The word dualism’ simply connotes the state of being divided (i.e. same subject exist in two different forms). For any domain of knowledge, therefore, it means two conceptually contrasted stances.

Dualism finally leads to ‘dichotomy’ which means the bifurcation of any subject into branches of knowledge.

Ever since its inception as a domain of knowledge, geography has been encountered several methodological issues that eventually gave birth to several dualisms and dichotomies in the subject. Such a sort of dualism was prevalent even in the classical or medieval periods of geographical history.

Greek scholars like Aristotle, Herodotus, or Hecataeus emphasized on physical geography; Roman scholars like Strabo insisted on regional geography while Ptolemy stressed on mathematical geography; and, the Arab scholars like Al-Masudi, Al-Biruni, or AlIdrisi highlighted on the importance of the physical environment. However, such dualisms were very equivocal and abstruse.

It was in the post-Renaissance period that geography witnessed the evident rise of dualism and since then, the subject has been branched off into several exclusive domains on methodological grounds. Over time the divisions have been further sub-divided into different sub-disciplines.

Dichotomy and Dualism

  • Whenever any subject evolves as a discipline, there are debates and discussions that take place and various scholars present their views on different interpretations, approaches, etc
  • In Geography, it was a debate of Physical geography or Human Geography, Methodologies to be adopted, etc
  • Modern Geography has inherited right from the beginning, the concepts of dichotomy and dualism
  • These terms are used interchangeably but they have different meaning and perspectives
  • The dichotomy is the contrast or difference between two ideas, connoting division in the subject matter, while Dualism means Two aspects for a same subject, and Dualism is the concept of debate on a particular subject matter.
  • Dualism is the hallmark of social philosophy and environmental thinking. It means two parallel ideas having the same goal but mutually distinctive
  • Environmental Philosophy has been governed by dualistic thinking and dichotomous perception – as a result, several dualistic ideologies have emerged in the field of geographical learning.

Historical Perspective of Dichotomy and Dualism

Right from the days of Varenius, there has been a tendency to divide geography into 2 types of Subject Matter.

Varenius divided Geography into General Geography (e.g. Generalized study of Mountains, Plains, etc) and Special Geography (e.g. Study of Himalayas, Alps, Ganga, etc).

Kant has given more stress on Special Geography and this is obvious when he divided geography into 5 branches such as –

  • Mathematical Geography
  • Moral Geography,
  • Political Geography,
  • Commercial Geography, and
  • Teleological Geography.

Kant’s work was to promote Spatial Geography. Kant has also emphasized over systematic analysis and that was basically in General Geography.

With the rise of Humboldt and Ritter, there was a clear cut division in the methodology of Geography.

Humboldt had promoted Systematic Approach, while Ritter promoted Regional Approach.

The dichotomy is a methodological dividing line in geography. Another dividing line was brought in Subject Matter.

Ratzel’s view was completely different from the General Geography of Humboldt and Ritter.

Humboldt was one step ahead by saying that Physical Geography was General Geography.

It was discredited by Ratzel. Ratzel did not agree with the view that physical geography was general geography.

He rather promoted a new branch of geography as Human Geography. With this, the division of Geography became imminent. So with the emergence of Ratzel, a new dichotomy was started in geography in the name of Physical and Human geography.

With the rise of the French school of Geography, a new kind of dichotomy emerged in the subject that was known as Environmentalism vs. Possibilism. Environmentalism is also known as Determinism.

French Geographers promoted Human Geography as General Geography as they considered man as an active agent i.e. Possibilism.

American Geographers like Semple focussed on Environmentalism while French Geographers
focussed on Possibilism.

Vidal de la Blache (Father of French Geography) stated that Human Geography is General Geography.

He outrightly rejected the concept of Humboldt that Physical Geography is General Geography.

Humboldt divided Geography into 4 parts –

  • Geomorphology
  • Climatology
  • Oceanography, and
  • Biogeography

While Blache did not make any divisions, he emphasised on 5 aspects of human beings –

  • Possibilism (rise of Human Beings)
  • Race, Tribes, and Ethnicity
  • Cultural landscape and region
  • Population Growth, Distribution, and Migration
  • Trade and Transport

It was therefore obvious that Geography was divided into 3 sets of concepts of Dichotomy that were not a healthy trend for growing subjects like Geography. The 3 sets were –

  • Systematic vs Regional Geography
  • Physical vs Human Geography
  • Environmentalism vs Possibilism

Consequently, many geographers emerged for the unitary approach. In geography, many geographers gave the argument in favor of minimization of the distance between the divided subjects following the unitary approach. This type of thinking started the dualistic debate in Geography that is known as Dualism.

The concept of Dualism promoted discussion, arguments, and counter-arguments on the divided subject matters

Geographers like OHK Spate, Dudley Stamp, and Griffith Taylor were strongly in favor of an integrated Geography. They welcomed debate but disagreed with the division of Geography. The emergence of Positivism in American Geography (1953-70) also promoted the Theoretical and Realistic Approach in Geography.

Positivism refers to the use of Science & Physics Laws, theories, mathematical models in Geography e.g. Weber Model, Newton’s Gravity model in Population Geography, etc

The Realistic approach was further strengthened after 1970 by Critical Revolution in Geography

Consequently, present-day geography gives more emphasis to human aspects but this is not a favor to human geography, but simply due to need of present geography for its survival in the competition of applied subjects. Thus, the focus today is on Welfare Geography e.g. Border Area Development Program, Tribal Area Development Program, etc

Geography is being made more relevant with a focus on Human Geography. Traditional Geography will be compelled to remain in isolation and therefore, the dividing line is meaningless. What is important is to know the present aspects of society from Geography.

They expect Geography to play a central role in spatial analysis, This may be of any geographical item but the purpose must be to serve the society and to bring welfare and betterment to society.

Due to this compulsion, present-day geography has brought some major deviations from traditional empirical methodology and subject matter of Geography, Consequently, many aspects of Physical geography are marginalized and many new concerns have emerged in Modern Human Geography.

Although there have been some recognizable changes in the methodology and subject matter of geography but dualistic debate continues to remain as an important part of geographical exercises.

The dichotomy is not of so much importance in present-day geography but dualism continues to have due recognition.

Types of Dichotomy/Dualism

American school of geography has enlisted 6 types of Dualism in Geography viz –

  1. General Geography vs. Special Geography
  2. Systematic vs. Regional Geography
  3. Physical vs. Human Geography
  4. Determinism vs. Possibilism
  5. Theoretical vs. Applied Geography
  6. Idiographic vs. Nomothetic Geography

The first four have a clear division of concepts that is why they promoted dichotomy in Geography, but the latter two types of dualism have emerged after the 2nd World War and are not along lines of dichotomy, but are excessively due to emerging needs of society.

However, these six types of Dualism have not created any threat to the subject but have promoted healthier discussions and debate, which have ultimately enriched the subject.

In fact, the present day geography largely depends upon Dualistic debates.

General Geography vs. Special Geography

  • It includes Systematic vs. Regional Geography
  • This was started by Varenius (German) during the 17th century
  • Varenius recognized the two main divisions of Geography –
    • General or Universal
    • Special or Particular
  • General Geography deals with the entire world as a unit
  • It was, however, mainly restricted to physical geography which could be understood through Natural laws e.g. Plate Tectonics
  • On the contrary, Special Geography was primarily intended as a description of individual countries and world regions e.g. Himalayas, the Alps, etc.
  • It was difficult to establish laws in special geography where human beings are involved, whose behavior is always unpredictable
  • Special Geography nevertheless helped in the formulation of hypothesis and structured ideas
  • A similar view was also given by Immanuel Kant, but this type of division was not inherited by Humboldt and Ritter
  • Humboldt and Ritter presented a different scenario of Geography. They are known as the founding fathers of Modern Geography
  • They did not emphasize over Special Geography but gave more importance to Physical Geography/General Geography
  • There was not a division between Humboldt and Ritter on the subject matter, so dualism started by Varenius and Kant couldn’t be further promoted, and there was a decline of debates without any compromise or understanding among the promoters of general geography and special geography
  • However, Humboldt and Ritter brought a new kind of Dualism in Geography that is known as Systematic vs. Regional Approach in Geography
  • Humboldt was seriously engaged in the development of systematic physical geography, while Ritter was a regional geographer who gave weight to man as an important component of Physical surroundings
  • Gradually, all studies of a general nature acquired the status of Systematic Geography, while the special or particular studies were described as Regional Geography
  • Systematic Geography drew inspiration from the existing systematic sciences with a search for universal and generic concepts
  • Regional Geography, on the other hand, has not moved out of the ambit of particular studies
  • According to Humboldt, Geographical facts cannot be discussed in isolation
  • Every subject matter is related to some other aspects of the earth system
  • Hence, Regional accounts also need a geographical introduction of contents of accounts
  • For example, the Climate of Germany is to be studied, Humboldt had viewed in his famous book ‘Kosmos’ that the climate of Germany is very much related to the climatic system of Europe
  • It is not enough to simply describe Isotherms, isobars, the direction of winds, and the precipitation of Germany. It is more important to examine their causative factors. When this type of investigation is started, the geographical area of study would go beyond Germany and it is only a systematic approach that can provide details of the weather conditions of Germany
  • Ritter’s approach was completely different
  • Ritter, a teleologist, stressed the need for the study of natural phenomena “as a whole, as in parts”, in order to comprehend the “inherent plan”
  • He believed in the centrality of Regional Geography
  • He was of the view that there are regions at different levels of Geography e.g. Macro regions, Meso regions, and Micro regions
  • So, there are needs of climatic description, and it would be different at different levels
  • When the climate of Europe is discussed, it would be done at a higher order of regionalization, than when the climate of Germany is discussed
  • Ritter, therefore, suggested preparing a comprehensive discussion of all geographical aspects of a region
  • In other words, he was of the view to discuss physiography, climate, soil, vegetation, population, economy, and all other aspects of special geography in the form of regional descriptions of geographical facts. This type of work is still relevant e.g. NCR can be studied as an independent entity.
  • Nowadays, when regional planning development strategy is adopted, the country is more concerned with the subject of regional rather than to the subject to other regions
  • Even during the later phase of Humboldt and Ritter (after 1840), some German geographers had begun to reduce the differences between the two geographers. In this regard, Richthofen and Hettner did a significant role
  • Ratzel started a new kind of Dualism but as a subject of methodology, it provided equal importance to both systematic and regional approach
  • Richthofen was of the view that there is no real difference between the systematic and regional approach
  • Every systematic approach is to be carried on at a regional level and every regional account provides a systematic discussion of related facts and figures
  • These perceptions were strongly debated in Geography and sometimes, there were apprehensions of the divisions of Geography but when we look into basic contents of systematic and regional approaches, it is found that both have a similar approach for the explanation of Geographic facts
  • There cannot be a systematic approach without regional explanation and similarly, no regional explanation is complete without systematic descriptions
  • In the words of Berry, “The regional and general geography are not different approaches but are just two extremes of a continuum”
  • Thus, the dichotomy of systematic and regional therefore falls, as they do not oppose but support each other in the final analysis, of the subject matter of Geography.

Physical Geography vs. Human Geography

  • The Greeks were probably the first who started this branching of the discipline
  • Hecateus gave more weight to Physical Geography, while Herodotus and Strabo emphasized the Human aspect
  • In the medieval period, only Al Beruni is humanistic, others are all Physical Geographers
  • Dualism of Physical and Human Geography is still a characteristic of the discipline
  • In modern times, Varenius was the first to suggest differences in the characteristics of Physical and Human Geography
  • Right from the beginning, Physical Geography was the core concern of Geography. It was properly developed by Humboldt
  • Both Humboldt and Ritter had studied Human Beings as a subject matter of Physical Geography
  • Ritter wrote a book “Erd Kunde” where German Society is discussed simply as one of the living species
  • Humboldt was primarily interested in Physical Geography, while Ritter was more inclined towards Human Geography
  • There was a marked change in approach with Ratzelian Philosophy gathering more support and Human Geography gained much acceptance henceforth
  • Ratzel did not agree with this kind of approach towards the study of Human Beings. He was influenced by the contemporary concept of Social Darwinism
  • Hitler was influenced by the views of Ratzel and gave the concept of Greater Germanic Reich
  • Darwinism has considered two kinds of Evolution in the earth system
  • One is the evolution of species of nature. It was taken as a natural selection process
  • Social scientists like Spencer proposed the view that there is a similar process of selection and evolution in society. On the basis of this Social Darwinism, Ratzel considered that the social evolution of human beings cannot be discussed as a part of the selection and evolution of species of the Earth system
  • Human beings are physically and socially a different species and therefore their geographical presentation need the development of a separate branch of Geography and with this was the emergence of Human Geography
  • Ratzel introduced Human Geography through his book ‘Anthropogeographie’ having 3 Volumes
  • Most of the contemporary German Geographers were General Geographers
  • But real activities in general geography was about physical geography, so German geographers were clearly divided into physical and human geographers
  • The division of German Geography brought about a phenomenal impact on the emerging discipline of Geography in the USA, UK, and France.

American school of Geography

  • Before the impact of the Ratzelian school of thought, physical geography was general geography in the USA
  • Guyot was the first professor of Geography in the USA. Other Geographers – W.M.Davis, Salsbury, and Thornbury, played a significant role in the development of Physical Geography. They significantly emphasized on Landforms. Trewartha emphasized on Climatology
  • Up to the first decade of the 20th century, American Geography was basically Physical Geography
  • The change was brought by the work of Semple when she wrote a book – “Influences of Geographic Environment” in 1911
  • Although she was an environmentalist, but her approach was in the context of human settlement, human activities, human population growth, migration, and other related phenomena
  • Similar approach was taken by Huntington and after the 1st WW, American Geography was also divided into Physical and Human Geography
  • Geographers like Salsbury changed their academic interest and during the later phase of his career, he became a human geographer
  • After 2nd WW, this division continued in American Geography and that has practically benefitted the discipline as a whole
  • Presently, American Geography is integrated at the college level but at the university level, there is a division with a greater amount of specialization
  • This trend of specialization has increased the applied importance of Geography.

British school of Geography

  • Right from the beginning, British Geographers are giving importance to both the branches of Geography
  • Geographers like Herbertson, Dudely Stamp, Griffith Taylor, and O.H.K Spate had taken an integrated approach but with the emergence of Mackinder in British Geography, the emphasis was shifted in favor of Human Geography
  • Mackinder had supported the stand of Vidal de la Blache that Human Geography is general Geography and the idea of Possibilism
  • Mackinder’s impact was phenomenal on British Geography
  • Consequently, many universities established the department imparting Human Geography
  • The impact soon spread to other countries
  • Yangon or Rangoon has the first department of Human Geography established in 1919 by Dudely Stamp
  • It was followed by Lahore, Karachi, Aligarh, and Chennai.
  • Department of Human Geography at Delhi University was established by Mackinder.

French school of Geography

  • There is a great diving line in a French school
  • French Geography was sharply divided on the issue (Physical & Human)
  • Human Geography was overwhelmingly supported in France and Physical Geography was marginalized
  • Human Geography was provided leadership by Vidal de la Blache, who is regarded as the founder of Human Geography school, whereas Physical Geography was promoted by De Mortonne (only to promote physical geography in France by his book “French Alps” – a book on Glaciated reforms).


  • The Dichotomy of Physical Geography vs. Human Geography is artificial and illogical
  • In brief, Geography does not fall into two groups i.e. Physical and Human, which are two extremes of a continuum.
  • Presently, these two geographies are major branches of geography having an Integrated and interrelated analytical approach
  • It is this approach due to which the subject has survived with greater strength and credibility.
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Thakur sharad

Best content in crowd of content. Thanks a lot lotusarise.

Debabrata Dash

Good materials but all chapters should be covered in a expedite manner as we can prepare well before our exam….

Niranjan Borah

Dichotomy of all haven’t been provided, hard topics are skipped.

Manish Soni



U have not updated the content till now. I brought the notes yesterday and it is the same as here (incomplete)

Sumandeep virak

This is the way of elaborate.
Great expectations…

Neeraj Tiwari

Very informative content great work by team lotus arise…..thanks for uploading whole syllabus by matter

Divyanshi Saini

Sir…. Pls explain dualism and dichotomy with examples


Best notes

Imran emiwAy

Thnku team

Yogesh Lohar

Best content.

vivek pandey

the great job lotus arise .com


Sir mujhe in dono paragraph me contrast dikh raha h… Lag raha h ki dono ki definition interchange karke likh di gyi h kya… Please tell me… 🙏🏻

(1) The word ‘dualism’ simply connotes the state of being divided. For any domain of knowledge, therefore, it means two conceptually contrasted stances. Dualism finally leads to ‘dichotomy’ which means the bifurcation of any subject into branches of knowledge.

(2) The dichotomy is the contrast or difference between two ideas, connoting division in the subject matter, while Dualism is the concept of debate on a particular subject matter.