Environmental determinism

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{theory, work, human}
{island, water, area}
{black, white, people}

Environmental determinism, also known as climatic determinism or geographical determinism, is the view that the physical environment, rather than social conditions, determines culture. Those who believe this view say that humans are strictly defined by stimulus-response (environment-behavior) and cannot deviate.

The fundamental argument of the environmental determinists was that aspects of physical geography, particularly climate, influenced the psychological mind-set of individuals, which in turn defined the behaviour and culture of the society that those individuals formed. For example, tropical climates were said to cause laziness, relaxed attitudes and promiscuity, while the frequent variability in the weather of the middle latitudes led to more determined and driven work ethics. Because these environmental influences operate slowly on human biology, it was important to trace the migrations of groups to see what environmental conditions they had evolved under. Key proponents of this notion have included Ellen Churchill Semple, Ellsworth Huntington, Thomas Griffith Taylor and possibly Jared Diamond. Although Diamond's work does make connections between environmental and climatic conditions and societal development, it is published with the stated intention of disproving racist and eurocentric theories of development. [1]



Environmental determinism's origins go back to antiquity, where it is first encountered in a fifth-century medical treatise ascribed to Hippocrates: Airs, Waters, Places [2]. In Roman times it is, for example, found in the work of the Greek geographer Strabo who wrote that climate influences the psychological disposition of different races. Some in ancient China advanced a form of environmental determinism as found in the Works of Guan Zhong (Guanzi 管子), perhaps written in the 2nd century BCE. In the chapter "Water and Earth" (Shuidi 水地), we find statements like "Now the water of [the state of] Qi is forceful, swift and twisting. Therefore its people are greedy, uncouth, and warlike," and "The water of Chu is gentle, yielding, and pure. Therefore its people are lighthearted, resolute, and sure of themselves." [3]

Another early adherent of environmental determinism was the medieval Afro-Arab writer al-Jahiz, who explained how the environment can determine the physical characteristics of the inhabitants of a certain community. He used his early theory of evolution to explain the origins of different human skin colors, particularly black skin, which he believed to be the result of the environment. He cited a stony region of black basalt in the northern Najd as evidence for his theory:[4]

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