Geographic Terms: Interdependence, Assimilation & Demographic Cycle

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

There is a lot more to studying geography than simply memorizing the names of rivers and mountains. In this lesson, we'll look at terms to help us study the relationship between the physical Earth and the people who live here.

Human Geography

When we talk about geography, a lot of people automatically think about the locations of rivers, capitals of states, those sorts of things. Now, these are important parts of geography, but that's not all that geography is. Geography is technically considered the study of the physical features of the Earth, as well as the relationship between humans and the Earth. In particular, human geography examines how human activities can either impact or be impacted by the Earth. So, with that in mind, let's look at a few basic terms used by geographers to look at the relationship between the Earth and the people who live here.

Geographers often look at the world in terms of human populations


You may have noticed, but a large number of things that you purchase are not made within your hometown. In fact, most of them probably aren't even made in your country. Despite the fact that the physical size of the Earth has not changed, human populations are becoming more and more connected. In fact, many human societies who live very far apart are becoming increasingly reliant on products created or sold by each other. We want to make smart phones and computers, but we still need clothes and food, so we import those from somewhere else. We rely on other nations to produce certain things, so we can focus on products we want to sell to the rest of the world. The reliance on a global network of trade is called interdependence, and it's something that really has been taking in the last decade or so. So, how is this a matter of geography? Well, these societies all live somewhere, and historically, the distance between people has limited trade opportunities. However, with modern transportation and digital technology, global economic networks are growing, forcing individual people and entire cultures to reconsider what physical space means to the modern world.

The world economies are becoming very reliant on each other


The overall process of creating more integrated global networks is called globalization, and as we're discovering, it can actually mean very different things to different people. For some, a global community means greater acceptance of diverse cultures and beliefs. For others, the rise in immigration opportunities and desire to not be seen as an outsider have led to increased pressure for assimilation. Assimilation is defined as the complete integration of someone of minority status into a dominant culture. For example, if you're a Buddhist Korean immigrant who moves to the United States, you are entering this country as a statistical minority. As geographers, we can observe how assimilation impacts these migration patterns. For example, say the Korean immigrant has little desire to assimilate but instead wants to preserve Korean customs. He or she may move into a Korean neighborhood, find a place near a Buddhist temple, and spend lots of time within this community. However, an immigrant who wants strongly to assimilate will likely avoid this neighborhood and try to find a more mainstream part of town. The desire to either encourage or avoid assimilation can strongly impact the geographic distribution of people. In fact, sometimes it can be a very strong influence. It has been the case, historically, that pressures to assimilate have forced people to abandon their own beliefs and customs or else be labeled as outsiders, as people who don't belong. Particularly in eras when anything seen as different is feared, such as in America during the Cold War, assimilation is often forced upon newcomers, rather than being a choice.

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