Social geography

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The social geography , and social geography , is a branch of geography that deals with the relationship between society and space.

Main questions

The traditional core topic of social geography is the relationship between society and the object of investigation, space. In its beginnings, German-speaking social geography thus resembles traditional Anglo-American research in cultural geography . Overall, there are three main questions:

  1. How do social processes and functions shape space in terms of its structures?
  2. How do societies organize themselves spatially?
  3. What role do spatial conditions play in the existence of a society?

Discipline history

The origins of social geography can be found in France in the second half of the 19th century and go back to the Le Play school ( Pierre Guilleaume Fréderic Le Play ) and the geographer Élisée Reclus . The term géographie sociale was first used in a review of Reclus' first volume of the Nouvelle géographie universelle (1911) by Paul de Rousiers , a member of the Le Play school. Reclus adopted this term.

The emergence of social geography was significantly helped by the industrial revolution. By the associated Verstädterungs process led to a spatial concentration of the population . The associated change of occupation from agriculture to industrial occupations within a factory leads to social concentration.

For a long time, German-speaking social geography - like geography in general - was shaped by geodeterministic ideas. The natural space thus became a determinant and a social factor. Friedrich Ratzel (1844–1904), who anchored the determinism of nature in social geography, must be named as an important representative . This laid the foundation for the later blood and soil ideology of National Socialist politics in the Third Reich : There can only be one people for one soil.

After the Second World War, traditional landscape and geography determined anthropogeography. During this time, Hans Bobek and Wolfgang Hartke laid the foundation stone for socio-geographical cultural landscape research.

With the introduction of functional thinking into social geography, the emphasis on functional spaces (e.g. commuter catchment areas) experienced a stronger impetus and led to the development of an even more socially scientifically oriented part of social geography. The strongest phase of this social geography in Germany was from the 1960s to the 1980s , associated with the emergence of numerous geographical disciplines at universities (including spatial and spatial planning ) and the influence of the content in schools. The Munich School of Social Geography, with Jörg Maier, Karl Ruppert, Reinhard Paesler and Franz Schaffer as their most important representatives, contributed to this. Her research focuses on the seven basic functions : society, living, working, supplying, relaxing, educating and participating in traffic. Using these functions, all patterns of human mobility can be understood. Many geographical disciplines can also be directly assigned to them.

In recent times social geography has been expanded to include action theory approaches. Benno Werlen transferred the structuring theory of the sociologist Anthony Giddens to social geography. In this context he calls for the turning away from an “action-oriented spatial science” and the pursuit of a “space-oriented action science” (Werlen 2000: 310).


Despite the great innovative power of social geography, there was no complete reorientation of human geography . One of the reasons for this is the difficult-to-understand methods of social geography and the difficulty in obtaining usable data. It is difficult to measure the social impact of space. However, the necessity and importance of a socio-geographical approach is recognized. The result shows the coexistence of different socio-geographical approaches in the present - from socio-geographical cultural landscape research through spatial-scientific-functional ( spatial turn ) to constructivist approaches. This paradigm pluralism thus corresponds to the concept of a postmodern science.

The social relationships of individuals, the interpersonal interaction , the individual perception and assessment of space, as well as the corresponding behavioral patterns of a large population group, have diverse relationships to space. Explaining certain human behaviors (e.g. mobility , land use decisions) in a geographically influenced way is at the same time also changed by human behavior (use, development) or distorted (mass traffic).

Social geography deals with the relationship between society and space that can be derived from individual perception and interaction, as well as the spatial organization of human society. Important fields of interest are among others

See also


  • Karl Ruppert, Franz Schaffer: On the conception of social geography. In: Geographische Rundschau <Braunschweig>. 21/6/1969, pp. 214-221, Westermann, Braunschweig, ISSN  0016-7460
  • Peter Weichhart : Lines of Development of Social Geography . From Hans Bobek to Benno Werlen. In: Social Geography Compact , Volume 1, Steiner, Stuttgart 2008, ISBN 978-3-515-08798-8 .
  • Benno Werlen : social geography . An introduction. 3rd, revised and expanded edition. UTB 1911 , Haupt, Bern / Stuttgart / Vienna 2008 (first edition 2000), ISBN 978-3-8252-1911-6 .
  • Karin Wesse: Empirical work in economic geography and social geography . UTB 1956, Schöningh, Paderborn / Munich / Vienna / Zurich 1996, ISBN 3-8252-1956-9 (UTB) / ISBN 3-506-99486-7 (Schöningh).

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