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environmental determinism

  The doctrine that human activities are controlled by the environment (Lewthwaite, 1966). Since ancient times a belief in the moulding power of the physical environment on human culture and constitution has attracted many advocates (Glacken, 1967). Hippocrates, for instance, linked the characteristics of people in particular places to the influence of such environmental factors as humidity, altitude and terrain; while Aristotle believed that the world\'s climatic zones (frigid, temperate, and torrid) determined global habitability. Later, during the Renaissance, such climatic imperatives were, as in the case of Bodin during the mid-sixteenth century, frequently tied to astrological convictions that linked the microcosm of the body with the macrocosm of the heavens (Wands, 1986). The widespread publicizing of such environmental doctrines during the Enlightenment owed much to the writings of Montesquieu, and in particular to his volume on The spirit of the laws (1748). To be sure, many others had flirted with the idea, notably the Abbé Dubos and John Arbuthnot; but Montesquieu\'s project of locating legislative regulation within the framework of the entire social and environmental conditions of which they were a part was exceptionally influential. Thereby contextualizing law and custom, and drawing from a burgeoning travel literature, Montesquieu disclosed how climatic conditions governed both the degeneration and persistence of cultural traits. Because everything from human physiology to social practices, from religious principles to moral judgements, were geographically conditioned, he presented the case for cultural relativism (Shklar, 1987). Montesquieu\'s penchant for recounting how religious beliefs mirrored geographical circumstance (Carrithers, 1995) enjoyed a lasting legacy: Ernest Renan\'s later expression of the tradition in the dictum that \'the desert is monotheist\' persisted well into the twentieth century (Deffontaines, 1948). By the same token, his American disciples — such as Samuel Stanhope Smith — used the doctrine of climatic determinism in the New Republic to underwrite a common human nature and the superficiality of racial difference (Livingstone, 1999).

Notwithstanding the critiques of figures like Herder during the second half of the eighteenth century, environmental determinism flourished in the pre-Darwinian period among those like Henry Buckle who sought for a historicist history that subjected human activities to natural law (Bowler, 1989; see historicism), among regional sociologists like Le Play who causally connected up work, family and place (Brooke, 1970; cf. le Play Society), and among ethnologists who accounted for racial differentiation in climatic terms (Stocking, 1987). It also found expression in the writings of those espousing a teleological metaphysics like Victor Cousin who, from time to time, gave the impression that national psyche could be read straight off topographic cartography: \'give me the map of a country … and I pledge myself to tell you, a priori, what the man of that country will be, and what part that country will play in history, not by accident, but of necessity\' (quoted in Febvre, 1932, p. 10; cf. teleology). In the aftermath of the \'Darwinian Revolution\' the naturalistic construal of human culture in the categories of natural law received further encouragement (see also Darwinism; human ecology; Lamarckism; Social Darwinism). It clearly surfaced, for example, among those writers working on the interface of geography, history and anthropology who continued to read the human story through racial lenses (cf. racism). The role of environment in shaping racial \'achievement\' was thus emphasized in the writings of figures like A.R. Wallace, Sir John Lubbock and A.H. Keane (Stepan, 1982). The doctrine persisted too in the sociological work of writers like Edmond Demolins who reduced ethnic character and the genesis of civilization to patterns of communication routes. Throughout, the assumption was that human culture was ineluctably shaped by nature.

These currents of thought were clearly registered within the geographical tradition. After all, Friedrich Ratzel and Oscar Peschel in Germany acquired distinguished reputations in anthropology as well as geography. Yet for all that there is much to be said for the view that evolution\'s reinforcement of environmental determinism sprang less from classical Darwinism than from the Neo-Lamarckian version (Campbell and Livingstone, 1983; see Lamarckism). Ratzel\'s Anthropogeographie, with its cardinal notion of Lebensraum, and his organismic conception of the state, owed much to the migration theories of the Lamarckian Moritz Wagner; and while the environmental determinist element in his early work has perhaps been overestimated, the evolutionary outlook of figures like Wagner and Haeckel did much to legitimate any such tendencies in Ratzel\'s project (Livingstone, 1992; see also anthropogeography).

The Ratzelian programme, in its more sternly environmental determinist guise, found its American voice largely through the writings of Ellen C. Semple. Her American history and its geographic conditions (1903) and Influences of geographic environment (1911), while not so crude as some commentators have implied, nevertheless did much to establish environmentalism as the dominant mode of explanation in American geography during the early decades of the twentieth century. And with the reinforcement of earlier works from writers like Shaler and Brigham its scientific stature seemed secured (Livingstone, 1987). Such was also the conviction of Ellsworth Huntington whose voluminous writings on climate and civilization displayed his pre-dilection for racial typecasting and environmentalist explanations. Yet here again we find another victim of the historical stereotype. For even while he advocated human history on the grand environmental scale, Huntington constantly reiterated the importance of genetic constitution and thus threw his weight behind various eugenic enterprises (Spate, 1968).

Elsewhere during the early years of the twentieth century similar conceptual manoeuvres were discernible. Griffith Taylor, for example, advocated what he called \'stop and go\' determinism in the attempt to modulate the shrillest tones of inexorable necessitarianism. And in Britain Halford Mackinder who, at one point, insisted that the only rational basis for human geography was as a causal science built upon physical foundations, nevertheless left space for humanity\'s wresting the initiative from nature through the exercise of what he came to call the Going Concern (O\'Tuathail, 1992).

Given this sense of equivocation, it is evident that the distinctions between environmental determinism, possibilism and probabilism turn out to be far from clear cut. To the contrary. Figures widely regarded as paradigm cases actually displayed greater ambivalence and conceptual nuance than is usually acknowledged. Vidal de la Blache, for instance, was convinced that genres de vie were themselves reflective of nature even as they transformed it, and it would therefore be mistaken to consider his as an altogether radical voluntarism (Claval, 1993). Never psychologistic, Vidal always conceived of human geography as a natural, not a social, science (Buttimer, 1971; Livingstone, 1992). Similarly, the anthropologist Franz Boas\'s polemical crusade against an unsophisticated environmentalism (a campaign that influenced Carl Sauer\'s repudiation: see Berkeley School) must not be taken to imply an entire dismissal of the conditioning power of environment, as is clearly evident in his celebrated study of the environmental modification of the immigrant headform (Stocking, 1965; Speth, 1978). In the light of such revelations it seems that the labels determinism and possibilism were retained with a degree of polemical typecasting compatible with the suspicion that other interests were at stake in the controversies.

Considerable debate on the subject also characterized Soviet geography (Matley, 1966).With the official endorsement of Lysenko\'s Lamarckism, and the stimulus of Plekhanov\'s revolutionized Marxism that causally connected the forces and relations of production to natural environment, environmental determinism mobilized considerable support among Russian geographers, notwithstanding the early critiques of Karl Wittfogel (Matley, 1966). In this espousal of the doctrine by the far left, Plekhanov\'s borrowings from Ratzel were decisively significant, and he used it to combat racial theories of social development and to account for what he saw as \'the backwardness and social deformation of his own native Russia\' (Bassin, 1992, p. 3). During the second quarter of the century many more came to query environmental determinism in the wake of Stalin\'s repudiation. Yet despite such spurnings, V. Anuchin felt justified in reasserting the salience of at least a neo-determinism because he was convinced that classical Marxism was implicated in the attempt to trace causal links between the material and the social (see also Marxist geography).

Any acceptable account of the intellectual mainsprings of environmental determinism will have to recognize its plural origins and purposes. Among these are the ways in which it was connected up to the philosophy of scientific and social scientific explanation, the place it occupied in politically conservative regimes, its periodic underwriting of cultural pluralism, how it articulated the ideological interests of its academic advocates, and the role that it played in bids to control disciplinary identity (Martin, 1951; Montefiore and Williams, 1955; Peet, 1985; Livingstone, 1992). (DNL)

References Bassin, M. 1992: Geographical determinism in fin-de-siècle Marxism: Georgii Plekhanov and the environmental basis of Russian history. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82: 3-22. Bowler, P.J. 1989: The invention of progress. The Victorians and the past Oxford: Blackwell. Brooke, M.Z. 1970: Le Play: engineer and social scientist. The life and work of Frederic le Play. London: Longman. Buttimer, A. 1971: Society and milieu in the French geographic tradition. Chicago: Rand McNally. Campbell, J.A. and Livingstone, D.N. 1983: Neo-Lamarckism and the development of geography in the United States and Great Britain. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 8: 267-94. Carrithers, D. 1995: The Enlightenment science of society. In C. Fox, R. Porter and R. Wokler, eds, Inventing human science: eighteenth-century domains. Berkeley: University of California Press, 232-70. Claval, P., ed., 1993: Autour de Vidal de la Blache: la formation de l\'école française de géographie. Paris: (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). Deffontaines, P. 1948: Géographie et religions. Paris: Gallimard. Febvre, L. 1932: A geographical introduction to history. London: Kegan Paul; Trench, Trübner. Originally published in 1922 as La terre et l\'évolution humaine. Glacken, C.J. 1967: Traces on the Rhodian shore. Nature and culture in western thought from ancient times to the end of the eighteenth century. Berkeley: University of California Press. Lewthwaite, G. 1966: Environmentalism and determinism: a search for clarification. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 56: 1-23. Livingstone, D.N. 1987: Nathaniel Southgate Shaler and the culture of American science. London: University of Alabama Press. Livingstone, D.N. 1992: The geographical tradition. Episodes in the history of a contested enterprise. Oxford: Blackwell. Livingstone, D.N. 1999: Geographical inquiry, rational religion and moral philosophy: Enlightenment discourses on the human condition. In D.N. Livingstone and C.W.J. Withers, eds, Geography and enlightenment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Martin, A.F. 1951: The necessity for determinism. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers 17: 1-12. Mattey, I.M. 1996: The marxist approach to geographical environment. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 56: 97-111. Montefiore, A. and Williams, W. 1955: Determinism and possibilism. Geographical Studies 2: 1-11. O\'Tuathail, G. 1992: Putting Mackinder in his place: material transformations and myth. Political Geography Quarterly 11: 100-18. Peet, R. 1985: The social origins of environmental determinism. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 75: 309-33. Shklar, J.N. 1987: Montesquieu. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Spate, O.H.K. 1968: Ellsworth Huntington. In D.L., Sills, ed., International encyclopaedia of the social sciences. New York: Macmillan and Free Press, vol. 7, 26-7. Speth, W. 1978: The anthropogeographic theory of Franz Boas. Anthropos, 73: 1-31. Stepan, N. 1982: The idea of race in science: Great Britain 1800-1960. London: Macmillan. Stocking, G.W. Jr. 1965: From physics to ethnology: Franz Boas Arctic expedition as problem in the historiography of the behavioral sciences. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 1: 211-18. Stocking, G.W. Jr. 1987: Victorian anthropology. New York: Free Press. Tatham, G. 1951: Environmentalism and possibilism. In G. Taylor, ed., Geography in the twentieth century. London: Methuen, 128-64. Wands, J. 1986: The theory of climate in the English Renaissance and Mundus alter et idem. In I.D. McFarlane, ed., Proceedings of the Fifth International Congress of Neo-Latin Studies. Binghamton, New York: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, 519-25.



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