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We won't have a society if we destroy the environment.' - Margaret Mead.

Environment includes everything which surrounds us. It includes all those things which though may be distinct from us yet they affect the activity of our life in some or the other way. It includes the surroundings and the stimulus generated in it both due to internal and external factors. Thus, environment is not a simple phenomenon rather a complex process altogether. It is of various forms such as physical environment (nature around us), biological environment (flora and fauna), social environment (social, economic and cultural environments)  and supra-social environment (includes notions of God or any supernatural power).

Physical Environment:

It is composed of those conditions that nature has ready in store for man. It includes earth surface with all it's physical features and natural resources. It includes the distribution of land & water, mountains and plains, minerals, plants and animals. Physical environment is considered to be uncontrollable or 'entirely natural'. It also includes all those things which have been modified by an individual in due course of time. Uncontrollable environment includes the sun and stars, winds and rains, mountains and oceans. The controllable geographical environment includes those elements which are amenable to the direct control of man. The controllable geographical environment includes the vast tracts of land which an individual brings under cultivation and the rivers which he tames by constructing dams and enbankments. The physical environment plays an important role in determining the behaviour of individuals and groups. Special studies have been launched on this subject matter. French writers like Montesquieu, Demolins and Brunhes have engaged in studying the relationship between the physical environment and social environment. Emphasis on this relationship has led to the development of two schools- Ecological School and Regional School. The former being primarily interested in the social and cultural phenomena associated with the urban areas. The regionalists have sought to establish relation between man's physical environment and his social life. H.W. Odum is the leader of the regional school. Ecological school was developed due to the efforts of Park and Burgess. In Germany, an important branch of the geographical school was developed by Ratzel in his extensive work 'Human Geography'. In England, H.T. Buckle wrote a history of civilization along similar lines.  American writers like Dexter, Huntington have sought to depict the impact of climatic conditions on human society. The physical conditions of a country are responsible for shapening the distribution, size and density of it's population. The plains are the most densely populated while the mountainous regions are sparsely populated. People are found to be less residing in the desert areas. Hence, temperature, rainfall and humidity are the factors which determine the density of population. According to Brunhes, 'If geography is far from explaining everything in the house, atleast the human habitation cannot be completely understood without an appeal to geography.' The dietary habits are also affected by topography. Like, rice and wheat constitutes the major chunk of diet portion in the Bengalese and the Punjabese respectively. People living in the mountainous regions wear woolen clothes while people of the plains wear cotton clothes. There are some animals which can be reared in a particular geographical environment. Camels largely found in Rajasthan, sheep in hills and valleys while cows in plains.  Occupations of people are also influenced by geographical environment. In all the coastal areas of India, fishing exists as a major occupation. Agriculture is  the major occupation in Northern India. There are more sugar mills in Northern India because of the sugarcane crop.  People of the hot climates have a darker skin complexion than those living in colder climates. Semple writes, 'Stature is partly a matter of feeding and hence of geographic conditions.'  Huttington is of the opinion that the geographical environment has a great deal to do with the human activity. Extremes of heat or cold can have a deterrent effect on body. Moderate temperature is required to evoke human activity.  Huttington has written, 'the amount of moisture in the air is one of the important factors in regulating health and energy.' According to Ross, 'It is in the intermediate climes that such traits flourish as energy, ambitions, self-reliance, industry and thrift.' Civilisation and culture are also influenced by the geographical environment. The Euphrates, Ganges and Nile nurtured many civilizations. European civilisations would have actually not existed if there had been no Danube or Rhine. Sea coasts have played the role of barrier and threshold in history. The seas are both a barrier and an opportunity for the people. Countries like Spain or Portugal were the first to run in the race of geographical explorations much because of the geographical sources that surrounded them. Britishers were able to extend her empire as she was the mistress on sea. The art, literature and modes of living of a country bear the impression of it's national environment. According to Keary, 'The creed of people is always greatly dependent upon their position on this earth, upon the scenery amid which their life is passed and the natural phenomena to which they become habituated.' A nation's military power is greatly restricted if iron and oil deposits are absent.

The economic organization of a  country is affected by the availability of natural resources in the country. According to Huntington, 'The geographical distribution of minerals is one of the greatest causes of international troubles and wars.'

Influence of Plains:

The plains are the most densely populated regions in the country as adaptation in the region is much easier than the rocky terrains. The economic life in the plain region is mainly dependent on agriculture. We find industries too in the plain areas.  The means of communication are much easier developed in these regions with a wide range of connectivity networks. The standard of living is higher in the plains. Preponderance of agricultural occupations leads to the worshiping of weather gods. Art, literature, and music activities well thrive in these regions. The easy means of transport and communication affect the political functioning in the plains. Administration works smoothly here. Exchange of political opinion and propaganda are facilitated. People to people contacts is also facilitated thus developing the sense of social unity.

Influence of Hills:

The population in the hilly regions is not that bulky. Population distribution is uneven. They live scattered due to the undulated terrain. Means to develop  habitation in the region is both difficult and dangerous too. The economic life of the people living in the hills is worse than those living in the plains. Fewer modes of transportation and communication make industrial growth difficult. Agricultural implements cannot be easily used in these regions as a result of which modes of farming are crude and orthodox. Large farms cannot be there as a result of which there is lack of farming activities in the region. There the people cultivate dry fruits, wool, tea or wood work. The mountainous people are generally religious and orthodox. Absence of education makes them furthermore conservative. A well-knit society is absent in these regions. Due to extreme cold weather, working days are lost. There are few doctors, teachers or engineers. The people wear thick clothes to insulate them from the rash cold weather of the outside. The people living in the mountains also lack an organized shape to administration much because due to the lack of connectivity. Poverty and lack of education do not allow democratic ideas to nurture.

Influence of Deserts:

These areas record very less rainfall less than 150mm. The location of deserts in India is much in the state of Rajasthan and west of Aravalli Ranges, the Thar Desert. No agriculture development as there is not much water available. Luni is only the longest river flowing in the region. There's no vegetation in these regions but the date palms are seen of course. The people move from place to place in search of fodder. Trade activities are again stagnated in these region leading to poverty. Due to excessive poverty, desert dwellers have to lead to a very hard life. They live in caravans. It's their basic social units. These caravans often conflict with each other and indulge in activities of loot and plunder. There is much religious superstition and dogmatism. Connectivity links are marginalized in these regions. The Government experiences much difficulty in maintaining peace and order. The welfare activities of the government fail to reach their target in these regions.

Thus, from the above account it is clear that the geographical environment influences a great deal the economic, social and political life of the people. E.C. Semple writes, 'Man has been so noisy about the way he has conquered nature and nature has been so silent in her persistent influence over man, that the geographic factor in the equation of human develop has been overlooked.' Every social change is affected by the geographical environment. In the words of Ratzel, ' Our growth of intelligence and culture,  all that we call progress of civilization, may better be compared with the upward shoot of a plant than with the unconfined flight of a bird. We remain ever bound to the Earth and the twig can only grow on the stem. Human nature may raise  it's head aloft in the pure either, but it's feet must ever rest in the ground and the dust must return to the dust.' According to Huttington, 'the growth and the decay of the civilization is completely dependent upon geographical factor.' Among the geographical factors,  climate is the main factor. Huntington holds that climate is the main determinant of the growth and decay of civilization. Huxley has also tried to establish relationship between climate and civilization. According to Thomas Heywood, 'Man must always adapt to nature.' Brillot  Savarin said, 'Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.'

Evaluation of Geographical School:

It is not the exclusive physical environment which determines the social phenomenon. There is no consistent relation between the two. Monogamous marriages are practiced over all the world. Christian beliefs have been adopted by people living under very different physical conditions. We must distinguish between direct and indirect influences. For example, birth rate and death rate is much higher in tropical zones than temperate regions. Climate isn't solely responsible for it. Racial character, economic development, culture and education is all influenced by climatic conditions. Further under the similar climactic conditions, we find the most remarkable contrast of customs, institutions, temperaments etc. displayed by different groups. This is abundantly illustrated in the study of Westermarck's Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas. Many kinds of personality and culture are found in every kind of climate. Not all the changes can be related with the geographical changes. Social life in an area can get affected without any change in physical environment. Growth of civilization has minimized thr influence of geographical conditions. The distribution of agricultural resources is less determinative as civilization progresses with the distribution of population. In the pre-industrial age the most populous part of England was that of the greatest fertility of soil, the regions between Somerset and Surrey. Now it lies in Lancashire and Yorkshire less fertile but rich in mineral resources and industrial opportunities. Similarly,  natural routes of migration and trade matter less,  than of old, as men have learnt to build railways through mountains and over swamp and to use the unbounded highway of the air. The geographical environment alone never explains  the rise of civilization. Huttington's theory has been severely criticized. The figures drawn by him concerning climate,  health rates,  distribution of famous people,  distribution of civilization are no authoritative. They are prejudiced and biased. In the history of civilization, the countries which once were at the summit are now at the bottom and those which were backward are today the most advanced. In the words of Goldenweiser, 'No environment can itself be held responsible for producing a definite type of civilization, nor can any environment, barring extremes, prevent a civilization from developing.' Similar geographical conditions have produced short-lived and long-lived  civilizations. Arnold Toynbee rejected the popular assumption that civilizations emerge when environment usually offers unusually easy conditions of life. The proponents of geographic determinism have been guilty of oversimplification.

Climatic conditions also matter less and so far as men gain control over the natural disadvantages of certain climates. The Panama Canal Zone, has for instance been delivered from Malaria through the application of science. Even the extremes of heat and  of cold grow deterrent as the arts of warming and cooling dwelling places improve. The innumerable scientific inventions have made him the lord of nature. Man modifies his physical environment rather than environment modifies man. He can live anywhere if so he wills. An individual's energy and health are not determined by climate alone as they are the results of many factors of diet,  hygienic conditions, living standards attitude and values. Bowman writes, ' Man can build a comfortable and well-lighted city and provide education, opera and games at the Southpole, build artificial rain compelling  mountains in this Sahara at an expense  equivalent to that of cutting factors cutting a few Panama canals.' In a word,  as the social heritage grows,  immediate geographical factors assume a  less determinant role in the interpretation of society. Climate and crime are also not correlated. Durkheim has pointed out,  there is hardly any connection between the climate factor and the commission of crime, particularly of suicide.  He has concluded that the actual temperature level has little to do with the correlation. According to him, the number of suicides increased with the rise in level of civilization; there were more suicides in the cities than in the other country,  more among the single or widowed than among the married, more among Protestants and non-religious persons than among Catholics. These facts suggest an  explanation of a social character- suicide occurs characteristically where  conditions encourage social isolation, where people p lack the sense of solidarity created by strong social responsibilities, where they are most apt to be thrown back on their own resources for comfort,  companionship and consolation. Geography by and in itself never absolutely determines the course of human events. According to Bennet and Tumin, 'It is perhaps as reasonable, if not more so to insist that man modifies his physical environment rather than that the environment modifies man.' As scientific technology advances, man's ability to modify his environment increases. He is not a passive factor but an active agent. In  the words of Lowie, 'The environment furnishes the builders of cultural structures with brick and mortar but it does not furnish the architect's plan.  Nature but offers the materials, man's need, his genius and ability compel him to utilise them for his own purpose.' Thus, the  geographical environment cannot determine the progress of civilization. It can, of course, define and decide some of its limits. Isiah Bourmann,  a distinguished  geographer puts, 'Contemporary geographical knowledge and thought had abandoned the mechanistic determinism of older schools. New earth facts are continually being discovered and old earth facts gives  new significance as human knowledge, thought and social action develop. These conditions can hardly be ignored in the study of social behaviour.  The sociologists  should show their relation to the direct determinants of social phenomenon, the attitudes and interest of men. The physical environment is more of a limiting than of a determining nature.

The Social Environment:

The social environment consists of three kinds of environment, economic, cultural and psycho-social environments. The economic environment consists of all the economic goods, houses and roads, lands and gardens, domestic animals, machines, stores of manufactured articles; in short, all the comforts and conveniences which man has made to deliver him out of the 'state of nature' . Economic order is, in other words, an order of everyday life which man has built up for the satisfying of his needs through production, exchange, distribution and consumption of wealth. The social significance of the economic order is that it is based upon the principle of 'division of labour' that is on the specialization of functions of the groups and the areas. This leads to the inter-dependence of not only of individuals but also of groups and of nations. Economic environment determines the life and character of society. The life and character of the society have always been responsive to economic environment. The closeness of this relationship was clearly proved when the industrial revolution was followed by remarkable transformation in law and government, in the structure of classes, in the distribution of population, in customs and institutions, in modes of thought and belief. There is then no wonder that Karl Marx has asserted that the economic environment is the primary determinant of all social change. So he had written in his Das Capital that it is always the immediate relation of the owners of the conditions of production to the immediate producers in which we find the hidden foundations of the whole social structure. Thus to his mind all the great associations, the family, the state, the church and all the great forms of human culture, art, literature, science take their shape and character from economic fact. Thus, Marxism give the materialistic interpretation of history and a predominant and perhaps exclusive role to the economic environment in shaping society.  Economic environment is not the sole determinant. People at very different levels have accepted in practice for centuries the Christian and Muslim religions, most diverse  and  approved systems of thought have developed within the same structure. Marxism is thus not the accurate explanation of human behaviour. Further, mere economic goods are not an ultimate end of men's endeavour. Men do not produce or exchange for the sake of the satisfactions which these processes serve. On the other hand,  men do seek  health or happiness or knowledge or art for the direct satisfaction these involve. In this sense these interests are prior to the economic interests and must be regarded as modifying and directing the economic order.  The cultural environment includes the customs,  traditions,  laws,  modes of thought and forms of knowledge and belief  which form man's cultural inheritance. Every important aspect of social life,  sex-relationship, ownership,  comradeship, the exchange of  services and goods is ordered, supported and controlled by elaborate system of usage  known as tradition. These  traditions express the culture of the group to which they belong. Similarly,  customs are the  way in accordance with which members of the group behave themselves. Again there are ceremonies and rites which express a kind of religious sanction for the respective acts. There are laws  which are the regulations enforced by some constituted authority.

Both the physical and social environment have their respective roles and limitations in the society. Yet, the psycho-social environment is the most pervasive of all the environments and is so necessary to the life of a man that some authors believe that the life of the individual can be totally explained in terms of it. The world is indeed a theatre and the earth a stage which God and Nature do with actors fill.

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  • MacIver, Society, pg.98
  • Huttington, E., Civilization and Climate, pg.43
  • Ross, Principles of Sociology, pg.81
  • Keary, C.F., Outlines of Primitive Belief, pg.325
  • Semple, E.C., Influence of Geographic Environment, pg.2
  • Ratzel, The History of Mankind, Translated by A.J. Butler from 2nd German Edition ( 1896 ), pg. 3
  • Francis, N.Maxfield. Quoted in Kingsley Davis, Human Society, pg. 206
  • Goldenweiser, A., Early Civilization, pg.297