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Great! Now I have your attention!🙋

So what is environmental determinism?🤷

  • Environmental determinism is a proposed belief that the environment of a culture’s heart (location of origin) or dominant region shapes the cultural traits and predispositions. 
  • This belief was proposed as a way to explain the development of global cultures and societies.
  • It was first proposed by geographer Friedrich Ratzel, a highly influential human geographer, and his students.
  • They even conducted research that suggested that culture was shaped by the features of the physical environment like water availability and climate.


  • By the 1800s and early 1900s, environmental determinism became so ingrained into Western society as the scientific evidence that supported racist ideologies.
  • For example, a person from a tropical environment would be understood to be inherently lazy and inferior-minded due to the heat making it harder to work during the day and the prosperous environment providing plenty of resources to survive on. 
  • On the other hand, a person from a cold environment would be seen as stronger and more level-headed as they would have to be physically more resilient and smarter to survive the cold weather. 
  • Even when slavery was abolished was racism and environmental determinism still widely accepted however, making many racist laws acceptable in the eyes of Western society. 
  • Environmental determinism even influenced Hitler and the Nazi Party to advocate the idea of expanding the living space for the Germanic and Aryan races in Europe while separating other optimal separate spaces for other ethnic groups. 
  • This idea was influenced by Ratzel’s idea called lebensraum, which advocated an allocated living space for each ethnic group that was optimal for their culture. 
  • And even after the fall of Hitler and the Germanic Nazi Party, Nazi-like groups still remain in the U.S. and Europe that advocate for violent racism against non-European. They also use environmental determinism as scientific support for their beliefs and actions as well.   

But determinism wasn’t used forever!😄

  • By the early 1900s, a new scientific ideology arose to combat determinism. This ideology was called environmental possibilism. 
  • Environmental possibilism is an opposing scientific belief that argues that while the physical environment can influence cultural traits, society still has the ability to alter their environment to adjust to their needs. 
  • In other words, a society was not defined by the environment but by how the society responded to those environmental limitations. 
  • This new scientific perspective was first proposed by French geographer Paul Vidal de La Blache and championed by other geographers like Carl O. Sauer. 
  • They also conducted new research that proved that societies did usually change their environment, even destroying it a high degree, to meet their needs as a society. 
  • Eventually, possibilism did replace determinism as the central explanation for the development of global cultures and societies. 
  • This thus made what Hitler, the Nazi Party, and other racist groups said (say) unreasonable and complete nonsense. With no credible scientific support to back up their beliefs and actions, these groups were soon seen as illogical and irrational.    
  • Environmental possibilism also helped transform society, Western society especially, as it helped reverse the societal acceptance of racism to reject it and instead support other non-European groups. 
  • So basically what happened was....👇

However, that is not to say that determinism is not important to human geography.

  • It is still seen as a significant attempt by geographers to explain cultural development across the world and it is true. 
  • Determinism did help human geographers try to understand societal and cultural development and even help spur the creation of environmental possibilism, even if it was used to justify racist ideas and actions

And that’s it! 

Good luck studying and have a great day!🙋

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