Humanistic geography studies human awareness and human agency, human consciousness and human creativity. It, therefore, deals with the meaning, value and human significance of life events.
It interprets man-space relationship with the historical approach. Humanism is a subjective approach which aims at verstehn, i.e., understanding of man in his environment. Kirk was the first geographer to advocate a humanistic approach in 1951. But it was Tuan (1976) who postulated humanistic geography.
Humanism grew as a criticism against positivism and quantification in geography. Humanists are not in favour of reducing space to mere geometrical concepts of surface as viewed by the positivists. From a humanistic viewpoint, space is inseparable from consciousness of humans who inhabit it. A strong affinity exists between the pre-war French school of human geography and the post-war Anglophone school of humanistic geography.
Despite its strong connection, humanistic geography is also a product of neo- Kantianism and pragmatism of Park and the Chicago school of sociology. During the next decade, humanistic geography moved a great distance from the position laid down by Entrikin. It shifted from its attack on positivism to criticize structuralism and structural Marxism; simultaneously it moved from its association with idealism to develop a more incisive methodology in the field of geography.
Principles of Humanism:
The principles of humanists are as follows:
1. To study the special body of knowledge, reflection and substance regarding human experience and human expression.
2. It deals with literary criticism, aesthetics and art history. Humanism is based on hermeneutics (the theory of interpretation and clarification of meanings).
3. It endeavours to interpret the landscape as a medium of symbolic meaning. It also widens the traditional definitions of iconography—study, description, cataloguing and collective representation of landscape.
4. It relies on participant observation, discussion and logical conclusion rather than quantitative tools.
5. According to Majid Husain, humanism seeks to disclose the world as it appears before scientific enquiry.
6. Humanists believe in objectification being not as simple an exercise as it is assumed to be.
Themes in Humanistic Geography:
The common themes in humanistic geography are:
Knowledge of geography is a basic instinct needed for the survival of animals. Even non-geographers possess a mental map regarding space, location, place and resources.
The formalisation and progress of humanism during the 1970s may be attributed to deep dissatisfaction with the mechanistic models propounded by spatial science that had been in vogue during the quantitative revolution. Due to this reason during, the initial years, both behavioural geography as well as humanistic geography were inseparable in their approach. But humanistic geography soon established itself as a distinct identity because of its emphasis on the “essential subjectivity of both the investigator and the investigated”.
Humanism is more than a mere critical philosophy, rather it is a rejection of the ‘geometric determinism’ which views human beings as always dictated by “universal spatial structures and abstract spatial logics”. According to D. Smith (1977), during this time human geography came to be viewed as a “people’s geography” i.e., human beings are placed at the centre of the discipline. So, social construction of space, place and landscape became a dominant tradition during the 1970s. As a result, Marxist geography, welfare geography, etc. came into existence.
During the 1980s, humanistic geography abandoned its position of criticising positivism and began criticising structuralism and structural Marxism.
Therefore, two basic streams can be distinguished:
1. There was a trend in humanism to identify itself with the “special body of knowledge, reflection and substance about human experience and human expression, about what it means to be a human being on earth.” (Meinig, 1983)
The methods of humanism were mainly herrneneutics and historiography, literary criticism, etc. According to Harris (1978) and Daniels (1985), humanism’s emphasis was on a search for “meanings and actions embedded in different places and iconography of landscape”. So they equated humanistic geography with historical geography.
These developments have probably led to the revival of cultural geography during this period.
2. The second stream was derived from various philosophies, such as existentialism and phenomenology. The methods involved relate to ethnography.
Towards the end of the 1980s, the two separate branches mentioned above were mixed in an inextricable manner. The stress on theoretical studies was given priority with the emergence of interests in cultural geography. Geographers, who were interested in setting up a link between social theory and human geography, lost interest in grand theory, and the role of competing local knowledge became important.
These interactions made humanistic geography increasingly difficult to recognise in the 1990s. Many humanistic geographers have shifted their interests to post-modernism, post- colonialism and post-structuralism which has further made recognition of human agency in humanistic geography almost impossible.
Some geographers, Cosgrove, for instance, have observed how “in its Renaissance origins, at least, humanism was implicated in the very geometricisation of knowledge which, in its modern geographical form, it sought to contest”. The humanistic perspective has also been indicted by an ecological critique which favours an ecocentric rather than anthropocentric view of the world.
Territory and Place:
Like other animals, humans have a sense of belonging to a place or territory, which they protect for their survival. For example, hunters and food gatherers may not envisage the boundary of a place or territory, which remains a network of paths and places.
Crowding and Privacy:
A crowded place often generates psychological stress. However, culture, social institutions and infrastructures reduce these stresses. Man needs privacy in order to generate his own world, where he can exercise his creative ability in solitude.
Livelihood and Economics:
Almost all human activities are functional in nature, since they support the social system, to which the human being belongs. People plan their economic activities according to their levels of knowledge and technology.
Religion is a universal institution. All over the world, religious culture seeks coherence and a clearly structured world view. Humanists argue that we should take into consideration the individual human desire for coherence and also how it differs from person to person.
Critics argue that in humanism it is difficult to draw any conclusion because one can never be sure whether the right conclusion has been reached.
On methodological grounds, it separates physical from human geography. Such dichotomy is harmful.
Since humanistic geography heavily depends on participant observation, it is difficult to develop theory, abstraction, generalisation and spatial geometry.
It depends more on subjective than objective research.
It puts least emphasis on applied research. The trend is harmful for geography as other disciplines are well ahead in this regard.
Humanistic geography does not offer any alternative to scientific geography. It is best seen as a form of criticism.