Critical Revolution in Geography

Critical Revolution in Geography – UPSC (Human Geography)

In this article, You will read Critical Revolution in Geography for UPSC (Human Geography).

Critical Revolution can be seen as a critique on positivism introduced by the Quantitative revolution. Critical Revolution can be seen as one of the major turning points in the history of geography. Major turning points that came before were, in chronological order, environmental determinism, regional geography, and the quantitative revolution.

Critical Revolution

  • The demerits of the Quantitative Revolution led to the rise of the Critical Revolution.
  • When Quantitative Revolution was declining, Critical Revolution gained more worth
  • Critical Revolution was a backlash against Quantitative Revolution in the 1950s & 1960s as the related scholars wanted a change in the methodology
  • Critical Revolution is a realistic approach in Geography. It evolved from the criticism against the Quantitative Revolution which was a part of the Critical revolution
  • During the 1970s, a new wave emerged in Geography that is known as Critical Revolution.
  • The term was used by Tuan in 1976
  • This was also supported by Peet
  • It is related to societal problems, that is why Critical Revolution is not only a methodological revolution but also a revolution in the contents of Geography
  • Critical Revolution has established human aspects as the principal concern of geography as Quantitative Revolution reduced man to a mechanical being
  • Critical Revolution deals with aspects of human geography, hence it is directed to establish geography as a useful subject that cannot be ignored by planning and development agencies
  • Critical Revolution has brought about 6 major concepts in geography –
    • Behavioural concept
    • Humanistic concept
    • Time-space concept
    • Human ecology concept
    • Welfare concept
    • Radical concept
Critical Revolution in Geography

Overview of Behavioural and Humanistic Approaches and Differences between them.

Backlashes – Behavioural and Humanistic

  • There were 2 backlashes :
  • The backlash was mainly with regards to the concept of Rational Economic man which was a mechanical model of a man reducing man to the machine but a man is not always economic and rational in real life (e.g. Khasi tribe and milk taboo)
  • Man is a predictable reactor to stimulus
  • Behavioural Geography was not against quantification, positivist methods, or law-making generalizations
  • Behavioural Geography is often not considered as a backlash but is considered more as a refinement of Quantitative Revolution in making laws & generalizations more relevant to Geography
  • Behavioural Geography was basically opposed to the idea of considering man as economic & rational and reducing man to machine
  • Humanistic, on the other hand, was critical of the positivist method and the objective of cause-effect relationship study and generalizations through laws and models
  • The concepts of Behavioural Geography have their roots in 2 studies –
    • A study by WHITE, who studied how people respond to disasters like floods where the decisions are not always rational in the objective sense. People evaluate disaster threats according to their perceptions
    • A study by HEBERT SIMON, who observed how farmers make choices in their agriculture systems. He was the one to observe that human decisions are more the choices of man as satisfiers than maximizers
  • WOLBERT is said to have initiated the school of Behavioural geography based on the above two studies.

Concepts & Objectives in Behavioural Revolution

  • Its objectives were generalization, law-making and it was in favour of the positivist method, so actually, it was an extension of the Quantitative Revolution
  • One disagreement was about the model of man, that man is not a maximizer and man is a satisfier
  • Man makes choices & decisions not on the basis of the real objective world but on the basis of perceived subjective world
    • e.g. Disaster perception and reaction
  • According to Behavioural school, there are 2 worlds –
    • Real World – Objective, Measurable
    • Perceived World – Subjective, Measurable
  • The Humanistic school also acknowledges the presence of perceived subjective world but the subjective world was not measurable & hence was anti-positivist and completely against Quantitative Revolution
  • Humanistic School rejects the existence of any real objective world
  • Behavioural Geography was very inspired by concepts from psychology – cognitions, attitude, perceptions, etc which was a trend in those times
  • Another point of departure between the Quantitative Revolution and Behavioural Geography was –
    • Hartshorne believed in the Areal region, No laws, description, positivism, empirical, no cause-effect relationship
    • Quantitative Revolution focussed on Spatial, law making, cause-effect relationship, normative assumptions, isotropic surface, rational man
    • Behavioural Geography – disagreed on the concept of Rational Man
  • Behavioural Geography was also critical of the spatial science tradition of Quantitative Revolution and believed that study of spatial patterns & generalisations of the cause-effect relationship of phenomenon should not be the focus of Geography because such laws are only another levels of description which Quantitative Revolution had discredited in the areal paradigm of Hartshorne
  • Behavioural Geography intended to develop Geography as the science of studying how man perceives and operates on the environment & for making laws and models to predict human decision making and not as geography as a spatial science
  • Behavioural Geography has a difference of orientation. It should not focus on laws and models but on the perception of man
  • Quantitative Revolution focuses on Objective outcomes while Behavioural Geography focuses on Subjective outcomes
  • Behavioural Geography (& Humanistic Geography) shifted the focus of Geography from aggregates of the population reduced to mono-dimensional economic-rational man to studying individual and smaller groups, to understand the decision making the process better
  • Humanistic Geography was extreme in treating every individual as unique to the extent that it rejected any type of generalisation
  • It also rejected the objective of behavioural geography to study cause-effect relationship because it argued that it is impossible to analyze and generalise man who is dynamic in his perceptions and decisions
Kates Model

KATES gave a better description of the model of man and he detailed how man perceives and make decisions. He says –

  • Man is rational but rational with respect to his perceived environment (bounded rationality & not absolute rationality) i.e. all men are not rational in all situations
  • Man makes choices based on selective perception but eventually, the choices become habitual after series of conscious choices. Choices eventually lead to Stereotyping
  • Decisions & choices are made on the basis of pre-existing knowledge which are always partial knowledge
  • Information is evaluated according to certain predetermined criteria.
Concept of Mental Maps
  • The idea of Mental Maps was given by GOULD and was later improvised by DOWNS
  • In behavioural Geo, Mental maps are
    • important tools of enquiry
    • cognitive representations on the reality
    • picturizations of the perceived worlds (Objective or Subjective)
  • Mental Maps were a technique in understanding how people make choices & therefore in predicting decision making
  • Mental maps are the subjective representation of reality but they are objective tools
  • Mental maps are examples of positivist methods in the behavioural school to understand how the man makes choices
  • This technique however was rejected by the humanistic school because it believed that a subjective reality could neither be depicted objectively nor could the inferences from such maps give a true picture of the choices made
  • Humanistic Geography was against any form of positivism

The Humanistic Backlash

  • Another form of Critical Revolution
  • It was against all types of positivism and law-making generalizations
  • It was against studying any type of cause-effect relationship
  • It was not only against Quantitative Revolution but also against Behavioural Geography
  • It revived the descriptive methods
  • It was of the opinion that because there is nothing like real-world and because every moment and every individual is unique, the best geography can do is acknowledge & appreciate what exists and describe it without analyzing it.
  • In a way, it might look like Humanist Geography is reviving Hartshornian with a focus on a descriptive approach but the fact is that Hartshorne was in favour of positivist methods to develop geography as an accurate, orderly, rational science of description.
  • This school of Humanistic Geography suggested many vague concepts like the philosophy of phenomenology, techniques of Verstehen (“about getting into the mind of a person to understand an event”), and others because of which it never really became an alternative to Quantitative Revolution
  • It was always a criticism against Positivism.
Important Scholars of humanistic Geography
  • The three important scholars of humanistic geography were –
    • YIFU TUAN – He is the first to talk about the concept of the perceived world in Human Geography.
    • GUELKA – He introduced the philosophy of idealism into Human Geography.
    • KIRK – He is the founder of the school of Phenomenology.

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