possible a more adequate human intervention. However, it is possible to identify this type of thinking much earlier, with the philosopher Immanuel Kant, in the 18th century, and with the geographer Karl Ritter, in the 19th century.

4. Theoretical or quantitative geography

This theory considers numbers as fundamental to explain society and nature. He defends the use of mathematical and statistical methods to quantify natural and social phenomena for a better understanding.

It was also known as New Geography when it emerged, after the Second World War, in the 1950s. This way of thinking favored the creation of socioeconomic indicators, as well as analysis institutes based on censuses to better understand society.

5. Critical geography

The current began to form as a school of thought from the 1970s, initially in France, with the advent of the work Geography: this serves, first of all, to make war, by Yves Lacoste, and the magazine Heródote, also founded by Lacoste, in 1976. Main current in the area in Brazil, defended by Milton Santos , exponent of Brazilian Geography, believes that Geography has the role of denunciation, criticism and social transformation .

Also known as Marxist geography , it sees society seeking to identify its problems, its contradictions. It also acts in the strong criticism of capitalism and social inequalities, inherent to the process of production of geographic space .

Critical geography considers the production and transformation of space as a result of human work, in order to emphasize the processes of exploitation and the inequality of conditions between social groups and different countries. It also considers that the socio-economic backwardness of nations is the result of a historical process of intentional exploitation, organized by the most developed nations.

6. Phenomenology or Humanistic Geography

The current is based on the work done by Yi-Fu Tuan, Anne Buttimer, Edward Relph and Mercer and Powell, closely related to existential phenomenology. There are also influences by Hegel and the philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1939). Among the main ideas, the valuation of the perceptions of the individual and the social group stands out in the search to understand the way people feel in relation to their places. He believes that Geography should have an approach focused on the human being, on social relations , considering the populations, their political and, mainly, social characteristics. Thus, it was fundamental for the definition of the concept of place as an appropriate space through feeling.

7. Geopolitics

Among the ways of structuring geographic thinking, from the 19th century onwards, the advancement of geopolitics gained prominence. In this sense, the imperialist expansion theorist Halford Mackinder is evidenced, who with his contribution to the Possibilist School reached the post of vice president of the Royal Geographical Society, also occupying chair at the University of London.

Mackinder’s thinking gains importance when, in 1904, the author publishes his study called Geographical Pivot of History, in which he formulates one of the vital concepts of this school: the pivot area or heartland . In this study, Mackinder establishes a division of the world based on two large circular bands, which he called “inner crescent” or “marginal” and “outer crescent” or “island”, with the heartland at its center. He also formulated a fundamental law, which said that “whoever dominates Eastern Europe will dominate the continental heart; whoever dominates the continental heart will control the island-world; whoever dominates the world-island will dominate the world ”.

Despite Mackinder’s contribution, it was up to the Swedish Rudolf Kjellen to use for the first time the geopolitical term that conceptualized state science as the dominator of space. Much influenced by Ratzel, Kjellen highlights formulations that served as inspiration for Nazism.

With this, Kjellen influences many German geographers, such as Karl Haushofer, chosen by Adolf Hitler as president of the German Academy in the 1930s, where several studies on geopolitics were produced. In short, geopolitics ends up attracting many governments, such as Germany and the United States, interested in mobilizing based on the basic geopolitical principle: “ space is power ”.

Geographic Thought