Geography: Science or Social Science?!

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What is Geography?

Geography a word derived from the Greek word geographia which means earth description has been long considered as one of the fundamental subjects in education system right from the beginning of the system. A subject that is unique in bridging the social and physical aspects of the globe.

gmStories about princes being taught geography when they were young, be it Alexander from Greece or Ashoka from India are well known. It is one of the most important subjects that an educated person and more importantly a future king needed to know. Geography knowledge was seen as a vital to survival and success.

Coming back to the Present – 2013! We see GIS and Location based applications being used ubiquitously.

In India, GIS is being actively employed by the electricity department to keep track of their installations and to help in maintenance. The cops in the country are now getting GPS fitted vehicles to keep track of their resources and help maintain Law and Order. These are just well known applications of “Geography”.

A country of a billion plus people has only a thousand or more Geography / Geo-information graduates coming out of universities every year. There is a tremendous requirement for human resources with very good understanding of Geographic Sciences in the private industry across the globe.  All the countries in the world are slowly getting to realize the importance of having geography in the education mainstream. The Indian Planning Commission presented a report in this regard – “The National Task Force on Geospatial Education” which talks about how to help increase Geography awareness in the country.

I’ll leave the how to improve Geography awareness question to the experts, the question that I have in mind –

“Are we correct in categorizing Geography as a social science and not as a Science?”

I strongly believe that it is time that we accept Geography as a science subject. The knowledge of our surroundings is just as important as the knowledge of Physics and Mathematics. Whenever I talk to my friends who are Engineers or Natural Science students, it is hard for them to accept the importance of Geography. I always use the example that Surveying was perhaps the mother of necessity for the development of Mathematics and Science.  Humans needed a much more evolved form of numbers and science to be able to keep track of their territories and it is highly possible that this was one of the primary reasons for the development of mathematics. An argument that took it time to be accepted.

A subject that studies physical phenomenons and interaction between different elements cannot be limited to be called “Social Science”. Geography is not just a Social Science, it is Science with a social element to it.

geography science or social science – What do you think? Let us know!

I am one of those passionate "Geo-geeks" and "Geo-people" who is just too excited about everything Geo and Management. Location information and spatial technologies are just too big to take a back seat and watch them revolutionize the world. Always curious and looking for ways to innovate, I guess that it comes naturally by the gene pool I inherited from an engineer Mom and a researcher Dad.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Muthu and geoawesomeness, thanks for this exceptional article, please send me an email if you wish to have it translated to spanish and shared in my Geo Blog or whrever else you wish, I find it of great interest to spanish “Geogeeks” too.
    Congratulations again and best regards from the Canary Islands of Spain!!

    • Thanks for the kind words Francis! It would be great if you can get it translated and posted on your Blog and other sites where you think it would help create awareness 🙂
      Cheers from Munich!

  2. Hi Muthu,

    thanks for this nice article. To me, geography is and will always be a science. But I am commiung from the physical geography corner of the house. This was no discussion in my eyes. We are having also the same discussion going around in our geoscientists group as they always claim to do science and geography is a social science.
    Space is a physical thing. To explore space, you need scientific methods. So also urban geography or comparable parts of “human geography have non-social scientific aspects in their studies….
    SO once again: Geography is science and shall always be.
    Especially in Germany geography classes in secondary schools are questioned as the other scientific fields need more time. But Geography is important!!!

    • Hallo Riccardo,

      Well I do agree with you. In India as well, geography is largely regarded as a social science and is something students are not too concerned about. I have a slightly different opinion about “human geography” being tagged as a social science. If we can accept psychology to be a science subject in the strict sense, I believe the same applies to be human geography as well.

  3. I agree that there is a very important scientifical component in Geography. At least in my department, in the University of Sao Paulo, Human Geography tends to be have a more critical approach, closer to the social sciences, and Physical Gepography tends to have a more techical approach, closer to the Earth sciences. So in my viewpoint, Geography has the potential to be both. Would it be possible?

  4. Forgot to mention that I am a PhD student in the University of Sao Paulo, I study tropospheric ozone concentrations associated to land use in the city, so in my research I come across all different kinds of approach 🙂

    • Hello Julio!

      Well, I do agree that geography does have the potential to be both. But in fact the subject itself deserves more space and attention simply for that reason. Dont you think so?! But in a sense, I believe that it is more science than social science. Particularly if we consider subjects like psychology to be science subjects.

      • True. You can’t deal with Geography as being another social science, that would mean to not consider all of its scientific side. Geography deserves maybe not more, but a different kind of attention, unique in the same way as the Geographical science is.

  5. Geography is without any doubt a natural science! If you’re a geographer, it’s vital that you have some background knowledge in fields such as Chemistry, Geology, Physics, Botany, Mathematics, etc. On the other hand, Geography does have some social elements – hence it connects both natural science and social science.

  6. I agree with you that we should call Geography science rather than social science. In Bangladesh, Geography is considered a science and we get a BSc(Bachelor of Science) degree from this discipline

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