Geographic Possibilism

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Geographic Possibilism


a trend in non-Marxist geography regarding the geographic environment as a principle that limits and alters human activity. However, it acknowledges that historical conditions have an important part in the choice of one or another path of development. As the result of such a choice, definite tendencies in economic activity are established and various cultural patterns are evolved. Geographic possibilism errs in its lack of understanding of the importance of the means of production, particularly in its underestimation of the role of production relationships. Moreover, the geographic setting in which the “choice” is made appears as something given beforehand and unalterable. In this respect geographic possibilism approaches the determinism from which it strove to separate itself—despite the formal antithesis between their initial theoretical positions.

Geographic possibilism arose at the beginning of the 20th century as a reaction against the impasse to which geographic determinism had come. The French school of “human geography” played a leading role in the development of geographic possibilism. The ideas of geographic possibilism were also developed in their application to economic geography by I. Bowman and C. Sauer in the USA and to some extent by O. Schlüter in Germany. A. I. Voeikov in Russia acknowledged his indebtedness to this theory. In practice, eclecticism distinguishes many of the works of bourgeois geographers who proclaim geographic possibilism to be their methodological base. Works resting on the tenets of geographic possibilism were influenced by the French school of human geography, and this resulted in the replacement, in many of these works, of a profound analysis of cause-effect relationships by illustrative “explanatory characterizations.” At the same time, because of the mastery of some of these characterizations, they deserve study. Marxist works, while they assign a prominent place to the role of the geographic environment, proceed from the assumption that economic-geographic phenomena are conditioned above all by the means of production of material goods.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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