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Chapter 2: 7th Edition De Blij





Culture is an all-encompassing term that defines the tangible lifestyle of a people and their prevailing values and beliefs. The concept of culture is closely identified with anthropology. Over more than a century ago most anthropologists believed that culture was learned. However, recent advances in sociobiology and related fields suggest that certain behaviors may be genetically deter-mined, so that culture has an "instinctive" component as well as a "learned" one. This chapter discusses the development of culture, the human imprint on the landscape, culture and environment, and cultural perceptions and processes. The key points covered in this chapter are outlined below.


Culture and Human Geography

The concept of culture lies at the heart of human geography. Locational decisions, patterns, and landscapes are fundamentally influenced by cultural attitudes and practices. The concept of culture, like the regional concept discussed in the previous chapter, appears to be deceptively simple, but in fact is complex and challenging. The definitions of culture vary widely, as does our use of the word itself, but all refer in one way or another to humans—their development, ideas, and adaptation to the world in which they live.



Culture is made up of four major components. The first of these is a cultural trait—a single attribute of a culture—such as eating with certain utensils. The second component is a cultural complex—a discrete combination of traits exhibited by a particular culture—such as keeping cattle for different purposes. The third component is a culture system—culture complexes with traits in common that can be grouped together—such as ethnicity, language, religion, and other cultural elements. The final component, the cultural region—the area within which a particular culture sys-tem prevails—is marked by all the attributes of a culture. Cultural regions may be expressed on a map, but many geographers prefer to describe these as geographic regions since their definition is based on a combination of cultural properties plus locational and environmental circumstances.



Key topics in cultural geography include cultural landscapes—the human imprint on the Earth's surface. These create a distinct and characteristic landscape that reveals much about the culture presently occupying the area, as well as those that came before. A second key topic focuses on cultural hearths—the sources of civilizations from which radiate ideas, innovations, and ideologies. Cultural geographers identify both ancient and modern cultural hearths.

         Cultural diffusion—the process by which innovations and ideas spread to other areas—involves several types of diffusion. Expansion diffusion may take the form of contagious diffusion, where some item of culture is spread through a local population by contact from person to person. In the case of hierarchical diffusion, another form of expansion diffusion, an idea or innovation spreads by trickling down from larger to smaller adoption units. Innovations often leapfrog over wide areas, with geographic distance a less important influence. The early spread of the FAX machine is a good example of this type of diffusion. A third type of expansion diffusion is stimulus diffusion, a process where an idea or innovation is not readily adopted by a population but results in local experimentation and eventual changes in the way of doing things. The Industrial Revolution, for example, did not immediately spread to pre- or non-industrial societies, but did stimulate attempts to mechanize local handicraft production.

         The different forms of expansion diffusion take place through populations that are stable. It is the innovation or idea that does the moving. Relocation diffusion—the spreading of innovations by a migrating population—involves the actual movement of individuals who have already adopted the idea or innovation, and who carry it to a new, perhaps distant locale, where they disseminate it. The spread of European emigrants around the world during the period of Europeanization is a classic example.

         The topic of cultural perception­—the way that members of a culture view themselves as well as how they view other cultures—is a combination of tangible and intangible elements that help to define the personality of a region. We all have impressions and images of various regions and cultures, even though they may not always be accurate. Perceptual regions are intellectual constructs designed to help us understand the nature and distribution of phenomena in human geography. These perceptions are based on our accumulated knowledge about such regions and cultures. Perceptual regions can differ considerably, depending on the individual's mental maps of various communities and cultures.

         The final considered topic, cultural environment—the relationships between human societies and the natural environment—is complex. Environment affects societies in countless ways from the types of crops grown to the houses they build, but societies also modify their natural environments in ways that range from slight to severe. One thing is certain, however. While human behavior is not controlled by the environment (as the now-defunct concept of environmental determinism suggested), no culture, no matter how sophisticated, can completely escape the forces of nature.