By R. Knowles, J. Wareing
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Additional resources for Economic and Social Geography. Made Simple
As discussed in Chapter Two, this has involved a significant change in emphasis in human geography from the study of the products of human behaviour to the study of behaviour itself, especially the ways in which man perceives, evaluates and uses the environment, and how he behaves in earth-space. Applying the Methods of Science In the past, geography has tended to be largely descriptive, and regional description still forms a large part of many school geography syllabuses. There are many textbooks which present only a regional description, but although these are useful as works of reference, they do not go very far in explaining human activity, and explanation is the basic objective of science.
This is a rather simple view, however, and when questions are asked about the real world, problems arise. What is the distance between London and Edinburgh ? As a line on the map 'as the crow flies', the distance is about 530 km, but the distance by road is given by the Automobile Association as 600 km and the distance by rail is given by British Rail as 632 km, so even expressed in conventional units, different answers can be given to the same question. Furthermore, the shortest distance between two points on the earth's surface is not a straight line : we live in a 'curved universe' and a journey taken in a straight line from London to Edinburgh would involve digging a tunnel because of the curvature of the earth.
The first of these is normative theory, which has been applied particularly to the spatial aspects of human activity. In this type of theory, idealised spatial patterns are produced using a set of simplifying assumptions which reduce the complexity of the real world to a flat, uniform plain inhabited by perfectly rational 'economic men'. The aim has been to establish what would happen under these ideal circumstances by the production of a norm, or standard, against which reality can be measured, but the theories developed by using this method have been very unreal.