Possibilism and Determinism Concept | Different Subfields of Geography

Here in this article we are going to discuss about the concept possibilism and determinism, along with this we also cover here some important scholar contributions in the field of Geography, also discuss about the important subfield within the geography discipline like behavioral geography, relevance geography neo-modern geography etc,..

Possibilism and Determinism Concept | Different Subfields of Geography 

Table of Content

  • Possibilism
  • Determinism
  • Contribution of H.J. Mackinder
  • Quantitative Revolution
  • Subfields of Geography
  • Behavioural Geography
  • Relevance Geography:
  • Social Geography:
  • Neo-Modern Geography:



Possiblism and Determinism


The ‘Possibilism’ viewpoint had the following main features:

(i) Natural environment does not determine human life.

(ii) Environment offers a range of possible opportunities to man.

(iii) Natural environment is inert. Man is capable of adapting it.

(iv) Man makes use of the opportunities offered by environment based on his cultural needs, norms and growth of technical knowledge.

A few examples of man’s capability to control his environment are making use of irrigation to compensate for lack of rainfall, making use of terraced agriculture on hill slopes, controlling of floods, constructing air conditioned homes and living comfortably in hot or cold places.

(v) Man influences his environment by his actions.

Vidal de la Blache, L. Febrve, and Carl Sarar have supported ‘Possibilism’ in their own works.



In accordance with this theory man is a slave of his environment. It holds the view that man’s actions are stimulated and governed by some outside agency like the environment. Its chief features are:

(i) All actions of man are determined by his environment.

(ii) Environment shapes human society. All things like food, shelter, dress, houses, settlement patterns etc. are determined by environment. So much so that man’s thinking process is a gift of his environment.

(iii) Everywhere in the world tribals are completely controlled by environment. Just sometime back

the Bushmen of Kalahari, the Pygmies of Congo and the Beduins of Arabia were completely dependent on their environment. On account of growth of science and technology this theory does not now find much favour. Some of the prominent advocates of Determinist school are Ratzel, E. C. Sample, E. Hutington and J. Taylor.

Contribution of H.J. Mackinder to Growth of Geographic Knowledge:

Mackinder (1861-1947) was an English geographer. According to him geography could best be studied by conducting regional studies than by studying individual phenomena like temperature, rainfall etc. He also maintained that political (human) geography could not exist independently of physical geography (relief, atmosphere, vegetation etc.). By integrating the two we can then only understand the geography of a region. In this way, physical and human geography are complementary to each other. Mackinder wanted to define the fields of physical and human geography in order to contribute to the growth of regional geography. In other words, interplay of human wants and actions is possible only on the physical stage.


Quantitative Revolution – Post-War Developments

There occurred Quantitative Revolution in the study of geography in the years following the Second World War (1939-45). It brought about mathematical precision in geographic description and statistical analysis of facts. These techniques gained wide acceptance in geography. In place of descriptions and

details, statistical analysis gained importance. This quantitative revolution had two main advantages:

(i) It helped to gain scientific and objective information about the relationship between physical and human factors.

(ii) With its help numerous and complex factors can be explained in condensed form and more simply.

For example, by taking the mean values of temperature of the 12 months of a year we can easily explain certain aspects of climate of a place.

S.W. Woolridge, R.J. Chorley and Haggett are three great geographers of England. They very

successfully used quantitative methods in physical and human geography respectively.

Subfields of Geography: The use of quantitative methods was also necessitated by changes related to improvements in the techniques of storing and handling large quantities of numerical data. Relationships between two variables, for example extent of devastation caused by the war to a geographic feature like a stream and its length led to use of statistical techniques. In the process several factors were to be studied like impact on human beings, description of landforms and certain other aspects related to environment. Thus, geography had to draw a great deal of its content from other sciences or fields of study. In the process there also emerged sub-fields of study, some of which are described below:

Behavioural Geography:

This is a sub-field of human geography. It developed during mid-1960s. “How the people behave in their physical and social environment and how they solve their problems” is the main subject matter of study of behavioural geography.

Relevance Geography: It developed during the decade of 1970s. It lays great emphasis on finding solutions to man’s chief economic, environmental and social problems. In this field deprived sections of society are considered on grounds of social justice and their complex relationships are expressed. This field of study should not be confused with Applied Geography which still remains largely qualitative.

Social Geography: It remained a circulation model of socialist ideas of 1980s. Its study became necessary to understand the complex relationships between physical environment, its spatial distribution and social interactions.

Neo-Modern Geography: In the 1990s certain new developments took place in geographic studies. It includes all the best elements of different approaches in geography. It then integrated regional, systematic, ideographic, nomothitic and humanistic subfields into one Neo-Modern Geography. According to it all different approaches are complementary instead of being contradictory to understanding the system of man-environment relationships. (Chorley and Haggett described it as ‘general systems’ approach.)

In this manner many changes took place in the structure of geography in the past 200-250 years. In our country geography came to be taught in schools in the last quarter of nineteenth century. At this time geography had been recognised as a separate discipline or subject of study in many universities in Europe. But in India geography was included for study at university level only in 1930. Today geography is being studied at postgraduate and doctorate level in many universities in India. Many students are seriously engaged in studying geography to obtain Ph.D or D. Lit. degrees in this field. Many teachers of geography are also engaged in increasing their knowledge further or conducting research.

Like many other sciences geography today offers many challenges. One can undertake study of physical and cultural factors in any specialised field. According to Robinson, modern geography studies the different natural and man-made features on earth’s surface. It researches the phenomena happening on earth. It establishes their inter-relationship and attempts to rationalise them to conform to some tendency or law. In this respect geography is considered as a science having its own principles and points of view. These principles and terminology remain always changing.


Also Read: 

Geography as a Discipline

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