A Geographical Introduction to History

By Lionel Bataillon; Lucien Febvre et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
SOCIAL MORPHOLOGY OR HUMAN GEOGRAPHY

THE first accusation of sociologists against human geography is simple. It can be expressed in one word. It is that of ambition.

Nothing, geographers are told, is more restricted, and at the same time nothing is more ambitious, than their conceptions. Whether they are considering a group of men or a human society, they look at the soil on which the group or society in question actually rests. That terrestrial support, that underlying basis of societies, is not for them inert and powerless matter. It acts on the men whom it supports. It "influences" them physically and morally. It "explains" them as a whole and as individuals. It explains them, and it alone can explain them. It alone acts on them. It alone influences them. Here we have the usual exclusiveness and foregone conclusion; the professional bias of the specialist shows itself only too clearly.

The geographer starts from the soil, not from the society. It would doubtless not be claimed that the soil is the "cause" of the society. Ratzel contents himself with saying that it is "the only essential bond of cohesion of each people".1 But it is to the soil that his attention is chiefly directed. It is the geographical factor with which he is concerned, and whose action and efficacy he means to disengage and to exhibit. "Instead of studying the material which underlies societies in all its elements and under all its aspects," M. Mauss reproaches him,2 "it is chiefly on the soil that he concentrates his attention. That is what is in the forefront of his research." Social morphology would be very different. It also would treat of what underlies societies, but only as one of the elements

____________________
1
LXXXIII, Vol. I, pp. 1-2.
2
Mauss, XVII, 1904-5, p. 42.

-37-

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