Nature of Geography as a Discipline: Geography and Society, Methods and Techniques of Geography

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Geography and Society

Geographical thinking and concepts affect our daily life decisions in different ways:

  • For instance, when the urban master plans are made or rural development strategies are considered, it is important to consider the physical structure, climatic conditions, and availabilities of resources in an area. The decision to shift industries from the city areas would require the extension of the industrial land use into the farming areas.

  • This would displace the farmers from their source of income. Now a days, with the need to provide relief materials to all the affected persons after a flood event or an earthquake requires a good understanding of the geography of that area. The distribution of relief is functional and related to the needs of people, according to climate or terrain.

Methods and Techniques of Geography

  • The discipline of Geography has several tools, techniques and methods on which it depends to further its basic objectives. Important among them are globes, maps, diagrams, relief models, and spatial analytical methods. Cartography is concerned with the preparation of maps and diagrams to show the distribution of geographical phenomena.

  • The important methods in geography are deductive and inductive in nature. Various statistical techniques and models are used for regional analysis and to understand the spatial distribution and interaction of different phenomena.


  • Cartography is the study and practice of making maps and diagrams. It represents the earth with maps and using abstract symbols. Traditionally, maps have been made using pen, ink and paper, but the invention of computers have revolutionised cartography and with GIS methods one can prepare maps and diagrams with greater choice and efficiency.

  • Spatial data is obtained from measurement and other published sources and can be stored in a database, from which it can be extracted for a variety of purposes. Current trends in this field are the creation of increasingly dynamic and interactive maps that can be manipulated digitally. Most commercial quality maps are now made with map making software that falls into one of three main types- Computer Aided Data Management (CAD), Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS).

  • Geographic Information Systems deals with the storage of information about the earth for automatic retrieval by a computer in an accurate manner. In addition to other sub disciplines of geography, the GIS specialists must understand computer science and database systems. Traditionally the maps have been used to explore the earth and to exploit its resources.

  • GIS technology, as an expansion of the Cartographic science, has enhanced the efficiency and analytic power of traditional mapping. GIS technology is becoming an essential tool in the effort to understand the process of global change. Various maps and satellite information sources can combine in ways that recreate the interactions of complex natural systems. Such visualisation can help to predict what will happen to an area if it is repeatedly flooded, or what changes are expected if a particular industry is located or developed in an area.

  • Next to Survey of India, inherited from the British Ordinance Survey, the NATMO is a premier organization for mapping in India. The maps of one million series are very well known. The organisation of the Cartographic Unit in 1960s at the French Institute, Pondicherry, brought a significant impact on the development of Geography in India. Its publication of Vegetation and Soil maps at the scale of 1:100000 were very well received for their cartographic appreciation and resource mapping. This Unit was upgraded in 1995 as a Geomatics Laboratory with an emphasis of computer cartography and GIS.

Quantitative Methods in Geography

These aspects of geographical techniques deal with the numerical methods most commonly found in geography, such as the spatial analysis methods, cluster analysis, discriminant analysis in geographic studies. These statistical techniques or methods are useful in finding different patterns and identifying the relationships between space and the activities that are performed in them.

Regional Science Method

In 1950s, the regional science movement arose which was led by Walter Isard. This provided a more quantitative and analytical base to the geographical questions, unlike the more qualitative tendencies of the traditional geography. Regional Science comprises the frame of knowledge in which regional economics, resource management, location theory, urban and regional planning, transportation and communication, human geography, population distribution, landscape ecology, and environmental quality are studied for regional development.

Branches of Geography

Variable phenomena on the surface of the earth can be treated separately or in association. They are categorised as physical and human phenomena. Thus, geography has three main branches:

Image of Branches of geography

Image of Branches of Geography

Image of Branches of geography

Branches of Geography

Physical Geography

Physical geography is concerned with the study and explanation of physical phenomena encompassing the fields of geology, meteorology, zoology and chemistry. It became a very popular subject during the latter part of the 19th century. It has a number of sub-branches:

  • Astronomical Geography: It studies the celestial phenomena which concern with the surface of the earth particularly Sun, Moon and other planets of the Solar System.

  • Geomorphology: It is concerned with the study of the landforms on the surface of the earth. It includes origin and development of the landforms through erosional, transportation and depositional processes of water, wind, and glaciers.

  • Climatology: Climatology is the study of the atmospheric conditions and related climatic and weather phenomena.

  • Oceanography: It is concerned with the study of various types of oceanic components and processes related to ocean floor depths, currents, corals reefs, and continental drifts etc.

  • Soil Geography: It studies various soil forming processes, their physical, chemical, and biological constituents, their colour, types, texture, distribution, and their carrying capacity.

  • Biogeography: It is concerned with the biological phenomena in space, especially in terms of the distribution of various kinds of floral and faunal species. It can be subdivided into plant-geography, animal or zoogeography, and human ecology.

Human Geography

Human Geography is the synthetic study of the relationship between human societies and the earth’s surface. It is made up of three closely linked components of the spatial analysis of the human population, the ecological analysis of the relation between human population and its environment, and the regional synthesis which combines the first two themes in the areal differentiation of the earth’s surface. Human geography has a number of sub-branches:

  • Anthropogeography: It largely deals with the racial phenomena in their spatial context.

  • Cultural Geography: It focusses on the origin, components and impact of human cultures, both material and non-material.

  • Economic Geography: It refers to the study of the location and distribution of economic activities at the local, regional, national, and international scale. Economic geography can be studied as- Resource Geography, Agricultural Geography, Industrial Geography and Transport Geography.

  • Political Geography: It is the study of political phenomena in their spatial context.

  • Historical Geography: It deals with the spatial and temporal trends of geographical phenomena.

  • Social Geography: It is the analysis of social phenomena in space. Poverty, health, education, and livelihood are some important fields of study.

  • Population Geography: It is the study of various dimensions of population including its population distribution, density, composition, fertility, mortality, migration etc.

  • Settlement Geography: It is the study of rural and urban settlements, their size, distribution, functions, hierarchy, and various other parameters of settlement system.

Regional Geography

Different aspects such as delineation of regions, their geographical characteristics, and processes of change constitute the study of regional geography.

Geography as an Interdisciplinary Subject

Geography has its strong relation with mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences. While other sciences deal with distinctive types of phenomena, the discipline of geography studies several kinds of phenomena. In an integrated manner, therefore, geography has firmly established itself as a discipline of synthesis.

In brief, it can be said that:

  • Geography is the science of space. Geography is both a natural and social science as it studies both the environment and the people. It connects the physical with the cultural world. Physical geography studies the earth systems that create natural environment. Human geography is concerned with the political, economic, social, cultural, and demographic processes. It is concerned with the different ways in which resources are used.

  • Geographical phenomena and processes are generally described by two approaches viz. regional and systematic. Regional approaches are characterized by understanding the formation and different characteristics of regions. On the other hand, the systematic approach is organized in terms of particular phenomena of general geographic significance. Each phenomenon is studied in terms of the relations of its areal differentiations with the others.

  • Geography has three main branches of physical, human and regional. Physical geography is further subdivided into several other branches namely, geomorphology, climatology, oceanography, soil, and biogeography. Human Geography is also subdivided into several branches namely, cultural, population, social, economic, and political. Regional geography is subdivided in branches like macro, meso and micro. All these subjects are interrelated to each other. Thus, Geography is an interdisciplinary subject.

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