Human Geography: Nature and Scope- NCERT Notes UPSC

Human Geography

Human geography studies “the relationship between the physical/natural and the human worlds, the spatial distributions of human phenomena and how they come about, the social and economic differences between different parts of the world”.

One of the crucial topics of Geography, Human Geography should be studied in detail during the UPSC exam preparation. This article will navigate you through all the essential aspects and concepts of Human Geography.

Nomenclature Used in Human Geography

  • Regions, villages, towns have been described as ‘organisms’
  • German geographers describe the ‘state/country’ as a ‘living organism’
  • Networks of road, railways and water ways have often been described as “arteries of circulation”.

Nature of Human Geography

  • Human geography studies the inter-relationship between the physical environment and socio-cultural environment created by human beings through mutual interaction with each other.
  • Houses, villages, cities, road-rail networks, industries, farms, ports, items of our daily use and all other elements of material culture have been created by human beings using the resources provided by the physical environment.

Here’s our faculty for Geography, Himanshu Sharma Sir explaining Orientation of Geography in this detailed video lecture:

Naturalisation of Humans and Humanisation of Nature

  • Human beings interact with their physical environment with the help of technology. It is not important what human beings produce and create but it is extremely important ‘with the help of what tools and techniques do they produce and create’.
  • Human beings were able to develop technology after they developed better understanding of natural laws. 
  • Technology indicates the level of cultural development of society. For example, the understanding of concepts of friction and heat helped Human beings discover fire. 
  • Knowledge about Nature is extremely important to develop technology and technology loosens the shackles of environment on human beings. In the early stages of humans, interactions with their natural environment were greatly influenced by it. They adapted to dictates of nature because the level of technology was very low, and the stage of human social development was also primitive. This type of interaction between primitive human society and strong forces of nature was termed as environmental determinism. 
  • In primitive human society nature is considered powerful force, worshipped, reversed and conserved. There is direct dependence of human beings on nature for resources which sustain them. The physical environment for such societies becomes the “Mother Nature”.
  • With social and cultural development, humans develop better and more efficient technology. They move from a state of necessity to a state of freedom.
  • The imprints of human activities are created everywhere; health resorts on highlands, huge urban sprawls, fields, orchards and pastures in plains and rolling hills, ports on the coasts, oceanic routes on the oceanic surface and satellites in the space. The earlier scholars termed this as possibilism.
  • Nature provides opportunities and human being make use of these and slowly nature gets humanised and starts bearing the imprints of human endeavour.
  • A geographer, Griffith Taylor introduced another concept which reflects a middle path (Madhya Marg) between the two ideas of environmental determinism and possibilism. He termed it as
    Neo-determinism or stop and go determinism.
    • The concept shows that neither is there a situation of absolute necessity (environmental determinism) nor is there a condition of absolute freedom (possibilism). It means that human beings can conquer nature by obeying it.
    • They have to respond to the red signals and can proceed in their pursuits of development when nature permits the modifications. It means that possibilities can be created within the limits which do not damage the environment.
    • There is no free run without accidents. The free run which the developed economies attempted to take has already resulted in the greenhouse effect, ozone layer depletion, global warming, receding glaciers and degrading lands.
    • The neo-determinism conceptually attempts to bring a balance nullifying the ‘either’ ‘or’ dichotomy.

Important links for IAS preparation:

Tips & Tricks to Prepare Geography for UPSC Prelims Population: Distribution, Density, Growth and Composition- NCERT Notes UPSCEconomic Development and Glasgow Climate ActionBiodiversity- UPSC Notes
Preparation Plan for Environment & EcologyIntensified Mission Indradhanush (IMI) 4.0Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM)Indian Constitution: Why and How? – NCERT Notes UPSC

Evolution of Human Geography

The process of adaptation, adjustment with and modification of the environment started with the appearance of human beings over the surface of the earth in different ecological niches.

Broad Stages and Thrust of Human Geography

PeriodApproachesBroad Features
Early Colonial periodExploration and descriptionImperial and trade interests prompted the discovery and exploration of new areas. An encyclopaedic description of the area formed an important aspect of the geographers account.
Later Colonial periodRegional analysisElaborate descriptions of all aspects of a region were undertaken. The idea was that all the regions were part of a whole. i.e. (the earth): so. understanding the parts In totality would lead to an understanding of the whole.
1930s through the Inter-War periodAreal differentiationThe focus was on identifying the uniqueness of any region and understanding how and why it was different from others.
Late 1950s to the late 1960sSpatial organisationMarked by the use of computers and sophisticated statistical tools. Laws of physics were often applied to map and analyse human phenomena. This phase was called the quantitative revolution. The main objective was to identify mappable patterns for different human activities.
1970sThe emergence of humanistic. radical and behavioural schoolsDiscontentment with the quantitative revolution and its dehumanised manner of doing geography led to the emergence of three new schools of thought of human geography in the 1970s. Human geography was made more relevant to the socio-political reality by the emergence of these schools of thought. Consult the box below to know a little bit more about these schools of thought
1990sPost-modernism in geographyThe grand generalisations and the applicability of universal theories to explain human conditions were questioned. The Importance of understanding each local context in its own right was emphasised.

Fields and Sub Fields of Human Geography

  • Human geography attempts to explain the relationship between all elements of human life and the space they occur over. 
  • Thus, human geography assumes a highly inter-disciplinary nature. 
  • It develops close interface with other sister disciplines in social sciences in order to understand and explain human elements on the surface of the earth. 

Interesting Points

  • Various Definitions of the Human Geography:
    • “Human geography is the synthetic study of relationship between human societies and earth’s surface” – Ratzel.
    • “Human geography is the study of “the changing relationship between the unresting man and the unstable earth.” – Ellen C. Semple.
  • Welfare or humanistic School of thought: In human geography, it was mainly concerned with the different aspects of social well-being of the people. These included aspects such as housing, health and education.
  • Radical School of thought: It employed Marxian theory to explain the basic cause of poverty, deprivation and social inequality. Contemporary social problems were related to the development of capitalism.
  • Behavioural School of thought: It laid great emphasis on lived experience and also on the perception of space by social categories based on ethnicity, race and religion, etc.

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