Possibilism (geography)


Possibilism in cultural geography is the theory that the environment sets certain constraints or limitations, but culture is otherwise determined by social conditions.[1][2] In cultural ecology, Marshall Sahlins used this concept in order to develop alternative approaches to the environmental determinism dominant at that time in ecological studies. Strabo posited in 64 BC that humans can make things happen by their own intelligence over time. Strabo cautioned against the assumption that nature and actions of humans were determined by the physical environment they inhabited. He observed that humans were the active elements in a human-environmental partnership and partnering.

The controversy between geographical possibilism and determinism might be considered one of (at least) three dominant epistemologic controversies of contemporary geography. The other two controversies are:

1) the "debate between neopositivists and neokantians about the "exceptionalism" or the specificity of geography as a science.

2) the contention between Mackinder and Kropotkin about what is—or should be—geography".[3]

Possibilism in geography is, thus, considered a distinct approach to geographical knowledge, directly opposed to geographical determinism.


  1. ^ Dhillon, Jasbir Singh, S.S. (2004). Agricultural geography (3rd ed.). New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill. p. 457. ISBN 9780070532281. Retrieved 5 May 2016.
  2. ^ Stadler, Reuel R. Hanks ; contributing author, Stephen J. (2011). Encyclopedia of geography terms, themes, and concepts. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. pp. 262–263. ISBN 9781598842951. Retrieved 5 May 2016. {{cite book}}: |first1= has generic name (help)
  3. ^ José William Vesentini, Controvérsias geográficas: epistemologia e política, Confins (magazine) - Revue Franco-Brésilienne de Géographie

External linksEdit

  • University of Washington lecture
  • Valparaiso University on La Blache