In this article, You will read Welfare Approach in Human Geography (Geographical Thought) for UPSC.

Welfare geography is an approach to the geography where the emphasis is on spatial inequality and territorial justice. Destined up with the rise of radical geography in the early 1970s, welfare geography stresses the need to identify and explain the existence of crime, hunger, poverty, and other forms of discrimination and disadvantage.

Welfare Approach

  • The concept was introduced by a British Geographer, Smith of Dandee University, Scotland in 1971.
  • Smith wrote a book – “An introduction to the Geography of Social Well-being“.
  • He was one of the geographers criticizing QUANTITATIVE REVOLUTION.
  • According to him, Models and theories should have benefits for the welfare of society, otherwise, it is not that relevant.
  • Welfare Geography is one of the alternative models of Critical Revolution.
  • For investigation in Human Geography, Smith said that center of the geographical investigation is the welfare of social beings. It is the need of time otherwise the subject cannot survive.
  • Smith’s work was further strengthened by Optimality Model prepared by Pareto (economist) in 1973.
  • Both Smith and Pareto said that there should be a proportionate increase in income i.e. Inequality should be reduced with the increase in GDP.
  • Amartya Sen also promoted a welfare economy in the Indian Subcontinent.
  • In 1977, Smith presented a new book – “Human Geography – A welfare approach“.
Welfare Approach in Human Geography

Welfarism & Smith’s Welfare concept

  • S.K. Nath, an Indian origin British Geographer (1973) defined Welfare Geography in the following terms – “Welfare Geography is that part of Geography where we study the possible effects of various geographical policies on the welfare of society”
  • Geographical policy basically means the impact of geographical attributes on the society e.g. studying about earthquake, volcanoes, etc help in developing policies for Disaster Management.
Smith’s Welfare concept
  • Smith’s Welfare concept is a great contribution in the field of welfare geography
  • He has directed four attributes of investigations to the study i.e. Who, What, Where, and How
    • Who – Identification of downtrodden, retarded, underprivileged people in the society
    • What – Identification of development preferences of welfare
    • Where – Identification of Place
    • How – Identification of method for the execution of welfare programme.
  • In short, also known as – Who gets What, Where, and How.
  • But these attributes faced a lot of interferences – legal, illegal, political, etc, due to which welfare measures are not properly implemented.
  • Most of the developing countries face this problem. Economic disparity is increasing in developing countries.
  • Smith has given 3-dimensional models for his concept.
Welfare Approach

Basis of Welfare Geography

  • Welfare Geography is based on
    • Non-discrimination
    • Ecological parity and well-being
    • Social justice
    • Equal status to women
    • Protection to children and old
    • Secular society
    • Physical quality of life
  • Thus, welfare geography seeks equanimous positions for all human beings with the good physical quality of life, distributive justice, protection of their natural life i.e. an egalitarian Society
  • Welfare Geography is based on 4 principles –
    • Humanism
    • Radicalism
    • Post-behaviouralism
    • Existentialism
  • The aim was welfare status and prosperity for all and to achieve this, mapping of regions was done using Human Development Indicators
  • Scandinavian countries were the first to adopt this approach and it was taken up by others as well.

Welfare vs. Radical Approach

  • Though the origin of both was same, their methodology and objectives were different
Welfare ApproachRadical Approach
Soft tone approachHard tone Approach
Moderate PhilosophyMarxist Philosophy
Not very much criticalVery critical and accused the government
Gave solutionCouldn’t give solution
  • Also, unlike the radical approach, the welfare approach also gave some solutions under the existing societal setup.


  • This branch of geography has brought the discipline closer to the welfare and development of society
  • But this branch gives more emphasis on socio-economic parameter than on Geographical orientation.
  • It ignores the traditional geography parameter and therefore, some geographers have been against this new approach
  • To them, it is very much a part of applied geography and this type of study needs to be promoted within applied geography
  • Other Criticisms
    • The demarcation of welfare regions is difficult
    • Definition of welfare varies
    • Reliable options available
    • It is a qualitative approach, therefore cannot be measured
  • However, many Canadian and American Geographers have appreciated that approach and have almost established its importance not only in the field of geography but also in the fields of planning, development, and welfare e.g. Hill Area Development Program, Tribal Area Development Program, etc are based on Welfare Geography.


  • The welfare approach enriched geographical thought and by emphasizing on equality and social justice, gave a new face to it
  • But a need for the synthesis of all approaches still persists so as to derive the best out of all of them.

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Sumneet Khanna

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Arvind Kejriwal



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ankit pandey

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Your notes are very useful, they clarify all the concepts well in exam point of view

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