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Characteristics And Criticism Of Humanism Philosophical Approach

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What is humanism?

Before proceeding to examine humanistic approach or humanism, it is important to know that the discipline above was developed by geographers such as Yi-Fu Tuan (1974), Anne Buttimer (1976) and Edward Relph (1976, 1981, 1993) who since the 19th century arte referred to as ‘humanistic geographers’ studied and examined place as it plays an integral role in human experiences. Previous studies mostly defined humanism as a genre of geography that came to being as theories of criticizing the knowledge system of logical positivism. Tuan explains humanism as the understanding of the world by studying people’s relations with nature, their geographical behavior as well as their feelings and ideas with regards to space and place. This definition is similar to that found in Johnston, who writes humanism is a conceptual perspective which claims that comprehensive understanding of human-environmental relationships must be considered individual and group experiences and meanings of space, place, landscape, regions, mobility and many other related geographic phenomena. Within the context of urban geography, the concept of humanism views human beings, individually as purposeful agent that bring about change and development of the urban regions.

The aim and focus of humanism

Having defined what is meant by humanism, tis papers continues by analyzing the focal point of it. Humanism is based on understanding the social behavior using methodologies that explore people’s subjective experiences in the word they live in. In support of the idea of social behavior, Tuan conceptualize that humanistic approach on geography solemnly accounts on the thoughts and actions human being portray. In addition, humanism is said to revolve around activities and products that are distinctive to human beings. In a more complex way, this philosophical perspective describes and discloses the complexity and ambiguity that is presented by relationships occurring between people and the environment which they reside in, people and places and their correlation with Mother earth as well as their ideas and feelings contemplating to space and place.


In support of the humanistic/ humanism perspective, the relevance of human social relation with the world around them is best explained by a scenario wherein one is walking in a city. Insinuating that one is walking or driving at 58 Steve Biko street at Potchefstroom to the Mooi River mall, the humanistic approach is interested would not be on numerical data or the generalized models of land uses but would be focused on the surrounding smells and sounds, long views and sights, feelings and experiences obtained while walking down the street.

Criticism of the humanism approach

So far this paper has focused on the content within the humanistic geographical approach. The following section will discuss the opposition and critiques directed to it. Humanism has been criticized in more than one way since the 18th century. Critics question the excessive emphasis on the power through which individuals determine their own behavior in the city. A recently published article by Sapkota casts doubt on the humanistic approach in several ways; qualitative analytic geographers, Marxist, Feminists and post-structural geographers.

a) Qualitative geographer’s criticism

The critics of qualitative geographers were largely centralized along the grounds of the research method that was used by humanism geographers. Deviating from the deductive theory, pre-defined concepts and measurable validation, the question concerning the certainty and accuracy of their conclusions with regards to comprehension and trustworthy.

b) Feminist criticism

In addition to the above critic, humanism geography was also criticized in a Feministic perspective. The focus was on the conceptual, ideological and ethical concerns of humanism. This critic was rooted on the grounds that it was essentialist to assuming an unchanging, universal human condition that ignored individual and group diversity which encapsulated gender, social culture and economic differences. Furthermore, they critique that this approach and all the works entangled to it were authoritative. This was so because it appeared to privilege the interpretive powers of scholarly experts.

c) Marxist criticism

Humanism in a Marxist perspective was viewed as voluntarist on because it uncritically interpreted social life as a function of intentional, willed plans and actions of individuals. Their critiques claimed that humanism place to much weight on the autonomous human agency at the expense of entrenched, transparent social structure and power. Additionally, Marxist gave critical account to how humanism gives little or no attention to the underlying economic and political dynamics shaping places and the everyday lives of people.

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