Relation between Society and Environment!
Environment as the term itself indicates is anything that surrounds or environs us. Environment in this sense is made of all those things which though distinct from us affect our life or activity in some way. It consists of all surroundings and influences, whatsoever that are present whenever an event occurs.
It refers to those forces, situations, or stimuli that affect the environment from outside. Environment is thus not a simple but a complex phenomenon and consists of various forms such as physical environment, biological environment, social environment and supra-social environment.
The physical environment consists of the geographical, the climatic and the controlled geographical environment. The biological environment includes the plant and animals found all round man. The social environment consists of three kinds of environments—economic, cultural and psycho-social environments. The supra-social environment consists of the notions regarding God or supernatural power.
A. Physical Environment:
Physical environment is composed of those conditions that nature provides for man. It includes, according to MacIver, the earth surface with all its physical features and natural resources, the distribution of land and water, mountains and plains, minerals, plants and animals, the climatic and all the cosmic forces-gravitational, electrical, traditional etc. that play upon the earth and affect the life of man.
Physical environment is further classified as uncontrollable or “natural” and “artificial”. The former is composed of those external material objects or phenomena which though in some points may be modified by man are in general out of his control. That is, most of these men can change only slightly but their larger changes depend on forces beyond his power.
Among this environment may be listed the sun and stars, the winds and rains, the mountains and the seas, the seasons, the tides and the ocean currents. The controllable geographical environment, on the other hand, consists of those elements which are amenable to the direct control of man and which he can modify. Such are the vast stretches of land which he brings under cultivation; the rivers and streams which he tames with dams and embankments and so on.
Influence of Physical Environment:
The physical environment plays a predominant role in determining the behaviour of the individuals and groups. So great is the influence of physical environment on human life that special studies have been made about this relationship since the times of Montesquieu.
After him French writers like Le Play, Demolins and Brunhes have been engaged in studying the relationship between the physical environment and social phenomena. This emphasis on the relationship between the characteristics of the physical habitat and social developments has led to the development of two schools of American Sociology—the Ecological School and the Regional School.
The Ecological School has been particularly interested in the social and cultural phenomena associated with various urban areas. Focusing upon the social effects of locality, ecologists have elaborated the processes that mark the rural and urban communities.
The regionalists have sought to establish relation between man’s physical environment and his social life. According to them, man’s surroundings closely influence his activities. H. W. Odum is the leader of the regional school. The ecological school was developed by the investigations of Park and Burgess.
In Germany, an important branch of the geographical school was developed by Ratzel in his extensive work Human Geography. In England H.T. Buckle wrote a history of civilization along similar lines. Similarly American writers like Simple, Dexter, and Huntington have sought to depict the impact of climatic conditions on human society.
The general results of these studies of relations between social developments and physical environment are as follows:
The physical conditions of a country profoundly influence the distribution, size and density of its population. The plains are the most densely populated and the mountains sparsely populated. Likewise the density of population is small in desert areas and in those places which suffer from lack of rainfall. Temperature, rainfall and humidity are the factors which determine the density of population.
The topography of a country affects the human habitation, diet, dress and animal husbandry. According to Brunhes, “If geography is far from explaining everything in the house, at least the human habitation cannot be completely understood without an appeal to geography.”
The Eskimo tribes live in snow houses, use animal skins for garments and utilize the fish and seal for food. Houses in the mountains are made of wood and stone while those in the plains are built of brick and cement.
The dietary habits also are affected by the topography. Thus rice is the diet of Bengalese while wheat is the diet of Punjabese. People living in the mountainous regions wear thick and woollen clothes while those living in the plains wear cotton clothes.
Particular animals can be reared only in particular geographical environments. Camels are found in Rajasthan, goats and sheep in the hills, cows and buffaloes in the plains.
Man’s occupations also are largely influenced by the geographical factors. In all the coastal areas of India fishing is the main occupation. Oil wells are to be found in Assam. The main occupation of Northern plain is agriculture. There are more sugar mills in Uttar Pradesh because of the sugarcane crop. The mountainous people rear the sheep.
The topography affects the colour of the skin, stature, shape and colour of the hair, shape of the nose, head etc. People of the hot climates have got darker skin than those living in colder climates. Sample writes, “Stature is partly a matter of feeding and hence of geographic conditions.” However, people of different bodily characteristics may be found in the same environment and of same characteristics may be found in different environments.
According to Durkheim, there is a close relation between seasons and criminal activity. Huttington also is of the opinion that geographical environment has a great deal to do with the human activity. Extremes of heat or cold have a deterrent effect on human activity. It seems clear that a certain moderate temperature is best calculated to evoke human activity.
Energy and Skill:
Huttington has written, “The amount of moisture in the air is one of the important factors in regulating health and energy.” According to him, “When the temperature falls greatly, mental work seems to suffer more than physical, and declines as much as when there is no change.” According to Ross, “It is in the intermediate climes that such traits flourish as energy, ambitions, self-reliance, industry and thrift.”
Civilization and Culture:
Civilization and culture also are influenced by the geographical environment. The Euphrates, the Ganges, the Nile, the Yangtzekiang nurtured the earlier civilizations. The civilization of Europe would have been very different had there been no Danube or Rhine. “Barrier and threshold” these are the roles which the sea coasts have always played in history.
The seas are both a barrier and an opportunity for the people. The power of Spain, Holland and England have arisen not only by historical circumstances but also by improvements in the techniques of navigation. The Britishers were able to extend their empire in such an extent that the sun would never set on it, because she was the mistress of the seas.
Culture also is influenced by the geographical environment. The art, literature and modes of living of a country bear the impression of its natural environment. The natural conditions affect the outlook on life, traditions, folk’s lore, marriage, institutions, form of government etc.
According to Keary, ‘the creed of a people is always greatly dependent upon their position on this earth, upon the scenery amid which their life is passed and the natural phenomena to which they become habituated. “People’s ideas and motives are influenced by the way in which they earn their livelihood. A nation’s military power is greatly restricted if iron and oil deposits are absent.
The economic organisation of a country is to a large extent determined by geographic conditions. Sufficient natural resources are necessary for the economic prosperity of a country. The products of a place are governed by the raw material available.
According to Huttington, “The geographical distribution of minerals is one of the greatest causes of international troubles and wars.”
Influence of Plains:
Above we have described the influence of geography on human life in general. Now, we may devote our particular attention to the influence of plains, hills and deserts on human life. Firstly we consider the influence of plains.
The influence of plains on population can be seen from the fact that greater number of people live in the plains than elsewhere. In the plains there are greater number of towns and densely populated cities.
As there is a greater density of population in the towns on the plains, we find major industries there. The economic life of the people living in the plains is more prosperous and active. Agriculture is their main occupation. Animal husbandry also can be done better in the plains.
Means of communication:
In the plains there is a wide network of roads and railway lines. Transport is easier.
The standard of living is higher in the plains. The progress of culture is ensured through the progress of civilization. Art, literature and music progress. Education also develops easily. The social organisation is strengthened. Preponderance of agricultural occupations leads to worship of weather gods. The sense of group cooperation is awakened.
The easy means 01 transport and communication affect the political functioning in the plains. Administrative functions can be smoothly performed. The work of the police and the army is made easier by the availability of efficient transport system.
Exchange of political opinion and propaganda are facilitated. The people come into close contacts with each other thereby developing the sense of social unity. The life of the people being prosperous and contented, they take an active interest in the political affairs of the country.
Influence of Hills:
The effect of hills on society is as follows:
The population in the hilly areas is thinner. The distribution of population is also uneven. The people live scattered due to the unevenness of the terrain.
The economic condition of the people living in the hilly areas is worse than those living in the plains. The hilly people are generally poor. There are fewer means of transport and communication which make industrial growth difficult. The terrain being uneven and rocky, farming also is made difficult.
The modern agricultural implements cannot be used. The modes of farming are crude and orthodox. There cannot be large farms. Much of the surface soil is washed away by rains. Thus in the mountains we do not have large scale farming. The main occupations of the people are animal husbandry, cultivation of dry fruits, fruits, wool, tea and wood work etc.
The mountainous people are generally religious and orthodox. Absence of education keeps them conservative. The scattered nature of population makes it difficult to have a well-knit society. The people are very busy in earning livelihood. Hence they do not get ample leisure to develop art and literature.
Due to the extreme cold a number of working days are lost. The people do not benefit by the modern scientific inventions because of the lack of developed means of transport and communication. There are few doctors, teachers and engineers due to lack of education. The people wear thick and woollen clothes. They usually worship gods and goddesses.
The mountain-dwellers do not have a well organised political life. The scattered nature of population and fewer means of transport make it difficult to give an organised shape to the administration. Poverty and lack of education do not allow democratic notions to develop.
Influence of Deserts:
In the deserts there is very little rain and there are few rivers. The climate is very hot.
The influence of deserts on social life is as follows:
There is lack of means of transport and communication; hence the economic life is naturally backward. There is no agriculture because there are no rains or rivers. Of course, date palms are abundantly found. The people move from place to place in search of fodder. They lead a backward life. Trade is not in a flourishing condition. Consequently, there is poverty.
Due to the excessive poverty and a hard life, the social life of the desert dwellers is unorganised. They live in caravans. The caravans are their basic social units. These caravans often conflict with each other and indulge in loot and plundering.
There is lack of good manners. Poverty deprives them of good education. Due to the poor means of communication and transport there is little contact with the civilised world. There is much religious superstition and dogmatism. They have got a tough life.
The establishment of permanent government is a problem in the deserts. The Government experiences much difficulty in maintaining peace and order. Due to poverty the Government cannot tax the people very much and so it is not in a position to provide them with good education and other social welfare activities.
Thus from the above account it is clear that the geographical environment influences a great deal the economic, social and political life of the people. E. C. Sample writes, “Man has been so noisy about the way he has conquered nature and nature has been so silent in her persistent influence over man, that the geographic factor in the equation of human development has been overlooked.”
The cause of every social change, according to the followers of the geographical school, is the geographical environment. In the words of Ratzel, “Our growth of intelligence and culture, all that we call progress of civilization, may better be compared with the upward shoot of a plant than with the unconfined flight of a bird.
We remain ever bound to the earth and the twig can only grow on the stem. Human nature may raise its head aloft in the pure ether, but its feet must ever rest in the ground and the dust must return to the dust.” According to Huttington, “the growth and decay of the civilisation is completely dependent upon geographical factor.”
Among the geographical factors, climate is the main factor. Huttington holds that climate is the main determinant of the growth and decay of civilisation. In the absence of good climate, civilisation cannot develop. If the climate is unfavourable, civilisation starts decaying or at least its progress is hindered.
Huxley also has tried to establish a close relation between climate and civilisation. According to him, only the hot climate regions and Mediterranean zones are fit for human habitation. According to Thomas Heywood, “The world is a theatre, the earth a stage, which God and Nature do with actors fill.” Brillot Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.”
Evaluation of Geographical School:
From what we have stated above we should be very careful in drawing conclusions. It is not the exclusive physical environment which determines the social phenomena. There is no consistent relation between the two. In many instances, similar cultural practices are found among peoples who live under very different physical circumstances.
Monogamous marriage is practised all over the world. Christian beliefs have been adopted by people living under very different physical conditions. We must distinguish between direct and indirect influences. For instance, birth rate and death rate are in general higher in tropical regions than in temperate zones.
But it would be unwise to conclude that climate is directly responsible for it. There are differences of racial character, of economic development, of culture and education, of religious beliefs to be considered.
All of these are undoubtedly in some way affected by climatic conditions but it would be going too far to say that climate was the explanation of the social phenomena of high birth and death rate in tropical regions.
Different social institutions under the same climate:
Further under similar climatic conditions we find the most remarkable contrast of customs, institutions, temperaments etc. displayed by different groups. This is abundantly illustrated in the study of Westermarck’s Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas.
Many kinds of personality and culture are found in every kind of climate. Moreover, none of the changes that have occurred in a given culture can be directly related to geographic changes. Social life in an area sometimes changes without any change in physical environment.
Growth of civilization has minimised the influence of physical environment:
The growth of civilization has changed and minimised the influence of the geographical conditions. The distribution of agricultural resources is less determinative as civilization progresses with the distribution of population. In the pre-industrial age the most populous part of England was that o the greatest fertility of soil, the regions between Somerset and Surrey.
Now it lies in Lancashire and Yorkshire less fertile but rich in mineral resources and industrial opportunities. Similarly, natural routes of migration and trade matter less, than of old, as men have learnt to build railways through mountains and over swamp and to use the unbounded highway of the air.
The geographical environment alone never explains the rise of civilization. Huttington’s theory has been severely criticised. The figures drawn by him concerning climate, health rates, distribution of famous people, and distribution of civilisation are no authoritative. They are prejudiced and biased. In the history of civilisation, the countries which once were at the summit are now at the bottom and those which were backward are today the most advanced.
In the words of Goldenweiser, “No environment can in itself be held responsible for producing a definite type of civilisation, nor can any environment, barring extremes, prevent a civilisation from developing.” Similar geographical conditions have produced short-lived and long-lived civilizations.
Arnold Toynbee rejected the popular assumption that civilizations emerge when environment offers unusually easy conditions of life. The proponents of geographic determinism have been guilty of over simplification. Terrible blunders have been caused by their over-simplified explanations.
Climatic conditions also matter less in so far as men gain control over the natural disadvantages of certain climates. The Panama Canal Zone has, for instance, been delivered from malaria through the application of science. Even the extremes of heat and of cold grow less deterrent as the arts of warming and cooling dwelling places improve.
Man cannot be regarded as nature’s slave. The innumerable scientific inventions have made him the lord of Nature. Man modifies his physical environment rather than environment modifies man. He can live anywhere, if he so wills.
An individual’s energy and health are not determined by climate alone as they are the results of many factors of diet, hygienic conditions, living standards, attitudes and values. Bowman writes, “Man can build a comfortable and well-lighted city and provide education, opera and games at the South Pole, build artificial rain compelling mountains in the Sahara at an expense equivalent to that of cutting a few Panama Canals.” In a word, as the social heritage grows, immediate geographical factors assume a less determinant role in the interpretation of society.
Climate and crime are also not correlated:
Lastly, as Durkheim has pointed out, there is hardly any connection between the climate factor and the commission of crime particularly of suicide He has concluded that the actual temperature level has little to do with the correlation.
According to him, the number of suicides increased with the rise in level of civilization; there were more suicides in the cities than in the country, more among the single or widowed than among the married, more among Protestants and non-religious persons than among Catholics.
These facts suggest an explanation of a social character—suicide occurs characteristically where conditions encourage social isolation, where people lack the sense of solidarity created by strong social responsibilities, where they are most apt to be thrown back on their own resources for comfort, companionship and consolation.
Geography by and in itself, never absolutely determines the course of human events. According to Bennet and Tumin. “It is perhaps as reasonable, if not more so to insist that man modifies his physical environment rather than that the environment modifies man.” As scientific technology advances, man’s ability to modify his environment increases.
He is not a passive factor, but an active agent. In the words of Lowie, “The environment furnishes the builders of cultural structures with brick and mortar but it does not furnish the architect’s plan.” Nature but offers the materials, man’s need, his genius and ability compel him to utilise them for his own purpose.
Thus, the geographical environment cannot determine the progress of civilisation. It can, of course, define and decide some of its limits. Isaiah Bourmann, a distinguished geographer puts, “Contemporary geographical knowledge and thought had abandoned the mechanistic determinism of older schools. Earth facts do not determine the form and nature of human society in development. They condition it. New earth facts are continually being discovered and old earth facts given new significance as human knowledge, thought and social action develop. The relations are reciprocal. It may be, therefore, said that physical environment without playing a determinant role provides an external set of conditions under which the life of man in society proceeds. These conditions can hardly be ignored in the study of social behaviour. The sociologists should show their relation to the direct determinants of social phenomenon, the attitudes and interests of men. The physical environment is more of a limiting than of a determining nature.”
B. The Social Environment:
The social environment consists of three kinds of environment, Economic cultural and psycho-social environments. The economic environment consists of all the economic goods, houses and roads, lands and gardens, domestic animals, machines, stores of manufactured articles; in short, all the comforts and conveniences which man has made to deliver him out of the ‘state of nature.’ Economic order is, in other words, an order of everyday life which man has built up for the satisfying of his needs through production, exchange, distribution and consumption of wealth.
The social significance of the economic order is that it is based upon the principle of ‘division of labour’ that is on the specialisation of functions of the groups and the areas. This leads to the inter-dependence of not only of individuals but also of groups and of nations.
Economic environment determines the life and character of society:
The life and character of the society have always been responsive to economic environment. The closeness of this relationship was clearly proved when the industrial revolution was followed by remarkable transformation in law and government, in the structure of classes, in the distribution of population, in customs and institutions, in modes of thought and belief.
There is then no wonder that Karl Marx had asserted that the economic environment is the primary determinant of all social change. So he had written in his Das Capital that it is always the immediate relation of the owners of the conditions of production to the immediate producers in which we find the hidden foundations of the whole social structure.
Thus to his mind all the great associations, the family, the state, the church and all the great forms of human culture, art, literature, science take their shape and character from economic fact. Thus Marxism gives a materialistic interpretation of history and a predominant and perhaps exclusive role to the economic environment in shaping society.
Economic environment is not the sole determinant:
But this is not the whole truth. People at very different levels have accepted and practised for centuries the Christian and Muslim religions, the most diverse and approved systems of thought have developed within the same structure. Marxism is thus not the accurate explanation of human behaviour.
Further, mere economic goods are not an ultimate end of men’s Endeavour. Men do not produce or exchange for the sake of the satisfactions which these processes serve. On the other hand, men do seek health or happiness or knowledge or art for the direct satisfaction these involve. In this sense these interests are prior to the economic interests and must be regarded as modifying and directing the economic order.
The cultural environment includes the customs, traditions, laws, modes of thought and forms of knowledge and belief which form man’s cultural inheritance. Every important aspect of social life, sex-relationship, ownership, comradeship, the exchange of services and goods is ordered, supported and controlled by elaborate system of usage known as tradition.
These traditions express the culture of the group to which they belong. Similarly, customs are the way in accordance’ with which members of the group behave themselves. Again there are ceremonies and rites which express a kind of religious sanction for the respective acts. There are laws which the regulations enforced by some are constituted authority.
The psycho-social environment is the most pervasive of all the environments and is so necessary to the life of a man that some authors believe that the life of the individual can be totally explained in terms of How essential the social environment is to the development of the life of man can be seen in the records of children, Kaspur House, Anna and Isabelle, kept physically alive in almost total isolation. These show in the words of one writer, “what happens when the social environment of a child approaches zero.”