In this article, You will read Areal Differentiation (by Richard Hartshorne) for UPSC – Perspective in Human Geography (Geography Optional).

As the environment, topography, culture, language, human activities, and human requirements, etc are not uniform everywhere on the earth, hence, it is not prudent or suitable to make the standard model/theory to study/develop for all geographical areas.

In simple words, the development/study model of the plain area can not be suitable for the development/study model of the hilly area.

The Main Idea to develop this concept was to give the importance of regional geography, and it is against the standardization of the Model/theory.

Areal differentiation is one of the perspectives of human geography in which importance is given to the uniqueness of the geographical area rather than the standard model creation. The first technical word ” Areal Differentiation” was mentioned by Hartshorne in his book ” Nature of geography”. 

In Areal differentiation, We try to understand “how one area differs from others”.

 Areal differentiation

The study of areal variation of human & physical phenomenon as they relate to other spatially proximate and causally linked phenomenon is known as Areal Differentiation.

  • Human and Physical phenomenon refers to areas such as NCR which has variable boundaries and changing Population patterns
  • Spatial Proximation means the places/areas should be in proximity or close enough to easily undergo their comparison e.g. Agricultural zones such as Wheat Zone, Rice zone cannot be compared with Industrial Zones
  • It studies variations in different areas/regions.
  • Nature is not equal everywhere as variation in character, intensity & magnitude of the phenomenon of climate, vegetation, etc.

The term ‘Areal Differentiation’ was coined & used by Hartshorne in his classical work ” The Nature of Geography” published in 1939.

Areal Differentiation gives a scientific & rational definition of Geography i.e. Geography is defined as a study of accurate description and analysis, rational description & the Study of variable characteristics of Earth. It defines whether differences are to be considered or similarities in a region. It is the study of variable characteristics of the earth in general & region in particular.

Areal Differentiation is also known as chorology and chorography. Chorology is the study of the Areal Differentiation of Earth’s Surface. Areal Differentiation may be termed as “idiographicas it is concerned with uniqueness & particular. The idiographic Approach is based on finding differences.

Historical Background

  • Perspectives in Human Geography iterates the philosophy behind the evolution of Geography
  • Areal Differentiation represents the oldest tradition of Western Geographical inquiry
  • First set forth by Hecataeus of Miletus in 6th Century BC & codified in the form of Chorology by Strabo in his 17 books on Geography
  • In Strabo’s words, “Geographer is the person who describes the parts of Earth”. 2 Keywords are described & parts i.e. Parts towards Regional Geography
  • Subsequent to Strabo, it was Kant who gave a philosophical foundation to chorology
  • Kant is the philosophical father of Geography
    • Hecataeus – Strabo – Kant – Hettner
  • Then, it was Hettner who established Chorology as Regional Science
  • The concept of Hettner was the inspiring guiding line for Hartshorne.

Revival of Areal Differentiation

  • At the beginning of the 1940s, there was QR & various idiographic approaches were severely criticized by followers of QR (Quantitative Revolution).
  • QR approached Geography with a systematic approach following Science, Mathematics, etc to develop Models. Developing Models requires to focus on similarities and not on differences
  • Areal Differentiation was criticized as the approach is against theory-building & laws and without theory-building & laws, prediction can’t be made and planning can’t be done.
  • In the 1940s, Shaeffer raised a debate against Areal Differentiation that it is hindering the growth of Geography as a systematic science because Areal Differentiation follows an idiographic approach (i.e. study of particular uniqueness of different regions) but for formulating laws & theories, you need to study similarities that exist between various regions i.e. by way of following nomothetic approach – theories & laws can be propounded. Therefore, Geography can be a systematic subject
  • Schaefer termed Kant as a father of Exceptionalism and called areal differentiation as the exception.
  • Areal Differentiation studies exceptional features of different regions
  • RevivalIn the 1980s, Areal Differentiation again resulted as a powerful tool & made a comeback as a central perspective for Human Geography.

Main Reason for Revival of Areal Differentiation

Areal Differentiation studies variation in Physical and Human Phenomenon.

Main Reasons for its revival include –

  • Streams of thought referred to as Humanistic Geography which gives a central and active role to human awareness & human agency, human consciousness, and creativity
  • The Humanistic Method (iconographic technique) seeks to explore the composition of the landscape, interpreting their Symbolic content & how the human landscape is shaped by and shaking broaden the social and cultural process
  • Changing Physical Phenomenon facilitates changes in Human Phenomenon which supports Areal Differentiation e.g. Races in Equatorial Region are different from that in Tundra and Taiga with different social and cultural practices
  • Humanistic Geographers considered Man as an active agent of Change who then started supporting Areal Differentiation
  • The analysis of Uneven development & changing spatial division of Labour which includes Analysis of Regional Disparities
    • Inter-Country
    • Intra Country
  • To identify backward regions & study differences in the region which help in finding out reasons for their backwardness
    • Resource Disparity
    • Human Resource Differences
  • Since Areal differentiation emphasized the study of differences, Backward Regions can be easily identified, Therefore, Areal differentiation is a potential tool for planners
  • Spatial Variation in economic activity, wellbeing can be studied by Areal differentiation e.g. HDI is different for different countries, Iron is found in Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, etc but not in other states
  • It helps in planning for a region or a country with disparities such as for BIMARU states and South Indian states
  • Various Govt programs such as Desert Area Development Program, Backward Area Development Program, Border Area Development Program, etc help study the uniqueness and differences of a region
  • Therefore, to study Geography, variations are a must to be taken into consideration
  • Another source of influence comes from attempts to create a contextual theory in social sciences, in which a place or region is viewed as geographically mediating between Human age & Social structure e.g. Regions like NCR, Western Rajasthan, Southern Regions play an important role in Human and Societal interaction such as joint family system may be prominent in Rural areas and Nuclear family may be prominent in Urban Areas
  • Areal Differentiation is important for planning as differences help in planning
  • It is thus implicated directly in the portion of Geographical sameness and differences.

Methodology of Areal differentiation

Areal differentiation has done in 3 steps –

  • The basic tool of Areal Differentiation is regionalization for which qualitative and quantitative methods have been applied
    • e.g. To study climatic regions in India, Qualitative and Quantitative methods are applied such as the amount of Rainfall, Temperature, Precipitation, etc, and formulas/calculations for their generalization
  • Regional Synthesis to understand the integrative nature of elements of phenomenon & to find causal links
    • e.g. Influx of Population in NCR because of economy, industries, climate, etc. Less population in Western Rajasthan due to High Temperature and Low Rainfall, etc.
  • Study of a coherent picture of the region by having a comparison with the near proximate i.e. Areal Differentiation joining regions or related regions e.g. Rainfall in the Western Ghats and Meghalaya can be compared.

This whole method is the Areal Differentiation.

Criticism of Areal differentiation

  • Areal Differentiation attempts to have demarcation of boundaries that can’t be static, rather they are often dynamic and act as transitional zones, so fixation of boundaries is a problem in Areal Differentiation.
    • E.g. Different Climate zones have boundaries that cannot be fixed, NCR is expanding regularly, etc; any region backwardness – mainly because of population & people are mobile – is variable (Territoriality of Social Groups is dynamic & can’t be reduced to singular temporally fixed set of spatial units)
  • Schaeffer criticized Hartshorne & called Areal Differentiation as exceptionalism in World Geography and Kant as Father of Exceptionalism.
  • Schaeffer said Areal Differentiation has made Geography complicated & complex science and he supported systems approach in Geography such as Generalisations, Nomothetic approach, etc
  • Haggett was one of the main critics of Areal Differentiation as he focussed on Areal Integration
  • Areal Differentiation criticized that it is incapable of contributing towards effective generalization
  • Schaeffer said Geography shall be a law seeking subject comparable to physical sciences & mere description can’t lead to the development of the discipline
  • After 2nd WW, Areal Differentiation was rejected & QR witnessed the growth of Nomothetic Geography
  • Regions and Features of regions are not isolated entities. They are the result of interaction with neighboring region leading to further classification e.g. Delhi and adjoining regions such as Faridabad, Ghaziabad, Gurgaon, Noida, etc are studied together
  • Presupposed Determinism as with Blache theory and evolution of Possibilism
  • More descriptive
  • No demarcation
  • Focus on Regional Totality and not on individual elements (Regions are integrated with neighboring Region)
  • Limited to further classification, therefore a new theory of Regional Synthesis developed.

Current Status and Relevance of Areal differentiation

In the present context, Areal Differentiation is again reverberating in the minds of Geographers and considered an essential tool in Geography because of

  • Regional Planning – Resource Planning
  • Backward Area Development, Tribal Area Development
  • Naxalism & causal links (Physical and Non-Physical Factors)
  • Agri Zonal
  • Epidemic disasters e.g. Zika Virus.

In India, nowadays we are planning to develop 100 smart cities, the same model cant be applied in all smart cities because each city has there own importance. Examples:

  • Varanasi smart city: it is a religious city, so importance should be given to: 
    • Ganga Ghat development 
    • Classical Music development 
    • Varanasi Sari industries 
    • Temple, Streat cleanliness 
    • Communication, connectivity Security of foreign tourist, etc 
  • Kanpur smart city: In is an industrial center city, importance should be given to: 
    • Textile & leather industries 
    • Hight transport facilities needed to easy movement of goods 
    • Need water conservation for textile & leather industry 
    • Water treatment plants needed to avoid water pollution from the textile and leather industry. 

Areal differentiation can help to reduce the social disparity by regional planning.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Thanks guys it takes hours to get all such information…..

Sakshi Panwar

Thanks a lot

Haddock Tintin

I believe there is a typo in the definition – I think it should be causally and not casually. Could you please confirm?


Sir,what is the meaning of QR

Anthony Mondal

is there any answer writing initiative in geography optional. it will be helpful


sir/madam My heartly and humble request with folded hands,pls post some questions that I can answer,and you can give guidance on it,I will be very gr8ful to u,gave 3 mains but due to geography,I missed all.thanks.


Arpit have you completed whole geography syllbus??

Be Happy Always



Is there any any books, combined of all these geographical portions for optional ?
Actually these are good notes. Thank you for your efforts.

vandana mishra

rd dixkhist

Rajat mehra

Mam,i think lotus arise pattern is 1000 times better than rd dicit sir.

Annu rana

Very helpful

ankit pandey

thanku ,thanku very much sir ,i dont have words to express my feelings.


The subject has become easy to understand.I really like the current updates with topics explained.


Thanks to all of you.


why people say that geography is not scoring subject ? sir

Shivam Gaur

thank you so much …I think there is a typo in the last point of main reasons for revival of areal differentiation…in place of ‘portion’ it should be production…

vandana mishra

very helpful for post graduation exams also

Lord Myers

Please how can one argue or draw emphasis that geography is the study of Areal Differentiation?




Great website. I am referring it for my pg exam. Also preparing for upsc with geography optional. Great for quick revision. Also very well organized content.


respected madam…….how can i download this pdf