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Environmental Determinism: Definition, Examples & Theory Video

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  • 0:01 Environmental…
  • 0:48 The Theory
  • 1:49 Contributions to Culture
  • 3:25 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Deborah Teasley

Deborah has 4 years of teaching experience and a master's degree in program development & management.

In this lesson, we will discuss the theory of environmental determinism and its argument for the effect the environment has on the human behavior and social development. Following this, you'll be able to test your knowledge with a quiz.

Environmental Determinism Defined

Have you ever heard of the phrase 'island time?' This is sometimes used to describe the slow and carefree mentality of the cultures located in the tropical island regions. In comparison to a fast-paced metropolis, such as New York or Los Angeles, the idea of time and commitment is not as pertinent. What do you think caused such a huge difference in mentality? Is it the culture or perhaps is it the physical environment?

Environmental determinism would go with the latter when faced with this scenario. The reason is that environmental determinism, also known as climatic determinism or geographical determinism, is the belief that a physical environment affects social and cultural development.

The Theory

The theory of environmental determinism dates back to the 15th century. Plato and Aristotle believed that the climate contributed to the Greeks being highly developed early on, as compared to other civilizations in hotter or colder climates. The Greek geographer, Strabo, also had similar ideas and wrote about climate affecting the development of human beings at the physiological level. This concept was developed further later on and proposed the idea that environmental factors were the origin of different skin colors.

In modern times, environmental determinism rose to popularity during the 19th and 20th centuries. Following Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, German geographer Friedrich Rätzel proposed that evolutionary biology and our environment play the most prominent role in our development as a species. This ideology eventually spread to the United States and remained popular there until the 1940s, when it was accused of supporting racism and imperialism.

Contributions to Culture

The theory of environmental determinism as human development's sole contributor has been mostly abandoned. However, it did play a large role in geographic history and helped us understand that the environment sets certain limitations that can affect a culture. To explore this further, let's take a look at a couple different examples.

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