Reply To: Human geography

  • Encyclios

    April 24, 2023 at 9:48 AM

    The renewal of human geography

    Beginning in the late 1940s geographers are inclined, partly because of the changing intellectual climate, to question the classical paradigm. Whereas at the beginning of the century the natural sciences hinged on the search for genetic explanations, now understanding the ‘physiology of events’ seems more important than knowing from what, why, and how they originated. Knowledge of the mechanisms that regulate the life of different systems makes it possible to predict their future conditions from the current situation: prediction becomes possible and this facilitates interventions. One knows how and where to act in order to direct the course of events.The concepts of system and structure are at the center of the scientific mentality that in the 1950s imposed itself almost everywhere in the social sciences: these adopted one of the models of the positive sciences, the systemic model. It allows a profound renewal of the various disciplines and multiplies their applications, but its use soon raises a number of questions: is it enough for a structure to be stable for it to be acceptable? Should one favor the evolution of a system toward a configuration that makes it more efficient even if this creates new inequalities and injustices among its members? The neopositivist paradigm has something in common with the naturalistic paradigm it succeeds: for it, too, humans are merely pawns within a system. If for the followers of naturalism they were cells of an organic whole, for neopositivists they are parts of a machine. Can the social sciences, however, ignore men’s aspirations for justice and happiness? According to radicals, critical of the developments of the 1960s, the answer is no.

    Therefore, the new directions of the social sciences do not greatly increase the consideration of the human element, and several are beginning to question whether individuals are given due importance: this attitude, however, is opposed to the dominant tendency to deal mainly with social reproduction, training and conditioning. Marxism and Freud’s theories have also taught us to look at man with a certain cynicism: on the one hand, the discovery of the unconscious has caused us to lose all faith in what appears too clear and rational, and on the other hand we have often become somewhat hasty in judging people’s ideas about the society in which we live as mystifying.

    In the late 1960s there is a shift in sensibility. Recognizing the unconscious as playing a role in the functioning of the human mind should not lead to ignoring the meaning that people give to their lives: there is no society without a symbolic dimension. It is precisely to the recovery of this dimension that scholars drawing on phenomenology and humanistic approaches have been working for nearly two decades. The renewal of contemporary geography is part of a broader motion, one that exceeds and conditions it. Entering the realm of the social sciences, human geography becomes aware, but belatedly, of the need to delve into the principles and methods of ecology: the study of vertical relationships between human groups and their environment is momentarily set aside, and geographers enter into competition with ethnologists and ecologists.