Realism vs. Other Philosophies in Geography: A Comparative Analysis


Realism and its influence on geography has been a long-standing debate among scholars and philosophers. While many have embraced this perspective, others have challenged its notions and proposed alternative philosophies to understand the world around us. In this article, we will delve into the comparative analysis of realism and other philosophies in geography, exploring their underlying principles and practical applications.

Realism, as a philosophical approach, emphasizes the objective reality of the physical world and the importance of empirical evidence in understanding it. This perspective sees geography as an empirical science that aims to uncover and interpret the physical and human dynamics of the Earth. According to realists, the world contains objective truths, and it is the role of geographers to discover and analyze these truths through scientific methods.

One of the major strengths of realism is its reliance on empirical evidence, making it grounded in solid scientific principles. This provides geographers with a systematic and logical framework to explore and interpret the spatial patterns and processes of the world. For instance, in a study of urbanization, realists may use census data, land-use maps, and satellite imagery to understand the growth and development of cities. By relying on such evidence, they can draw reliable conclusions about the phenomenon and its implications on different geographic scales.

On the other hand, there are also criticisms against realism. One of the main criticisms is its detachment from social and cultural factors. Realists often simplify and reduce the complexities of human interactions by focusing solely on physical processes. This can lead to an oversimplified understanding of the world and hinder a comprehensive analysis of the factors that shape it.

To address this criticism, other philosophies have emerged in geography, challenging the dominant perspective of realism. One of these alternative perspectives is humanism, which emphasizes the subjective experience of individuals and the role of human perception in shaping our understanding of the world. Unlike realism, humanism recognizes the importance of human agency, culture, and values in shaping spatial patterns and processes.

For example, in the study of land use change, humanists may consider the influence of cultural and social norms on the decisions of individuals and communities. They recognize that humans are not just passive actors in the landscape but actively shape it through their beliefs and actions. By incorporating these factors into their analysis, humanists provide a more nuanced understanding of the interaction between humans and their environment.

Another philosophy that challenges realism is Marxism, which centers on the concepts of power and inequality in shaping the spatial distribution of resources and opportunities. Unlike realism, which focuses on objective truths, Marxism highlights the role of social structures and systems in perpetuating economic disparities and spatial inequalities. Through this lens, geography is seen as a tool for understanding and challenging societal issues such as poverty, social injustice, and environmental degradation.

To illustrate, a Marxist analysis of urbanization would consider the unequal distribution of wealth, resources, and opportunities in cities. This perspective would highlight how capitalist systems and power dynamics shape the spatial patterns of urbanization, resulting in slums, gentrification, and other forms of inequality.

In conclusion, while realism has been the cornerstone of geographical inquiry, other philosophies have emerged to challenge its dominance. Its emphasis on empirical evidence provides a solid foundation for understanding the physical world, but its detachment from social and cultural aspects has been criticized. Alternative philosophies such as humanism and Marxism provide a more holistic and critical perspective on geography, recognizing the importance of human agency, culture, and power dynamics in shaping the world around us. Ultimately, the choice of philosophical approach depends on the research question and the perspectives of the geographer, but it is essential to consider the strengths and limitations of each perspective in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of the complex world we live in.