Difference between Welfare Human Geography and Humanistic Geography

Welfare Human Geography:

Although human geography has emerged from earth sciences and has continuing links with physical geography, yet the basic objective of this branch of knowledge is to examine the various problems of different social groups in relation to their environment.

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At present, especially after the 1960s, the geographers have adopted a welfare approach.

The welfare approach in fact emerged as the reaction to positivism, quantitative revolution, spatial science, and model-building which was thought to be insufficiently concerned with contemporary problems of human societies.

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The 1970s saw a major redirection of human geography towards ‘welfare’ issues such as poverty, hunger, deprivation, malnutrition, crime, distribution of assets, income, and access to social services (e.g., health care and education).

This corresponded to a major shift in social concern, from narrow economic criteria of development or progress to broader aspects of the quality of life.

Spatial distribution of phenomena and distributional issues have assumed additional importance in the current era of slow or no economic growth, for in these conditions policies of distribution in favour of the poor or socially deprived can be implemented only at the expense of the rich or better-off members of a society.


This is also known as Pareto optimality—a situation in which it is impossible to make some people better-off without making others worse-off.

Resources are available to generate a certain amount of income, which may be distributed among A and B (these could be individuals, group of people or even the inhabitants of two different territories).

The line AB indicates the possible distribution of the maximum total income available, ranging from all going to A and none to B (at point A) and all to B (at B). Point X is a position of Pareto optimality, where any distribution in the direction of either A or B (along the line) will make the other party worse-off.

In fact, any starting position on the line indicating the limit to production possibilities in Pareto optimal it would be impossible to increase A’s share from X to Z (thus leaving B in the same position) because this conflicts with the resource constraint.


The Pareto model assumes that one society has reached the limit of production possibilities, i.e., there is no more growth; the poor cannot be made better-off without at the expense of others (the rich).

The basic focus of the welfare approach is on who gets what, where and how. The ‘who’ refers to the population of the area under review (a city, region or nation, or even the entire world), sub-divided into groups on the basis of class, caste, race, or other relevant characteristics.

The ‘what’ refers to the various goods (and bads) enjoyed or endured by the population, in the form of commodities, services, environmental quality, social relationships and so on.

The ‘where’ reflects the fact that living standards differ according to area of residence. The ‘how’ refers to the process whereby the observed differences arise.

The initial task posed by the welfare approach is descriptive. The present state of society, with respect to who gets what, where, may be represented by extension of the abstract formulations of welfare economics, and the practical objective is to give these empirical substance. In a spatially disaggregated society, the general level of welfare may be written as:

Where S is the level of living or social well-being in a set of n terri­torial sub-divisions. In other words, welfare is some function of the distri­bution of goods and bads among groups of the population defined by area of residence.

The empirical identification of inequality in territorial distribution involves developing social indicators. These may combine particular elements of social well-being in a composite manner.

Conditions that might be included are income, wealth, employment, housing, environ­mental quality, health, education, social order (i.e., absence of crime, deviancy and other threats to social stability and security), social partici­pation, recreation and leisure.

Alternatively, the focus may be on individual aspects of social well-being, such as inequalities in access to health care or the differential experience of a nuisance such as noise, air pollution and so on.

Descriptive research of this kind is justified on the grounds that it provides information on aspects of life hitherto neglected in geography.

It also provides a basis for evaluation, whereby the existing state is judged against an alternative (past, predicted or planned) according to some criterion of welfare improvement.

Thus, the impact of alternative plans for facility location or closure (e.g., hospitals, schools) could be judged by the criterion of which would most equally distribute the benefits (such as access to health care) among the population of various sub-divisions of the area under review.

This raises the question of rules of distributive justice
and the manner in which they are actually applied (explicitly or otherwise) in the political process.

Although originally proposed as an alternative framework for human geography, the welfare approach has now been merged with other lines of inquiry within geography directed towards the fundamental problem of inequality.

Implicit in ‘welfare geography’ is recognition that the issues in question extend beyond the limits of a single discipline, and in fact, render disciplinary boundaries increasingly irrelevant. The welfare approach logically requires a holistic social science perspective.

Humanistic Geography:

This is another approach in human geography. The main feature of this approach is that it gives central and active role to human awareness and human agency, human consciousness and human creativity. It is an expansive view of what the human person is and what’ he can do.

The humanism in geography is usually traced back to the French school of la geographic humane (human geography).

The supporters of humanistic geography, however, disagree with this genealogy as they argued that Vidal de la Blache’s writings bear many of the hallmarks of functionalism. In fact, Vidal himself regarded human geography as a natural science.

The revival of humanism in geography was started in 1970s. Humanism in geography emerged as a reaction of Quantitative Revolution.

It was also a rejection of the ‘geometric determinism’. Humanistic geography gave man a central position with the human being at its very centre, a people geography’.

During the last two decades, humanistic geography has advanced from its early attack on positivism to make an assault on structuralism. It has developed a more precise methodology for empirical investigation. Two basic streams of work can be distinguished:

(a) The first of these characterized by a self-conscious drive to connect with what special body of knowledge, reflection and substance about human experience and human expression, about what it means to be a human being on this earth, namely, the humanities. Its methods are essentially those of literary criticism, aesthetics and art history. Its interest in the recovery of place and the iconography of landscape is often associated with historical geography.

(b) The second stream is perhaps more self-consciously theoretical in fact one of its central concern is to clarify the theoretical attitude itself and it draws on a range of constructs derived from the human and social sciences-, most usually from existentialism and phenomen­ology. Its methods are typically those of hermeneutics and logical rather than strictly statistical. It is most closely associated with social geography.


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