Perspectives in Geography Positivism, Behaviouralism, Humanism Notes by Netset Corner

Perspectives in Geography Positivism, Behaviouralism, Humanism, Structuralism, Feminism and Postmodernism

Perspectives in Geography

A perspective is a framework that can be used to interpret the meanings of experiences, events, places, persons, cultures and physical environments. Having a perspective means looking at world through a lens shaped by personal experience, selective information and subjective evaluation.

The perspectives and the questions to which they lead distinguish geography from other approaches, such as historic or economic. A perspective provides a frame of reference for asking and answering questions, identifying and solving problems and evaluating the consequences of alternative actions.

[1] Positivism

Positivism is a set of philosophical approaches that seeks to apply scientific principles and methods, drawn from the natural and hard sciences, to social phenomena in order to explain them. So in this way it is logical system that bases knowledge on direct, systematic observation. Positivism is a Philosophical movement that emphasized on science and scientific method as the only source of knowledge and which stood in sharp contrast to religion and metaphysics.

Positivism came into existence after the French revolution (1789) and is developed by Auguste Comte (1798-1857). Positivism rejects those philosophical thoughts which are based on emotions and imagination.

Positivism is a philosophical movement. It recognises science and scientific method as the only source of knowledge. It has a strong hostility towards religion and traditional philosophy, especially metaphysics.

According to Comte – Social development took place in three stages

[a] Theological

[b] Metaphysical

[c] Positive

[a] Theological: In this first stage, initially, society believe that each and every natural event is done by God. Each event happening in society is pre-decided by god.

[b] Metaphysical: In the second stage, historical facts, Karma philosophy, etc. are used to validate the event. In Indian society, it has a strong belief that people suffered or gained because of his/her previous life karma.

[c] Positive: In the third stage, research is being done on the finding of the event cause. Scientific methods like experience, inspection, test, and classification are used to validate the events like day-night, seasonal changes, rainfall, solar, and lunar eclipse, tsunamis, tides, and earthquakes.

Positivism is an anti-idealistic philosophy. Tastes, traditions, likings, attitudes and aesthetic satisfactions cannot be justified scientifically. Science is value-free, neutral, impartial and objective. Thus, positivism excluded normative questions.

          In Geography, positivism was introduced in the 1950’s. Before that time Geography had very much been a descriptive science but many argued geography should be more scientific and focus on finding laws to explain processes. The Quantitative revolution (1950’s) changed Geography from an ideographic to a nomothetic science.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s positivist methodology received more and more criticism.

Criticism of Positivism Approach:

In this approach, human feelings, emotions, and beliefs these are not acceptable; the positivist approach emphasized that observation should be value-free and based on mathematical analysis. However, it is very difficult to implement the positivism approach. So, the positivist approach in geography is an idealistic approach that is far away from a practical and realistic approach. In our life, human values, human feelings, subjective nature of humans place important roles in decision making which is not as per the positivist approach.

All the events and facts can not be proved by logic and maths, so positivism though is not applicable to all subject matters.

Key Points on Positivism –

[1] Positivism is a philosophical thought, where assertions are validated by the use of logic, science, maths, facts, etc.

[2] Origin: The origin of Positivism go back to 19th Century French Social Philosopher August Comte in 1820s.

[3] According to Comte – Social development took place in three stages

[a] Theological

[b] Metaphysical

[c] Positive

[2] Behaviouralism

The behavioural approach in geography was introduced in 1960s to analyse the man-environment relationship. It was developed as the opposition of quantitative and positivism approaches.

Behaviouralism emphasised the role of cognitive (subjective) and decision-making variables in mediating the relationship between environment and spatial behaviour.

It is largely inductive. This approach has been adopted since the time of Immanuel Kant. Reclus, Sauer and Wright too advocated behavioural approach for interpretation of man-nature interaction. The followers of behavioural geography do not recognise man as a rational person or an ‘economic man’ who always tries to optimise his profits. Most of his decisions are based on behavioural environment and not on real environment. Behavioural environment refers to the reality perceived by individuals and not actuality.

Objectives of Behavioural Approach:

[1] To develop models for humanity which were alternative to spatial location theories developed through quantitative revolution.

[2] To define subjective environment which determines the decision making process of man.

[3] To emphasise individuals and small groups and not population.

[4] To generate primary data about human behaviour and not to rely heavily on the published data.

[5] To adopt an inter-disciplinary approach for theory building and problem solving.

The Basic Philosophy of Behaviourlism Approach:

The behavioral geographer recognizes that man shapes as well as responds to his environment & man and environment dynamically interrelated.

The behavioral geographer argued that environment cognition (perception) upon which people act may well differ markedly form the true nature of the real environment of real world.

Space (Environment) thus can be said to have a dual character-

[1] as an objective environment– the world of actuality- which may be gauged by some direct means (senses)

[2] as a behavioral environment-  the world of mind (Mental Map) – which can be studied only by indirect means.
{Note: Mental Map Concept Developed by P. Gould, R. White and Lynch also associated with mental map concept}

Criticism of Behavioural Approach:

[i] They gave more emphasis to individuals rather than to society.

[ii] The lack of theories came in the way of qualitative research.

[iii] The researcher was never sure about the reliability and authenticity of their findings as the results cannot be tested with the help of quantitative techniques.


Key Points on Behaviouralism –

[1] The behavioral approach in geography was introduced in 1960s.

[2] It was developed as the opposition of quantitative and positivism approaches.

[3] Propounder: Kirk & Wolpert

[4] Concept of Mental Map Developed by P. Gould, R. White and Lynch also associated with mental map concept)


[3] Humanism

Humanistic geography developed as a criticism against positivism and quantitative revolution in geography. Human geography is people’s geography with the human being at its very centre. It is about people and for the people. It is the study of earth as the home of man. The humanistic approach in geography became popular by Febvre, Vidal de la Blache. Sauer, Woolridge and Hartshorne.

William Kirk was the first geographer who advocated the Humanistic school of thought in Geography in 1951. However, it was Chinese American geographer, Mr. Y.F. Tuan who provided a real shape of Humanism approach to geography, he was uses the term ‘humanistic geography’ in 1976, that is why Y.F. Tuan is considered the father of the humanistic school of thought in Geography.

For Tuan, humanistic geography was a perspective that disclosed the complexity and ambiguity of relations between man and environment. The approaches of Kropotkin, Reclus and Herbertson were also humanistic.

According to Tuan, humanistic geography is based on four main principles:

[a] Human awareness

[b] Human work as an agency

[C] Human consciousness

[d] Human creativity

Humanistic geography considers human being as an ‘economic man’ nor treat them as machines. It is a subjective approach which aims at an understanding of man in his environment.

Themes in Humanistic Geography

Humans and environments have a very complex relationship. Y F Tuan tried to explain this complex relation by using five themes. The following are five themes-

[i] Geographical Knowledge: knowledge of geography is a basic instinct needed for the survival of animals. Even non-geographers possess a mental map regarding space, location, place and resources.

[ii] Territory and Place: Like other animals, humans have a sense of belonging to a place or territory, which they protect for their survival.

[iii] Crowding and Privacy: A crowded place often generates psychological stress. However, culture, social institutions and infrastructures reduce these stresses. Man needs privacy in order to generate his own world where he can exercise his creative ability in solitude.

[iv] Livelihood and Economics: Almost all human activities are functional in nature, since they support the social system to which the human being belongs. People plan their economic activities according to their levels of knowledge and technology.

[v] Religion: Religion is a universal institution. Religious culture seeks coherence and clearly structured world view. Humanists argue that we should take into consideration the individual human desire for coherence and also how it differs from person to person.

Supporter/Propounder: Y.F. Tuan Febvre, Vidal de la Blache. Sauer, Woolridge and Hartshorne.

Criticism of Humanism

[i] The researcher can never know for sure whether one has actually succeeded in providing true explanation.

[ii] This approach separates Physical Geography from Human Geography. In Physical Geography, quantitative research is a must.

[iii] It is difficult to build standard, models, and theories with the help of qualitative research.

[iv] The methodology is obscure.


Key Points on Humanism

[1] Y.F. Tuan was uses the term ‘humanistic geography’ in 1976

[2] Y.F. Tuan is considered the father of the humanistic school of thought in Geography

[3] Humanistic geography developed as a criticism against positivism and quantitative revolution in geography.

[4] Scholars associated with Humanistic approach Y.F. Tuan Febvre, Vidal de la Blache. Sauer, Woolridge and Hartshorne etc.

[5] Four main principles of Humanistic Geography: [a] Human awareness, [b] Human work as an agency, [C] Human consciousness, [d] Human creativity

[6] 5 Themes in Humanistic Geography – [i] Geographical Knowledge, [ii] Territory and Place, [iii] Crowding and Privacy, [iv] Livelihood and Economics, [v] Religion


[4] Structuralism in Geography

  • Structuralism is an approach within geography which advocates that to understand the surface patterns of human behaviour, it is necessary to have knowledge about the structures underlying them which shape human actions.
  • The beginning of the Structuralism can be traced in the French school of thought.
  • Founder of structuralism Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913). He was also known as accidental father of structuralism philosophy. He was actually a linguist. He uses the term structuralism for the linguistics.
  • Claude Levi Strauss a French (1906-2009) Anthropologist and ethnologist also contribute in structuralism.
  • So Saussure actually paved the journey of structuralism which was later on applied in a diverse range of fields based on different other perspectives and contexts with the advancement of time and discourse.

Time Period:

  • The structuralism philosophy in geography was introduced in between 1950s and 1960s.

Central Idea of Structuralism:

  • The arrangement and functional relationship between the parts or elements of something complex.

Structuralism in Geography

Structuralism in geography is an interdisciplinary studies. The basic idea and hypothesis of structuralism comes from the linguistic study, then it enters in the domain of social science as well as in geography.

[1] It is a theoretical approach in human geography

[2] Geography is a spatial science, therefore surface pattern of human behaviour, culture, social governed by the structure underlying them. To understand the structure, need in-depth study, first need to know the elements (more than two), second functional relations among them than third elements are arranged in a particular pattern or method to build a structure.

When the attributes are discussing in a spatial perspective, then it became Structuralism in geography.

For example, to know the reasons for migration (spatial phenomenon) one must look at underlying patterns such as poverty, violence, etc., that trigger people to migrate.

Proponents of Structuralism

  • Besides Ferdinand de Saussure and Claude Levi Strauss the other proponents of structuration theory are British sociologist Anthony Giddens and French sociologist Pierre Bourdien. Jean Piaget is also a structuralist thinker. According to Giddens structure is a continuous flow, a process reproduced by actions.
  • Jean Piaget said that process of gathering knowledge consists of different phases and therefore structures. Each stage in the development of knowledge has its own characteristics and systems and knowledge itself consists of structures.
  • A structuralist approach may study activities as diverse as food preparation and serving rituals, religious rites, games, literary and non-literary texts and other forms of entertainment to discover the deep structures by which meaning is produced and reproduced within the culture.

Criticism of Structuralism

  • Structuralism is a historical and favour deterministic structural forces over the ability of people to act.
  • It failed to explain symbolic mediation in the social world.

Key Points on Structuralism:

[1] Founder of structuralism Ferdinand de Saussure, a French linguist.

[2] The structuralism philosophy in geography was introduced in between 1950s and 1960s.

[3] Proponents: Ferdinand de Saussure and Claude Levi Strauss, Anthony Giddens, Pierre Bourdien, Jean Piaget etc.

[4] Structuralism is an approach advocates to understand the surface patterns of human behaviour.


[5] Feminism in Geography

Feminism is the belief that women should have equal rights to men. In consequence, the feminist movement fights for equal rights & opportunities for women. It is women’s movement in 1960s to struggle for the equality of rights as social class.

Feminist geography focuses on the inequalities towards women and removing those disadvantages towards women. So, it is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.

It is a set of political and social philosophies and emphasise role of gender in the constitution of social life. It is a system of thought radicalised by women’s experiences of multiple forms of oppressions like gender, class, race, religion and region.


The Feminist geography emerged in between 1960s and 1970s.

Feminist Geographer: Joni Seager, Doreen Massey, Susan Manson, Gillian Rose, Linda McDowell and Joanne P. Sharp etc. are eminent feminist geographers and scholars, describe the struggle of gaining recognition in academia.

Assumptions of Feminist Geography

[a] Gender oppresses women: in the form of dowry, sati paratha, inequalities for work, so there is where we see gender oppresses women.

[b] Social construct led by Patriarchy

[c] Women’s knowledge must for free society

Types of Feminism

Gender inequalities prevalent in the society are the reason for genesis of following four types of feminism

[i] Liberal Feminism

Liberal Feminism aims to achieve equal legal, political, and social rights for women.

It wishes to bring women equality into all public institution and to extend the creation of knowledge so that women’s issues can no longer be ignored.

[ii] Marxist Feminism

It asserts that capitalist class relationships are the root cause of female oppression, exploitation and discrimination

Capitalism is benefitted by the ‘family system’ characteristic of modern societies because women can be forced or socialised into unpaid domestic labour or child rearing. This benefits the capitalists because they do not have to pay women to perform this role. It advocates overthrow of the capitalist system of economic exploitation.

[iii] Socialists Feminism

It asserts that the main reason for women’s lower status in relation to men is governed by the social relations they inhabit and types of work they perform.

It advocates to create a more equal and equitable form of society. Social feminists believe that procreative activities and public sphere production are generally inter-dependent.

[iv] Radical Feminism

Radical Feminism arose within the second wave in the 1960s.

Radical feminism is a perspective within feminism that calls for a radical reordering of society in which male supremacy is eliminated in all social and economic contexts. Radical feminists seek to abolish patriarchy by challenging existing social norms and institutions, rather than through a purely political process.

Key Points on Feminism in Geography:

[1] Feminist geography focuses on the inequalities towards women and removing those disadvantages towards women.

[2] The Feminist geography emerged in between 1960s and 1970s.

[3] Joni Seager, Doreen Massey, Susan Manson, Gillian Rose, Linda McDowell and Joanne P. Sharp etc. are eminent feminist geographers and scholars,

[4] Assumptions of Feminist Geography

[a] Gender oppresses women

[b] Social construct led by Patriarchy

[c] Women’s knowledge must for free society

[5] Types of Feminism

[i] Liberal Feminism

[ii] Marxist Feminism

[iii] Socialists Feminism

[iv] Radical Feminism


[6] Postmodernism

  • It is a recent movement in humanities, philosophy, arts and social sciences. Postmodernism first emerged in the field of architecture and literary theory and then incorporated into social sciences afterwards.
  • It emphasises openness in social and geographical enquiry, artistic experimentation and political empowerment.
  • It developed in reaction to historicism in modern geographic thought. Historicism gives emphasis on biography (chronological description of individual and collective events). Consequently, it (historicism) neglects spatiality.
  • In the opinion of Soja (1989) historicism is based on an overdeveloped historical contextualization of social life and social theory that actually submerges and marginalized the geographical or spatial imagination. This results into subordination of space to time that obscures geographical interpretation of the changeability of social world.

Components of Postmodernism

There are several components of postmodernism, these are:

[i] Postmodernism as an object or an era: era is defined by things such as literature, art, and architecture and by processes such as differing forms of capitalist production that result in the context of postmodern thought.

[ii] postmodernism an attitude: This attitude can be understood as an intellectual movement that provides a coherent set of ideas for understanding the world in a particularly postmodern way.

[iii] Postmodernism as Style It originated in literature and literary criticism and spread to other artistic fields such as design, film, art, photography and architecture.

[iv] Postmodernism as Method It is the most enduring of the three main trends. It considers deconstruction as a principal strategy in which writing and reading of a text are influenced by multiple positioning of an author or a reader.

[v] Post Modernism as Epoch It is considered as an epoch in which changes in culture and philosophy are themselves located in the evolution of global economy and geopolitics. Hence, postmodernism is the culture of late capitalism.


Postmodern geography is characterized by-

[1] Postmodernism corrects the bias towards historicism by putting space in the centre of explanations; spatial dialectics alongside the historical dialectic. Inspired by postmodernism, David Harvey argued that historical materialism has to be upgraded to historical-geographical materialism

[2] Postmodernism puts a previously marginalized geography at the centre of social science by restoring spatiality alongside historical in critical social theory

[3] Postmodern geography lays emphasis on geo-social changes, population growth, hunger, disaster etc.

[4] Postmodern geography shifts from macro to micro and also from general to specific.

[5] Postmodern geography has thus moved away from spatial analysis to social theory.

[6] Ed Soja argued that postmodernism stresses the importance of geography and spatiality by championing differences.


N.B- Notes will be updated time to time

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