Distinguish between linear and cyclical views of time and how those views impact geographic perception.


Where are you from? This is one of the most significant factors contributing to who you have become as an adult. If you are from the United States, for example, there is a good chance that you had electricity and indoor plumbing in your home. Your family probably had at least one television and telephone, and most likely had a car.

You had access to education, and in fact legally had to be enrolled in a school program until you were 16 years old (statistically speaking, you probably stayed in school until you were at least 18 years old).

All of these factors together signify that the people around you probably had most, if not all their basic needs adequately met to a degree that allowed them to pursue various extracurricular activities, such as playing sports, taking part in after-school clubs, reading, playing video games, or going out with friends.

Contrast your situation with someone who is from India where the majority of people come from small villages with intermittent access to electricity, clean drinking water, and education, and the average salary is less than $1,000 a year (less than $3.00 a day). You will find that economic and environmental conditions result in a very different life experience for these people.

The differences result from the effects of the environment. When cultural geographers talk about environments, they include both the physical features that surround us (weather, landscape, etc.) and the built environment (buildings, street patterns, use of public spaces).

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In India, people’s living situations have arisen due to the history, physical location, daily practices, and meanings associated with the place, as well as the vision of it held by its inhabitants and non-Indians. How people and their environments shape each other is at the core of the study of cultural geography and of this lesson.

Lesson Objectives

Lesson objectives are important to keep in mind as you go through the lesson. All of your exam questions – and hopefully improved life skills – are built around these objectives.

  1. Recognize, define, and distinguish between terms associated with Cultural Geography and its primary concepts.
  2. Understand what a cultural geographer means by “environment”, and how environment, location, and culture influence each other. Identify examples that show:

a. Locations influence culture and the environment.

b. Culture (human interaction) influences the environment and the location.

c. Environment (both built and natural) influences location and culture.

  1. Explain how the concepts of Geographic Scale and Geographic Perception provide an advantage to understanding culture, cultural geography, and sources of conflict.
  2. Distinguish between linear and cyclical views of time and how those views impact geographic perception.

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Lesson Enhancement

The required reading(s) appear throughout the lesson. For your convenience, they also appear at the beginning of the lesson in case you want to read ahead.

A City of 2 Million Without a Map

Ross, Oakland. 21 April 2002. A City of Two Million Without a Map. The Toronto Star.

BEST way to OPEN internal links like this one is by first RIGHT CLICKING the link and SELECTING “Open Link in New Window”.

Cultural Geography

Cultural geography asks the question:

“HOW and WHY do cultures vary from place to place?”

It focuses on the ways culture shapes, and is shaped, by people’s ideas about the following:

How places on earth should look

Who should occupy those places?

What behaviors and norms should and should not be tolerated within those places?

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Cultural geographers are interested in understanding how location and human interaction influence each other in various and unique ways. They study:

how humans alter their environments to meet their needs. They examine how massive cities have been built in areas that have rough natural terrain (such as San Francisco) or conditions inhospitable to humans (e.g., Las Vegas and Tucson)

how human cultures themselves are significantly shaped by the environments in which they develop. An example is the effects on Japanese culture of living on an island prone to earthquakes and tsunamis

The tools we give you in this lesson will help you get to know a location and the people who inhabit it. When your understanding of the local geography is similar to that of the locals, then you have a better basis to relate to them.

Examples from North and Central America

Take Americans and Canadians, for example. The majority of people from both countries speak English as their first language and both groups share a lot of the same characteristics. Canadians and Americans largely listen to the same music, watch the same TV shows, and laugh at the same jokes. Underneath the surface, however, Canadians and Americans have some important cultural differences. Why? Because the cultures of each group of people evolved in very different places.

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For example, it should be obvious why ice hockey is the most widely played youth sport in Canada, while very few Americans outside the northern states bordering Canada play organized hockey as children. But what about other stereotypes of Canadians? Can you think of any that may be related to Canada’s history in the fishing and fur-trapping trades? (Yes, THESE guys again!)

Moving from North America to Central America, let’s look at one more example. This is a short article by Oakland Ross from the Toronto Star, A City of Two Million without a Map.[1] In it, he describes how the people in Managua, the capital city of Nicaragua, function without maps or street names and addresses.

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Click HERE to read the article and then do the Cultural Log Exercise. Questions from this article may appear on the lesson quiz!

CULTURAL LOG ACTIVITY 4.1 – City of Two Million Without a Map

The way you respond to these questions above reflects your cultural beliefs about the way people “should” live in cities.

Next: read our interpretation of this article.

Two Million People without a Map

In the previous page, we asked why Managuans accept and even perpetuate their way of life without maps. Here is the AFCLC’s cultural geographer’s response to this particular question:

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Managuans live in a society in which little to no value is placed on going places that lie outside the familiar confines of the neighborhood. Most people live, work, play, go to school, and shop within walking distance of their homes. Rather than being seen as a functioning mega-city, Managua is better understood as a collection of hundreds of small neighborhoods located really close to one another. It is not uncommon for residents of the city to spend their entire lives without leaving the confines of a few square miles. This means that people’s *worldviews within Managua itself can be very different at various locations within the city. Someone from one neighborhood may feel that he is in a completely different microculture when he visits another part of the city.

Another significant factor related to cultural geography is that Nicaragua is a poor country. Even if the will had been there to rebuild the city’s colonial era grid-pattern streets after the devastating 1972 earthquake, the resources were simply not available. People adhere to and perpetuate this way of organizing their lives because of the combination of local cultural patterns and socioeconomic conditions. This is an example of the influence of Economics and Resources (one of the 12 cultural domains defined in Lesson 1) on the culture and environment of Managua.

To Americans, the thought of a city with two million people without some sort of standard street address system is unacceptable. Our view is influenced by our culture and our values. American values are largely influenced by our country’s history, its early settlers from northwestern European countries, and our common experiences of traveling outside our home areas in the U.S.

Our economic resources and our cultural perceptions of time and space have created, in American towns and cities, environments in which cost-effective and efficient ways of getting from place to place are highly valued characteristics and roads and public transit systems are constantly being upgraded in order to make our travel as easy and short as possible. In fact, many people now

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rely on GPS technology to find the most efficient ways of getting from point A to point B. In Managua, GPS technology would be useless because the GPS requires the name of the destination.

In Managua, the woman who lives “next to the yellow car” probably sees nothing odd or unique in the way she organizes the various locales of the city in her own mind. To her, navigating a large city through nothing more than landmarks seems completely “normal” whereas in the United States it is increasing “normal” to find your way from point “A” to point “B” with detailed directions read to you by a device.

When we discuss the difference between the American and Managuan perspective of a city, we are employing three concepts central to Cultural Geography that we will discuss in this lesson:

Geographic Mental Maps

Geographic Scale

Geographic Perception

Geographic Mental Maps

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Geographic mental maps are virtual maps existing in our minds that are formed in two ways:

1 By direct experience with our environments

2 Through ideas we learn from other people. Those ideas include information about what differentplaces in the world look like and how people in those places live.

In addition, geographic mental maps contain two types of information:

1 The location of places, spaces, and objects

2 The cultural associations we make to those things

Few people consciously realize the impact that mental maps have on their daily lives. As beings that occupy and move through space every minute of every day, we develop a keen sense of where we are on the surface of the planet, where we came from, and where we are going. Repetitive patterns of movement imprint onto our brains mental maps that are so accurate that they allow us to move from one place to another without giving it any thought.

Mental maps start to form as soon as we are able to move as toddlers trying to navigate around our homes. The path from the nursery to the bin of toys in the living room gets so ingrained in a child’s developing mind that even when a parent or object stands in its way, the child figures out how to circumvent the obstacle in order to reach its desired destination.

Similar patterns of movement become ingrained as people mature. Soon, the toddler can find the bathroom, the refrigerator, or the backyard without giving it much thought.

These patterns become so automatic that it is usually possible for people to navigate around their own home in pitch darkness just based on the spatial memory that has been “programmed” into their heads in the form of mental maps created through repetitive experience.

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One aspect of culture shock that we discussed in Lesson 2 is the disruption to your routine that lack of mental maps for a new place causes. How many times have you stood on a corner or sat at a stop light in a new city and wondered which way is home? That feeling can be frustrating and even frightening, leading to general sensations of uneasiness and anger about the unfamiliar place.

Understanding this impact of mental maps on your perceptions will not only help you overcome culture shock, but will make you a more effective Airman when dealing with people from other cultures.

Let’s turn now to the concept of geographic scale.

Geographic Scale

Geographic scale means the degree of specificity of a person’s geographic view at a particular time or for a particular purpose. In the example from Nicaragua, the scale that citizens living in Managua seemed to use on a daily basis did not extend beyond the confines of their neighborhood. Their specific focus was on their zone of the city.

If you think of a map that you would call up electronically on MapQuest or Google to get directions to a locale, you can relate to the concept of geographic scale. The map typically defaults to a view of the whole region, with the path you need to drive highlighted.

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You may decide that you need more specificity. In this case, you “zoom in” to a closer view of the neighborhood you are trying to reach.

Zooming shows two things:

1 More detail in your target area–streets that were not visible in the larger view, and a betterrepresentation of that leg of the trip. It might also show buildings and actual businesses in the area.

2 Less information about the larger area. You lose part of the larger region, because you areconcentrating on an area of smaller size.

Larger and Smaller Geographic Scale

The human mind is structured to allow you to think across geographic scales.

This means that while the daily lives of most people center around local geographic scale (thinking about and doing things like going to work, to the store, or looking for other things to do close to home), we also have the ability to extend our relationship to the larger world around us.

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On 9/11/2001, for example, the vast majority of Americans did not directly experience the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the foiled attack that ended in disaster in a field in Pennsylvania. However, because we have the ability to think across geographic scales (helped in large part by communication technology such as cable news and satellite TV, the Internet, and telecommunications), Americans collectively interpreted the attack on one geographic location in the U.S. as an attack against the U.S. as a whole.

Thinking across geographic scales happened even before television and the Internet were widely used. When Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, many Americans had never heard of it, but they learned that it was part of the U.S. through media or even word of mouth. Nevertheless, they viewed the attack in a similar way to how the 9/11 attacks were perceived, as an assault on all of America.

The larger the geographic scale you use, the more generalizations you will make about an area and the cultures that exist within it. The smaller the geographic scale you use, you will make fewer generalizations because you will have specific information about the area and its cultures. There is nothing “wrong” or “right” about either of these statements. This is the natural way our brains work. The next page will show you an example of the use of larger and smaller geographic scale.

Geographic Scale: Language Maps

For example, take a look at Figure 1 showing a world language map HERE:

1 Do you think this map shows all thespoken languages of the world today?

2 What information do we gain by looking at the world at this large geographic scale?

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Figure 1–world map showing languages

The geographic scale used for this global map is very large. According to it, people in China speak Chinese. People in the U.S. speak English. People in North Africa speak Arabic. We gain information about the variety of languages people speak across the globe. We can see variation according to region and national boundaries, too.

Now look at this map of China HERE:

Figure 2–Map showing Chinese dialects

According to Figure 2, there are 11 languages spoken in China, and 15 dialects of four of those languages!

If a tourist going to China saw only the first map of world languages above, she might think it possible to travel from one end of China to another while communicating in Mandarin with everyone she met. If she saw only the second map, this assumption might be in question.

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What would you expect the tourist to find if we zoomed to an even more narrow geographic scale?

What geographic factors do you think contribute to the linguistic diversity of China?

Here’s our response: Country size, ethnic group origins or traditional homes of ethnic groups, mountain ranges that separated linguistic populations have led to variations, expansion of China’s territory over history.

This interview excerpt comes from a tourist who traveled to China in 2007.

Q: What did you notice about local languages while you were traveling in China?

A: Well, I went from Hong Kong to the free economic zone in the south and then took a bus tour all the way up to the city of Canton. Along the way, I had different Chinese tour guides, who spoke English to us. When we stopped to eat, I noticed that the tour guides would speak among themselves in English, too. I asked them why they didn’t speak Chinese to each other. They told me they couldn’t understand each other’s dialects, so they used English to communicate!

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