Field Thoughts

Geography is the study of relations between society and the natural environment. Geography looks at how society shapes, alters, and increasingly transforms the natural environment, creating humanized forms from stretches of pristine nature, and then sedimenting layers of socialization one within the other, one on top of the other, until a complex natural-social landscape results. Geography also looks at how nature conditions society, in some original sense of creating the people and raw materials which social forces “work up” into culture, and in an ongoing sense of placing limits and offering material potentials for social processes like economic development. The “relation” between society and nature is thus an entire system, a complex of interrelations. What was once a causal relationship mainly in one direction (the formation of humanity during natural evolution) becomes an equally causal interrelationship in the reverse direction (social evolution alters the “natural” environment). In this way, human activity continually remakes its natural context — nature comes to be socially constructed, in the sense both of social and economic forces remaking landscapes, and of the intervention of ideas and discourses. Understanding this system of relations requires that geographers be sophisticated natural and social scientists, find ways of combining the two, know the methods and be excited by the insights of both aspects of knowledge. Thus, the synthetic core of geography is a study of nature-society interrelations.

Richard Peet, Modern Geographic Thought