Criticisms and Debates surrounding the use of Naturalism in Geography


Naturalism is a philosophical perspective that emerged in the late 19th century and is characterized by an emphasis on the natural world and the idea that natural laws govern all aspects of life. In geography, naturalism has been applied as a theoretical framework for understanding and explaining various geographic phenomena. However, the use of naturalism in geography has been subject to criticism and sparked debates among geographers.

One of the main criticisms surrounding the use of naturalism in geography is its focus on the physical environment, neglecting social and cultural factors. Naturalism emphasizes the role of the natural world in shaping human activities, while overlooking the impact of human actions on the environment. This one-sided approach has been accused of perpetuating a simplistic and reductionist view of geography.

Moreover, naturalism has been criticized for its determinism, which suggests that the natural environment solely determines human behavior and development. This view has been challenged by geographers who argue that human actions and decisions also play a significant role in shaping geographic phenomena. Naturalism’s deterministic perspective has been seen as limiting the agency and autonomy of human actors in shaping their environment.

Another debate surrounding the use of naturalism in geography is its application to human geography. While naturalism is often associated with physical geography, its use in human geography has been questioned. The complex and dynamic nature of human societies and cultures cannot be fully explained or understood through the lens of naturalism. Critics argue that naturalism oversimplifies the complexity of human activities and interactions, leading to a narrow understanding of human geography.

Despite these criticisms, naturalism has also had its fair share of proponents in the field of geography. One of the main arguments in favor of naturalism is its scientific approach. Naturalism relies on empirical data and scientific methods, making it a valuable tool for understanding and predicting natural phenomena. Its emphasis on the physical environment also provides a strong foundation for the study of physical geography, such as climatology, geomorphology, and biogeography.

In addition, naturalism has been credited with highlighting the interconnectedness between the physical and human environment. The natural world provides the setting and context for human activities, and understanding these interactions is crucial for creating sustainable and adaptive solutions to environmental issues. Thus, naturalism has been seen as a useful perspective in analyzing the intricate relationship between nature and society.

Despite the debates surrounding its use, naturalism in geography continues to evolve and adapt to contemporary challenges. The recognition of the limitations of naturalism has led to the development of other perspectives, such as humanistic geography and critical geography, which seek to integrate social, cultural, and political factors into the study of geography. This shows that naturalism has sparked critical discussions and pushed the field of geography towards a more holistic and interdisciplinary approach.

To illustrate the practical application of naturalism in geography, we can look at the study of environmental determinism, one of its key concepts. Environmental determinism argues that the physical environment determines human behavior. For example, the harsh and dry conditions of the Sahel region in Africa have been linked to the nomadic lifestyle of the people who inhabit it, as they are forced to move in search of water and pastures. This example demonstrates how naturalism can provide insights into the relationship between the physical environment and human activities.

In conclusion, the use of naturalism in geography has sparked criticism and debates, mainly due to its one-sided and deterministic approach. However, naturalism continues to be a valuable perspective in understanding and explaining the physical world and its impact on human activities. Its scientific foundation and focus on the interconnectedness of nature and society provide a solid basis for further research and analysis in geography. Nevertheless, it is essential to acknowledge and integrate other perspectives to better comprehend and address the complex and dynamic nature of geography.