Culture and Human
Using human characteristics to
understand the Earth… and vice
Culture, What is it?
 A hundred
years of anthropologists can’t
agree exactly:
Herskovits: contributions of humans to the
Harris: emphasized learned behaviors
* E. Adamson Hoebel: system of learned
behavior patterns that are NOT instinctive
and passed down. Expanded by C.
Geertz “The Interpretations of Cultures”
Components of Culture:
Culture trait: a single attribute of a culture
(ex. wearing a turban)
Culture complex: the particular
combination of culture traits unique to a
certain culture
Culture system: culture complexes with
many common traits are grouped
Culture Region: area within which a
particular culture system prevails
More components of Culture
 Geographic
regions: often synonymous
with “culture region”… cultural as well as
locational and environmental
circumstances factor too.
 Culture realm: an assemblage of
culture/geographic regions (ex.
“Subsaharan Africa,” “Middle East”) aka
“geographic realms”
 Culture hearth: the origin of a culture
Structure of Culture Regions:
Core: The zone of greatest concentration or
homogeneity of the culture traits that
characterize a region.
Domain: The area outside of the core of a
culture region in which the culture is still
dominant but less intense.
Periphery/Sphere: The zone of outer
influence for a culture region. Also an
area of inter-mixing.
Where do Cultures Come From?
 Cultural
Ecology: the geographic study of
human-environment relationships
*Alexander von Humboldt, Carl Ritter
(1800s) suggested that scientific study of
social and natural processes is
fundamentally the same. Applying laws
from natural science to understand human
 Environmental Determinism: the physical
environment CAUSES social development
Followers of Environmental
 Freidrich
Ratzel (1844-1904)
 Ellen Churchill Semple (1863-1932)
 Ellsworth Huntington (1876-1947): argued
that CLIMATE was a prime determining
factor in the success and development of
a society.
The New Approach:
 Possibilism:
the thought that the physical
environment may limit some human
actions, but people have the ability to
adjust to their environments.
* People give the physical environment
cultural value and meaning by regarding it
as a collection of resources.
ex: pairing crops with local climate (choice)
* Remember, Possibilists DO believe the
environment plays a role in shaping
culture, just not 100%
Environmental Pressures on
Cultural Development:
 Climate
 Vegetation
 Soil
 Landforms
Climate: the long-term average weather
condition at a particular location
* Vladimir Koppen: (Koppen System)
divides the world into 5 main climate
1. Tropical
2. Dry
How does Climate effect the
development of human
3. Warm Mid-Latitude
4. Cold Mid-Latitude
5. Polar
World Climate Zones
Vegetation: plantlife covers nearly the
entire land surface of Earth. Earth’s land
vegetation includes 4 major forms of
plant communities called biomes
Forest biome
Savanna biome
How does Vegetation
effect the development of
human systems?
Grassland biome
Desert biome
World Vegetation Biomes
 Soils: the material that forms on the
Earth’s surface, is the thin interface
between the air and the rock. Soil is
divided into 12 “Orders” according to
varying characteristics. The orders are
subdivided several times. There are over
12,000 in the US alone. Some are
concerned about physical processes and
human actions that are destroying soils.
How do Soils effect the
development of human systems?
 Landforms: Earth’s surface features.
Range from relatively flat to mountainous.
“Geomorphology” the study of Earth’s
landforms. Helps to explain the
distribution of people, choice of economic
activities at different locations.
*topographic maps “topos”
*relief: difference in elevation between 2
*slope: measures the steepness
How would landforms effect the
development of human systems?
Spatial Analysis and Cultural
 Spatial Analysis
deals with:
5.Spatial Interaction
* Lets look at how each of these concepts
of space impact human systems, starting
with location (review).
Location: Impact on Human
Absolute: latitude, longitude, GPS…
 *Relative:
-Site: the physical attributes of a location;
its terrain, soil, vegetation, water, etc…
-Situation: location of a place relative to
other places and human activities:
accessibility to routeways… nearness…
Distance: Impact on Human
Absolute: physical measurement
Relative: expressed in terms of time, effort, or
Cognitive distance: the distance that people
perceive to exist in a give situation.
Friction of Distance: the time and cost of
overcoming distance (NOT a constant)
Distance-decay function: the rate at which a
particular activity or phenomenon diminishes
with increasing distance… reflects people’s
behavioral response to opportunities and
constraints in time and space… “utility”, or
usefulness to a particular person or group
Space: Impact on Human
Absolute space: mathematical, described
through points, lines, areas, planes, and
relationships… Topological Space: the
connections between, or connectivity of,
particular points in space… not a measure of
distance, but of connectivity between locations.
 Relative space: take the form of socioeconomic
space or of cultural space. Socioeconomic
space is described in terms of sites, situations,
routes, regions, and distribution
patterns…measured through time, cost, profit,
production, as well as physical distance.
Space, continued
 Cognitive
Space: measured in terms of
people’s values, feelings, beliefs, and
perceptions about locations, districts,
regions, so therefore can be described in
terms of behavioral space – landmarks,
paths, environments, and spatial layouts
Accessibility: Impact on Human
Accessibility: generally defined in terms of
relative location: the opportunity for contact or
interaction from a given point or location in
relation to other locations. It implies proximity, or
nearness, to something. Because it is a
fundamental influence on the utility of locations,
distance is an important influence on people’s
*Distance is one aspect of accessibility, but not
the only important aspect.
*Connectivity is also important to accessibility
because contact and interaction are dependent
on channels of communication and transport, so
accessibility also relies on the configuration of
networks of comm. and trans.
Accessibility cont.
 Accessibility
is often a function of
economic, cultural, and social factors. In
other words, relative concepts and
measures of distance are often as
important as absolute distance.
Spatial Interaction: Impact on
Human Systems/Cultures
Spatial Interaction: refers to Movement
and flows involving human activity. Can
be reduced to 4 basic preconditions for
interdependence between places:
Intervening Opportunity
Spatial Diffusion
Complimentarity (precondition for
interdependence between places)
For any kind of spatial interaction to occur
between two places, there must be a demand in
one place and a supply that matches, or
complements, it in the other.
-natural resource endowments
-international division of labor
-economies of scale: economic advantages
through specialization allows for larger scale
operations = average cost of production to fall
with increasing output = cheaper product =
Transferability (precondition for
interdependence between places)
 Depends
on the ‘frictional’ or deterrent
effects of distance. Transferability is a
function of two things: the cost of moving a
particular item, and the ability of the item
to bear these costs.
-if the cost of moving a product is more than
the profit sold at its destination, that
product does not have transferability.
-transferability varies between places, items,
modes of transport and comm. (coal vs
fruit) infrastructure
Transferability cont.
Transferability also varies over TIME as
successive innovations in transport and comm.
tech development alter the geography of
transport cost =
Time-space convergence: the rate at which
places move closer together in trans. or comm.
time costs (“shrinking world” effect) The result is
a reduction in the friction of distance as new tech
and infrastructure improvements successfully
reduce transport and comm. time between
Time-space convergence
“shrinks” the world.
Intervening Opportunity (volume and
pattern of movement between places)
 While
complementarity and transferability
are preconditions for spatial interaction,
intervening opportunities are more
important in determining the volume and
pattern of movements and flows.
Intervening opportunities are simply
alternative origins and/or destinations.
- Creates competition for goods, services,
and interaction in general
Spatial/Cultural Diffusion
Disease outbreaks, tech innovations, political
movements, and new music fads all originate in
specific places and spread to other places and
regions. The way that things spread through
space and over time (diffusion) is one of the
most important aspects of spatial interaction and
is crucial to an understanding of geographic
change. How diffusion takes place:
 Relocation diffusion
What is independent invention?
 Expansion diffusion
-hierarchical diffusion
-contagious diffusion
-stimulus diffusion
Relocation Diffusion
The spread of an idea through physical movement
of people from one place to another. They have
adopted the innovation/idea and move it with them.
- ex: spread of languages
 Acculturation: less dominant culture adopts some
 Assimilation: less dominant culture adopts most
traits and become indistinguishable from other
 Transculturation: cultures of equal dominance
acting on one another equally
 Migrant diffusion: an innovation starts in one place,
spreads, but begins to die out in its origin/hearth
Expansion Diffusion
 Expansion
diffusion takes place through
populations that are stable and fixed. It is
the innovation, the idea, or the disease
that does the moving.
1. Hierarchical Diffusion
 The
spread of an idea from persons or
nodes of authority or power to other
persons or places.
- ex: important/powerful/popular people to
the masses
-ex: important/powerful/influential places
outward… ex: Hip Hop music
The Burka is an example of
hierarchal diffusion
2. Contagious Diffusion
 The
rapid, widespread diffusion of a
characteristic throughout a
population…the way a disease moves like
a wave without regard for hierarchy and
without requiring permanent relocation of
- ex: “viral videos”
- ex: an actual virus
Dr. John Snow: Father of Modern
 1850s
Cholera outbreak in London
 Used principles of Geography and
Contagious Diffusion to track down the
source of the outbreak and stop the highly
contagious disease’s spread/diffusion.
 He carefully mapped the deaths and the
pumps that families used for their drinking
water. The data led him to the Broad
Street pump head.
Dr. John Snow 1850s Cholera
Outbreak in London
3. Stimulus Diffusion
 The
spread of an underlying principle,
even though a characteristic itself
apparently fails to diffuse.
- ex: Macintosh Apple vs. IBM DOS
Key Topics in Cultural Geography
 Cultural
Landscape: the imprint cultures
leave on the physical environment
 Culture Hearths: the origin, the center
 Cultural Diffusion: we just covered that
 Cultural Perception: how a place or culture
is seen to be… perception IS reality
 Cultural Environments: how environment
plays a role in cultural development… we
coved that (environmental determinism vs
Ok, don’t forget our types of
Formal Region: An
area of near uniformity
(homogeneity) in one or
several characteristics.
Sometimes defined
Functional Region: A
region created by the
interactions between a
central node and
surrounding locations.
Perceptual Region:An area
defined by subjective
perceptions that reflect the
feelings and images about key
place characteristics. When
these perceptions come from the
local, ordinary folk, a perceptual
region can be called a
vernacular region.

Culture and Human Geography - Mr. Sutton's Class!