Essay on Social Determinism
For example, a country is richly endowed from the point of view of the hunters, might appear poor to an agricultural people; the importance of coal is not identical for those who can and cannot make use of it.
All these truths are self-evident. What is also true is that as technology develops the importance of the environment does not decrease but changes and becomes more complex.
The philosophy of cultural determinism is fairly widespread among American geographers.
Eduard Ullman, for example, wrote that “the environment is essentially neutral, its role being dependent on the stage of technology, type of culture and other characteristics of a changing society”.
The assessment of a mountain pass, for example, will differ from horses, automobiles, aero planes; the assessment of soil fertility will not be identical from the point of view of Japanese farmer, on the one hand, or an Amazonian Indian, on the other.
Similar natural conditions may call forth different reactions on the part of man and that within similar sets of conditions, different cultures can take place.
George Carter singles out three fundamental factors in human geography. He stresses more on the cultural forces and writes that “ideas remain as the primary cause of change; it is these ideas that determine the human use of physical world”. He also emphasized that human will is the decisive.
It may be summarized that since the ancient times, geographers have given different explanations for the differences in lifestyle of different groups of people living in different environmental conditions.
Quite early, a relationship was sought between the characters of men’s bodies and their social and economic life.
In other words, race was thought to explain many differences in the history, culture and lifestyle of the people, generally because the different races were believed to have different qualities of mind and temper, so that some lagged behind while others moved forward.
This racial explanation was, however, rejected by the determinists as people of similar race have lived very different lives and – vice versa. In fact, at one period, the leaders of civilization were of one race, at others of another.
Subsequently, the environmental determinists tried to explain the variations in the history, culture and lifestyle of the peoples to the variations in physical environment.
This explanation was also criticized by the possibilists who said that despite intimate relationship between human activities and their environments, there are clear limits to this explanation, as regions closely similar in location, topography; climate and natural vegetation have sharply contrasted lifestyles.
In opposition to environmental determinism, the possibilists stressed that nature is not a dictator, it provides opportunities and the man is free to take a decision about the utilization of his resources.
The use of resources increases as the knowledge of the people and their technology improves.
Thus, the spread or diffusion of knowledge, culture and technology are the most important factors which explain the man and environment (resource) relationship. Diffusion of knowledge and technology, however, does not proceed automatically as distance and accident play an important role.
These conventional approaches given above were inadequate to explain the man and environment relationship and therefore, after the Second World War, a number of new approaches like positivistic, behavioural, radical, welfare and humanistic have been adopted by the human geographers to explain the variations in the mode of life in the different geo-climatic settings.
After the Second World War, the school of social determinism became quite popular in Austria, Holland and Sweden.
Social geography deals with the spatial distribution of societies. It, however, does not enable us to achieve a profound understanding of social relations or landscape.
Social groups can be distinguished with reference to ethnic, religious, professional and certain other features, while social changes are only noted but rarely linked with any fundamental economic causes or the class structure of society.
The study of the influence exerted by these groups on landscape is reduced to the definition of purely external factors of the cultural landscape (type and deployment of houses, land use, field patterns, etc.), right down to the morphological and functional changes within the confines of a single street.
Infinitely painstaking ‘micro-territorial’ research of this type is usually purely empirical in character and cannot provide the basis for scientific conclusions of any real significance.
Social determinism thus does not adequately assess the environmental factors, i.e., the influence of natural environment upon ‘cultural geographical differences’. Social determinism is thus also rigid like environmental determinism and therefore cannot be accepted in its crude form.