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The Nature of Cultural Geography. Chapter 1 The Human Matrix. Discussion. Pair up into dyads Discuss these two questions for 10 minutes, five minutes each What does culture mean to you? Would you identify yourself as belonging to a cultural group? Why or why not?. Introduction.

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The Nature of Cultural Geography

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The nature of cultural geography

The Nature of Cultural Geography

Chapter 1

The Human Matrix



  • Pair up into dyads

  • Discuss these two questions for 10 minutes, five minutes each

    • What does culture mean to you?

    • Would you identify yourself as belonging to a cultural group? Why or why not?



  • Humans are by nature geographers

    • Possess awareness of and curiosity about the distinctive character of places

    • Can think territorially or spatially

    • Each place on Earth is unique

    • Places possess an emotional quality and significance that contribute to our identity as unique human beings

    • Geographers, over the centuries, generated a number of concepts and ideas that literally changed the world

Seven cultural geographical idea that changed the world

Seven Cultural Geographical Idea That Changed the World

  • Maps

  • Human adaptation to habitat

  • Human transformation of the earth

  • Sense of place

  • Spatial organization and interdependence

  • Central place theory

  • Megalopolis

Geography as an academic discipline

Geography as an academic discipline

  • Natural human geographical curiosity and need for identity

  • First arose among the ancient Greeks, Romans, Mesopotamians, and Phoenicians

  • Arab empire expanded geography during Europe’s Dark Ages

Geography as an academic discipline1

Geography as an academic discipline

  • Center of learning shifted to Europe during the Renaissance period

  • Modern scientific study of geography arose in Germany

  • Analytical geography began in the 1800s asking what, where, and why

  • Alexander von Humboldt and Carl Ritter

What is cultural geography

What is cultural geography?

  • The meaning of culture

    • For this course defined as learned collective human behavior, as opposed to instinctive, or inborn behavior

    • Learned traits

    • Cultural geography: the study of spatial variations among cultural groups and the spatial functioning of society.

Cultural geography

Cultural geography

  • Focuses on cultural phenomena that may vary or remain constant from place to place

  • Explains how humans function spatially

What is cultural geography1

What is cultural geography?

  • Physical geography brings spatial and ecological perspectives

  • Bridges the social and earth sciences

  • Seeks a integrative view of humankind in its physical environment

  • Appears less focused than most other disciplines making it difficult to define

No easy explanations for cultural phenomena

No easy explanations for cultural phenomena

  • Many complex causal forces

  • Wheat cultivations (next slide)

  • Cultural geography seeks explanations of diverse casual factors

Themes in cultural geography

Themes in cultural geography

  • Culture region: a geographical unit based on human traits

  • Maps are an essential tool for describing and revealing regions

  • Major types of culture regions

    • Formal

    • Functional

    • Vernacular

Formal culture region

Formal culture region

Kerala india

Kerala, India

  • A formal culture region can be defined in this picture by ethnicity, dress and social custom.

  • While people do not generally reveal their bodies in public, at the end of the day they dress up to go to the beach and watch the sunset.

Kerala india1

Kerala, India

  • Boys and girls do not mingle but observe each other from a distance.

  • Unchaperoned dating is rare and marriages are typically arranged.

  • These are learned, collective human behaviors.

Formal culture region1

Formal culture region

  • An area inhabited by people who have one or more cultural traits in common.

  • More commonly multiple related traits

  • No two cultural traits have the same distribution.

Complex multiculture regions

Complex multiculture regions

The nature of cultural geography

  • Territorial extents of a culture region depend on what defining traits are used.

Formal culture regions

Formal culture regions

  • Many different formal regions can be created

  • Depends on traits

  • Geographer’s intuition



  • Formal culture regions must have boundaries

    • rarely sharp because cultures overlap and mix

    • Culture regions reveal a core where all defining traits are present

    • Farther from core regional characteristics weaken and disappear

    • Formal regions display core/periphery pattern

  • Human world is chaotic

Functional culture region

Functional culture region

Minneapolis minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota

  • This mobile post-office is the node of a functional region.

  • People come to the node at specific times during the week to deposit their mail.

  • This vehicle is one of several linked to a particular post office which is part of of a larger network of post offices.

  • Each post office is a node in its own mail delivery region.

Functional culture region1

Functional culture region

  • The scene is in the city’s CBD where individual buildings are nodes of activities linked to other buildings and places.

  • Note the skywalk which facilitates interaction between structures.

Functional culture regions

Functional culture regions

  • An area organized to function politically, socially, or economically

  • Examples: city, independent state, church diocese, a trade area

  • Have nodes or central points from which functions are coordinated and directed.

  • Many functional regions have clearly defined borders

Farm as a formal culture region

Farm as a formal culture region

  • all land owned and leased, farmstead is node, borders marked by fences, hedges

Functional culture region2

Functional culture region

  • States in the United States and Canadian provinces

  • Not all functional areas have clearly defined borders: newspapers, sales area

    • Fans of UT vs TAMU

  • Generally functional culture regions do not coincide spatially with formal culture regions

Vernacular culture regions

Vernacular culture regions

  • A region perceived to exist by its inhabitants, has widespread acceptance and uses a special regional name.

Vernacular culture region

Vernacular culture region

  • Generally lack sharp borders

  • Can be based on many different things

    • physical environment

    • economic, political, historical aspects

    • often created by publicity campaigns

  • Grows out of a people’s sense of belonging and regional self -consciousness

Vernacular culture region1

Vernacular culture region

Vernacular culture region2

Vernacular culture region

  • Not unique to North America

  • Northern Territory = “Outback Australia”

  • Transcends state lines

  • Japanese ties

  • Heavy duty bumper and “roo bars” to deflect wildlife



  • How do vernacular culture regions differ from formal and functional regions

    • Often lack the organization necessary for funtional regions

    • Unlike formal regions, they frequently do not display cultural homogeneity

    • Many are rooted in the popular or folk culture

Cultural diffusion

Cultural diffusion

  • Spatial spread of learned ideas, innovations, and attitudes.

  • Each cultural element originates in one or more places and then spreads.

  • Some spread widely, others remain confined to an area of origin.

  • “100 Percent American”

  • Torsten Hägerstrand

Cultural diffusion1

Cultural diffusion

Expansion diffusion

Expansion diffusion

  • Ideas spread throughout a population from area to area.

  • Creates a snowballing effect

  • Subtypes:

    • Hierarchical diffusion: ideas leapfrog from one node to another temporarily bypassing some

    • Contagious diffusion: wavelike, like disease

    • Stimulus diffusion: specific trait rejected, but idea accepted

Relocation diffusion

Relocation diffusion

  • Relocation diffusion occurs when individuals migrate to a new location carrying new ideas or practices with them

  • Religion is prime example

Time distance decay factor

Time-distance decay factor

  • Ripples on a pond.

  • Acceptance of an innovation is strongest where it originated.

  • Acceptance weakens as it is diffused farther away.

  • Acceptance also weakens over time.

Barriers to diffusion

Barriers to diffusion

  • Absorbing barriers completely halt diffusion: Afghanistan.

  • More commonly barriers are permeable, allowing part of the innovation wave to diffuse, but acting to weaken and retard the continued spread.



Guangzhou canton china

Guangzhou (Canton), China

  • PRC recently opened it’s doors to foreign investment and a number of cities have been designated as Special Economic Zones.

  • An absorbing barrier has become permeable.

  • Sincle coastal cities were the first to allow foreign instrusions, these have highest influx of joint-venture projects.



  • Proctor and Gamble has designed soaps and detergents for China’s specific water conditions.

  • Just as P&G diffused from North America to China, other manufacturers will diffuse into other parts of China.



  • As more cities are opened China’s urban economies will become increasingly internationalized and each city will function as a key center of diffusion to places lower on the social-economic hierarchy.

  • How does time-distance decay play a role here?

Stages of innovation acceptance

Stages of innovation acceptance

  • First – acceptance takes place at a slow steady rate.

  • Second – raid growth in acceptance and the trait spreads rapidly

    • fashion or dance fad

    • neighborhood effect

  • Third – slower growth and acceptance of innovation

Neighborhood effect

Neighborhood effect

H gerstrand


H gerstrand1


  • Hägerstrand’s explanation of the core/periphery spatial arrangement of diffusion resembles pattern in culture regions

    • others say too narrow and mechanical

    • assumes all innovations are beneficial throughout geographical space

    • nondiffusion more prevalent than diffusion, but not accounted for

Susceptibility to an innovation

Susceptibility to an innovation

  • More crucial when world communications are rapid and pervasive

  • Friction of distance is almost meaningless

  • Must evaluate and explain on a region-by-region basis

  • Inhabitants of two regions will not respond identically to an innovation

  • Geographers seek to understand spatial variation in receptiveness

Cultural ecology

Cultural ecology

  • Ecology is two-way relationship between an organism and its physical environment

  • Cultural ecology is the study of the cause-and-effect interplay between cultures and the physical environment

  • Ecosystem entails a functioning ecological system where biological and cultural Homo sapiens live and interact with the physical environment.

Cultural ecology1

Cultural ecology

  • Culture is the human method of meeting physical environmental challenges.

    • adaptive system

    • assumes plant and animal adaptations are relevant

    • facilitates long-term, successful, nongenetic human adaptation to nature and environmental change

    • adaptive strategy that provides necessities of life: food, clothing, shelter, defense

    • No two cultures employ the same strategy, evenin within the same physical environment

Cultural ecology2

Cultural ecology

  • The physical environment plays a powerful role in the cultural landscape of this remote region of Pakistan’s northern frontier.

  • The Muslim, Pathan have an adaptive strategy of harnessing local resources for their needs.

Bahrain pakistan

Bahrain, Pakistan

  • The settlement hugs the valley walls and the river is harnessed to provide water power for turning grinding stones (primarily corn) in the foreground structure.

  • Since limited wood supply precludes its widespread use, houses are constructed of dry-mortared stones and many have sod roofs

Cultural ecology3

Cultural ecology

  • Four schools of thought developed by geographers on cultural ecology

    • Environmental determinism

    • Possibilism

    • Environmental perception

    • Humans as modifiers of the earth

Environmental determinism

Environmental determinism

  • Developed during the first quarter of the 20th century.

  • Physical environment provided a dominant force in shaping cultures

  • Humans were clay to be molded by nature

  • Believed mountain people, because they lived in rugged terrain were:

    • Backward

    • Conservative

    • Unimaginative

    • Freedom loving

Environmental determinism1

Environmental determinism

  • Believed desert dwellers were:

    • Likely to believe in one god

    • Lived under the rule of tyrants

  • Temperate climates produced:

    • Inventiveness

    • Industriousness

    • Democracy

  • Coastlands with fjords produced navigators and fishers

  • Overestimated the role of environment



  • Took the place of determinism in the 1920s

  • Cultural heritage at least as important as physical environment in affecting human behavior

  • Believe people are the primary architects of culture



  • Chongqing and San Francisco

  • Similar environment

  • Street patterns

  • SF has smaller population but larger area

  • Culture



  • Physical environment offers numerous ways for a culture to develop.

  • People make culture trait choices from the possibilities offered by their environment to satisfy their needs.

  • High technology societies are less influenced by physical environment.

  • Geographer Jim Norwin warns control over environment may be an illusion because of possible future climatic changes.

Environmental perception

Environmental perception

  • Each person’s or cultural group’s mental images of the physical environment are shaped by knowledge, ignorance, experience, values, and emotions

  • Environmental perceptionists declare-choices people make will depend more on how they perceive the land’s character than its actual character

  • People make decisions based on distortion of reality with regard to their surrounding physical environment

Environmental perception1

Environmental perception

  • Geomancy—a traditional system of land-use planning dictating that certain environmental settings, perceived by the sages as auspicious, should be chosen as the sites for houses, villages, temples, and graves (feng-shui)

    • an East Asian world view and art

    • affected the location and morphology of urban places in countries such as China and Korea

    • diffused (look up feng-shui on internet)

Natural hazards

Natural hazards

  • Human’s perceptions of natural hazards

    • Flooding, hurricanes, volcanic eruption, earthquakes, insect infestations, and droughts

    • Some cultures consider them as unavoidable acts of the gods sent down as punishments because of the people’s shortcomings

    • During times of natural disasters, some cultures feel the government should take care of them

    • Western cultures feel technology should be able to solve the problems created by natural hazards

Natural hazards1

Natural hazards

  • In virtually all cultures, people knowingly inhabit hazard zones

    • Especially floodplains, exposed coastal sites, drought-prone regions, and active volcanic areas

    • More Americans than ever live in hurricane- and earthquake-prone areas of the United States

Monserrat 1996

Monserrat - 1996

Missouri river

Missouri River

Hazard perception

Hazard Perception

  • Levees failed to prevent the Mississippi and Missouri rivers from flooding.

  • Floods are natural occurrences and contrary to the perception of some, human made devices are directed toward control rather than prevention.

  • When the water recedes and tons of muck and debris are removed, will the farmer move back and start over?

Natural hazards2

Natural hazards

  • Migrants tend to imagine new homelands as being more similar to their old homelands than is actually the case

  • Human’s perceptions of natural resources

    • Hunting and gathering cultures

    • Agricultural groups

    • Industrial societies

Humans as modifiers of the earth

Humans as modifiers of the earth

  • Another facet of cultural ecology

  • In a sense, the opposite of environmental determinism

  • George Perkins Marsh

  • Example of soil erosion around Athens in ancient times

Humans as modifiers of the earth1

Humans as modifiers of the earth

  • Human modification varies from one culture to another

    • Geographers seek alternative, less destructive modes of environmental modification

    • Humans of the Judeo-Christian tradition tend to regard environmental modification as divinely approved

    • Other more cautious groups take care not to offend the forces of nature

Environmental modification

Environmental modification

Queensland australia

Queensland, Australia

  • Rainforest north of Cairns, signs demonstrate conflicting perceptions of a particular resource.

  • Thousands of acres of Australian rainforest destroyed yearly.

Cultural integration

Cultural integration

  • Cultures are complex wholes rather than series of unrelated traits

  • Cultures form integrated systems in which parts fit together causally

  • All cultural aspects are functionally interdependent on one another

    • Changing one element requires accommodating change in others

    • To understand one facet of culture, geographers must study the variations in other facets and how they are causally interrelated and integrated

Cultural integration1

Cultural integration

  • The influence of religious beliefs

    • Voting behavior

    • Diet and shopping patterns

    • Type of employment and social standing

    • Hinduism segregates people into social classes (castes), and specifies what forms of livelihood are appropriate for each

    • Mormon faith forbids consumption of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and other products, thereby influencing both diet and shopping patterns

Cultural integration2

Cultural integration

  • If improperly used can lead the geographer to cultural determinism such as:

    • physical environment is inconsequential as an influence on culture

    • culture offers all the answers for spatial variations

    • nature is passive while people and culture are the active forces

Cultural integration3

Cultural integration

  • Social science

    • Those who view cultural geography as a social science apply the scientific method to the study of people

    • Devise theories that cut across cultural lines to govern all of humankind

    • Believe economic causal forces more powerful in explaining human spatial behavior than any others



Model of latin american city

Model of Latin American city

Humanistic geography

Humanistic geography

  • Celebrates the uniqueness of each region and place

    • Place is the key word connoting the humanistic view

    • Topophilia—word coined by Yi-Fu Tuan, literally meaning “love of place”

  • Has witnessed a resurgence in recent decades

  • Social-science approach has declined in popularity

Humanistic geography1

Humanistic geography

  • Anne Buttimer

  • Seek to explain unique phenomena—place and region-rather than universal spatial laws

  • Most doubt that laws of spatial behavior even exist

  • Believe in a far more chaotic world than scientists could tolerate

  • Reject the use of mathematics—feel human beliefs and values cannot be measured

Who is right

Who is right?

  • Debate between scientists and humanists in cultural geography

    • Necessary and healthy

    • Both ask different questions about place and space

  • Geography is the bridging discipline, joining the sciences and humanities

  • Postmodernism

Cultural landscape

Cultural landscape

  • The visible, material landscape that cultural groups create in inhabiting the Earth

  • Cultures shape landscapes out of the raw materials provided by the Earth

  • Each landscape uniquely reflects the culture that created it

  • Much can be learned about a culture by carefully observing its created landscape

Cultural landscape1

Cultural landscape

  • Some geographers regard landscape study as geography’s central interest

  • Reflects the most basic strivings of humankind

    • Shelter

    • Food

    • Clothing

  • Contains evidence about the origin, spread, and development of cultures

Cultural landscape2

Cultural landscape

  • Accumulation of human artifacts, old and new

  • Can reveal much about a past forgotten by present inhabitants

  • Landscapes also reveal messages about present-day inhabitants and cultures

    • Reflect tastes, values, aspirations, and fears in tangible form

    • Spatial organization of settlements and architectural form of structures can be interpreted as expression of values and beliefs of the people

    • Can serve as a means to study nonmaterial aspects of culture

Cultural landscape3

Cultural landscape

  • How architecture reflects past and present values of landscape

    • Example of centrally located, tall structures built of steel, brick, or stone

    • Example of medieval European cathedrals and churches that dominated the landscape

Cultural landscape4

Cultural landscape

Kuala lumpur malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  • Now capital; prior to 1997 administrative center for British colony of Malaya.

  • During 20s an 30s Art Deco architecture popular.

  • Built in 1928, originally “wet market” for mean, poultry and fish were rendered and sold.

Kuala lumpur malaysia1

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

  • Renewed, it now contains a shopping bazaar selling local handicraft products, souveniers and food.

  • Heritage revealed through architecture and sign.

  • Only traditional cart suggests truth.

Cultural landscape5

Cultural landscape

  • Humanistic view of cultural landscape

    • Content to study the cultural landscape for its aesthetic value

    • Obtain subjective messages that help describe the essence of place

    • Geographer Tarja Keisteri distinguishes the factual, concrete, physical, functioning landscape from the experimental, perceived, symbolic, aesthetic landscape

    • Distinction between scholarly analysis and subjective artistic interpretation are often blurred

    • Provides people with landmarks and reassures people they are not rootless without identity or place

Cultural landscape6

Cultural landscape

  • Most geographical studies have focused on three principal aspects of landscape

    • Settlement forms—Describe the spatial arrangement of buildings, roads, and other features people construct while inhabiting an area

    • Land-division patterns—reveal the way people divide the land for economic and social uses

      • Example of land division of small and large farms

      • Example of urban housing and street patterns

Cultural landscape7

Cultural landscape

  • Architecture

    • North America’s different building styles

    • Regional and cultural differences



  • Five themes of geography are interwoven

    • Culture region

    • Cultural diffusion

    • Cultural ecology

    • Cultural integration

    • Cultural landscape

Folk and popular architecture reflect culture

Folk and popular architecture reflect culture


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