Humanistic geography

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Humanistic Geography emerged in the Anglo-American discipline during the 1970s. Humanistic geography is a manner of approaching within the field of human geography that seeks to put humans at the centre of geography (Gregory et al., 2009, pp. 356-357). It gives a central and active role to human awareness, human agency, human consiousness and human creativity. It is also an attempt to understand meaning, values and human significanse of life events (Ernste, personal communication). Human geography is concerned with the ways in which place, space and environment are both the condition and in part the consequence of human activities. Humanistic geography tries to understand the human world by analysing people’s relations with nature, their geographical behaviour and their feelings and ideas in regard to space and place, these form the fundamental ‘data’ of humanist inquiry (Tuan, 1976, p. 266). The main objective of humanistic geography is to bring human beings in all their complexity to the centre stage of human geography (Cloke, Philo & Sadler, 1991, p. 58). Placing humans at the centre stage of geography is also called peopling human geography. This objective is pursued explicitly in opposition to the curiously ‘peopleless’ character of much that had been previously been passed of as ‘human’ geography. It was a response to the dehumanizing effect of both positivism and Marxism (Gregory et al., 2009, p. 357). During late 1960’s, science as a whole was under attack for failing to solve human problems or notice human problems (Cloke, Philo & Sadler, 1991, p. 69). F.C.S. Schiller notes that humanist thought sees itself having a ‘practical’ dimension. Schiller is worried that intellectualism with no eye for the individual human beings leads to intellectual debate that is of little practical use to anybody (Cloke, Philo & Sadler, 1991, p. 60). The humanistic approach pays attention to the role of human beings ´out there´ in the real world as they perceive, interpret and shape the human geography of their surroundings. Deliberate stress is given to place: space enriched with the meanings, experiences and knowledge of human beings (Gregory et al., 2009, p. 357 & Tuan, 1976, p. 266). Humanistic geographers believed that social life was constructed through human actions (Gregory et al., 2009, p. 347). Derek Gregory (1986, p.207) offers us the following definition: An approach in human geography distinguished by the central and active role it gives to human awareness and human agency, human consciousness and creativity; at once an attempt at understanding meaning, value and human significance of life event and an expansive view of what the human person is and can do.

The very beginnings for contemporary humanistic geography forms the Renaissance, it gave the humanity a much more important place in the cosmic than had been the case in Medieval times. The human subject was seen as something indispensible to human thought and action (Cloke, Philo & Sadler, 1991, p. 61).

Humanistic geography embraces a diversity of philosophies, methods and substantive studies present in geographical literature (Cloke, Philo & Sadler, 1991, p. 57) based on philosophies as Essentialism, Idealism, Phenomenology and Pragmatism (Gregory et al., 2009, p. 357) and Existentialism (Cloke, Philo & Sadler, 1991, p.57). Their is indeed a wide variety of philosophies and other subjects on what humanistic geography is based on. Two foundational philosphies in humanistic geography are phenomenology and existentialism. A philosophy used in humanistic geography which is more methodologic is called pragmatism. Philosophies where meaning plays a more central role are the hermeneutics. Even the Bible is considered in humanistic geography, for using theological arguments. Besides these philospohies and the Bible, humanistic geographers get their knowledge also from psychological and psychoanalytical meterials, commonly know as environmental idealism. Last, but not least, humanistic geogrphers focus also on principles of substantive inquiry such as hitorical idealism or interpretative sociology (Cloke, Philo & Sadler, 1991, p.57).

This is not just a rethinking of basic geographical concepts, but it also provides a new way of using emperical data. The emperical data consists of ordinary people and how they experience space and place. Furthermore it's about the sense of place that's created by the way people experience places (Cloke, Philo & Sadler, 1991, p.80-81).

Humanistic geography has developed in a more fragmented way over the past two decades than has been the case with the parallel development of Marxist geography. This can be explained by the fact that humanistic geographers have ranged widely over a diversity of quite incompatible intellectual positions (Cloke, Philo & Sadler, 1991, p. 57).

The humanistic approach seems to have a lot in common with ‘behaviouralism geography’. However, these approaches can be distinguished by the fact that the behaviouralism geography uses quantitative methods and the humanistic geography uses particularly qualitative methods for the research on human beings (Aitkin, Valentine, 2009, pp. 162-163).

People associated with humanistic geography

- Anne Buttimer

- David ley

- Edward Relph

- Paul Vidal de la Blache

- Yi-Fu Tuan

- Schiller


Cloke, P., Philo, Ch. & Sadler, D. (1991) Approaching Human Geography. Chapman, London.

Gregory, D., Johnston, R., Pratt, G., Watts, M., Whatmore, S. (2009). The Dictionary of Human Geography, 5th edition. London: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing.

Gregory, D. (1986). The dictionary of Human Geography, 3th edition. London: Willey-Blackwell Publishing.

Ley, D. & Samuels, M. (1978). Humanistic geography: prospects and problems.

Tuan, Y. (1976).Humanistic Geography. University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Published by Marjolein Selten & Fleur van der Zandt

People associated with Humanistic Geography added by --CasparEngelen 12:00, 10 September 2011 (UTC) & Natasja van Lieshout

Improved by User:BoudewijnIdema, 17 October 2011, 21:11 (UTC)

Edited by Frank Simons

Edited by Michiel van Rijn, 19 September 2012, 12:01 (UTC)

Edited by Huub van der Zwaluw, 20 September 2012

Edited by Pieter van Luijk, 15 October 2012.

Edited by Rosalie Koen, 25 October 2012

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