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Philosophers do not agree upon what is meant by science and knowledge. This means that there are differente views on the understanding of what science is. There are two traditional views: positivism and humanism (Macionis & Plummer, 2008)

Positivism is a set of philosophical approaches that seeks to apply scientific principles and methods, drawn from the natural and hard sciences, to social phenomena in order to explain them. So in this way it is logical system that bases knowledge on direct, systematic observation.

The term positivism designates the thought of the French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857). Comte argued that social research, until the nineteenth century, was speculative, emotive and romantic and that as a result it lacked rigour and analytical reasoning. Therefore Comte rejected metaphysical and normative questions as they could not be answered scientifically. Instead he posited to concentrate on facts and truths in order to explain and predict human behaviour.

Quantitative methods are used to collect data. Researchers use law like statements and verify their statement through empirical observation, the way it is done in the natural, ‘hard’ sciences. Positivism is characterized by the importance of observation, a belief in verification or falsification, the belief that causality is nothing more than repetition, a suspicion of non-observable theoretical entities, a unity of method and the ardent denial of metaphysics.

There are various forms of positivism. The two most discussed are logical positivism (based on verification) and critical rationalism (based on falsification). Logical positivism was further developed by the Vienna Circle in the 1920's. In their opinion social laws can be tested by doing measurements with large sample sizes and in this way laws can be verified (Kitchen, 2003). Critical rationalism was developed in response to logical positivism by Karl popper. In his opinion the truth of a law doesn't depend on the number of verifications but whether it can be falsified (Kitchen, 2003).

In Geography, positivism was introduced in the 1950’s. Before that time Geography had very much been a descriptive science but many argued geography should be more scientific and focus on finding laws to explain processes. The Quantitative revolution (1950’s) changed Geography from an ideographic to a nomothetic science.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s positivist methodology received more and more criticism. Critics doubted the objectivity of positivism, they did not believe in the purely objective and neutral scientist. Positivism did not take agency and structure into consideration, it assumed social systems were closed which is hardly ever the case, and many doubted whether the natural sciences approach was the appropriate methodology to study complex human relationships . Also, by limiting research to observable facts, positivism ignored a lot of geographical questions. Although there's criticism positivism stays strong within the field human geography today. Many geographers agree that geography is based on scientific principles and laws (Kitchen, 2003).


- Aitken, S. & Valentine, G. (2006). Approaches to Human Geography, Sixth Edition, SAGE.

- Christibee. (2010). Difference between humanistic geography and positivistic approach. Vinddatum 7 september 2011, op http://www.oppapers.com/essays/Difference-Between-Humanistic-Geography-And-Positivistic/333554

- Gregory, D., Johnston, R. , Pratt, G., Watts, M., Whatmore, S. (2009). The dictionary of human geography. United kingdom: Wiley-Blackwell

- Kitchin. (2006). Positivistic Geographies and spatial science. In S. Aitken & G. Valentine (Eds.), Approaches to human geography (pp. 20-29). Londen: Sage.

- Macionis, J. & Plummer, K. (2008) Sociology. A Global introduction. 4th edition, Pearson Education LTD.

- Marshall, A. (n.d.). A critique of the development of quantitative methodologies in human geography. Vinddatum 7 september 2011, op http://www.radstats.org.uk/no092/marshall92.pdf .


  • Published by Thijs Koolhof
  • Page enhanced by Judith Nijenhuis
  • Page enhanced by Mathijs Lammers
  • Page enhanced by Michiel van Rijn--MichielVanRijn 22:54, 25 October 2012 (CEST)
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