Chapter 2 (L. Xu)

Estimated Reading Time 00:04:43

Notes by Lance Xu

Chapter 2: Material Settings


-Demography: study of human populations – their growth and decline through births, deaths and immigration

-Thomas Malthus – Earth’s population may exceed carrying capacity one day, food increases linearly, population increases exponentially

-‘Checks’ could keep population growth in line with food supply, positive checks increase death rate (war, famine, pestilence and disease), preventive checks limit number of live births (abortion, infanticide, contraceptives, etc)

-need to use preventive checks to avoid positive checks


Critical theory

-People take actions that benefit themselves the most and support theories that justify their actions

-problems in poor countries not as a result of overpopulation but rather from an unfair and harmful distribution of the world’s resources

-historically famine not a significant positive check

-poverty often causes problems similar to those posed by overpopulation and also contribute to overpopulation

-zero population growth -> deaths = births, global strategy of survival

Urban Life


-social problems in city result of growth and specialization (more wealth = more robbery)

-characteristics of the city (size, variety, etc) that promote social disorganization, weak social controls and consequent deviance and distress

-rural life – members shared same experiences and developed similar values, norms and identity

-urban life – people interdependent on others for prosperity and survival

Critical Theory

-whose interests are served by the dominant groups in society and their ideology

-urban problems such as homelessness and poverty is caused by capitalism, power groups disinterested in helping lower class

Symbolic Interactionism

-how meanings and thought patterns affect environmental problems, and how they influence people’s perception of these problems

-environmental geography: study of the interactions between humans and their surrounding natural world, focusing on the human impact on the environment and vice versa

-what kind of claims make the greatest impact, and how they become a problem in the public’s eye

-also study how environmental polluters manipulate symbols to protect themselves from criticism (greenwashing – repackaging products as environmentally friendly)

Feminist Theory

questions prevailing capitalist celebration of increasing growth, unlimited resources and unregulated commerce

-ecofeminists link exploitation of marginalized groups (women) with exploitation of environment

Limits to growth

-World3 model; simulation of the next 100 years, showed that earth’s resources would be depleted or too expensive to buy

-possible to change this by reaching an equilibrium, using cutbacks in spending, buying and consuming, impossible to achieve at North American standards of living

Why demography?

-large population puts more pressure on natural environment, more likely to innovate or break into smaller populations, and large populations need the systematic production of food

-industrial, post agricultural societies don’t need large populations

-large populations dense and crowded, usually live in cities

-population growth resulted in urbanization

-large populations divide labour, resulting in different social roles for people with different skills and aptitudes

-composition of a population makes a difference, young predominantly male population = more disorder/deviance, evenly split population typical of a settled family community = less deviance

-age also a factor, old = high spending on medical care, young = high spending on education

Human capital: skill set, usually including educational attainment or job related experiences that enhances a worker’s value on the job; the result of forgone income and a long term investment in personal improvement

-healthy, long lived society likely to contain higher level of human capital and therefore higher productivity and increased prosperity

-population turnover both negative (undermines traditional culture and existing social networks) and positive (reinvigorates culture and introduces new social elements)

-Sudden rejuvenation of the population (baby boom) or dramatic aging (less childbearing) have huge effects on culture, politics and social institutions


Population Trends Reveal a Society’s History

Population composition: makeup or mix of different social types in a population (gender, age, etc)

Population pyramid: graphic depiction of the age-sex composition of a population

Cohort: set of people with common origin or starting point (birth cohort = same year of birth)

-can learn about societies and their histories by analyzing population composition, war = drop in men, baby boom = increase in children

-unequal male/female ratio result of gendercide

World Population

-1750-present world population increased dramatically

-growth starting to decline, lower fertility in developed countries

-proportion of people living in less developed countries > 80%

Risk society (Ulrich Beck)

-advancing technology posing serious risks to environment (ex BP oil spill, Chernobyl nuclear meltdown)

-people must assume both individual and social responsibilities for their actions

The Natural Environment

-people much more aware of natural environment than a generation ago, due to environmental movements

-humans rely on natural environment for their basic needs as well as luxuries

-water becoming valuable resource, demand for water growing, not evenly distributed


Human geography: systematic study of the location of human enterprises and characteristics (health, education, commerce and trade)

-historically people have lived close to sources of water, these people tend to have more interaction with different types of people, resulting in a more diverse culture

-different landscapes, environments and climates lead to different challenges, lifestyles and resources

Buildings and Cityscapes

-rise of cities coincide with rise of markets and states, could not come into being without systematic farming and agriculture

-constantly come into conflict with surrounding smaller rural communities


-more people live in cities than ever before, greatest urbanization in developing countries

-megacity: a geographic locale with a large concentrated population, sometimes defined as exceeding 5 million people

Bedroom suburb: residential area near a large city that provides housing and services for people who commute each day into the downtown urban area

Built Environments

-built environment puts huge pressure on the natural environment, North America use disproportionate share of the world’s energy and mineral resources due to high standard of living


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