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Environmental determinism (also known as climatic determinism or geographical determinism) is the study of how the physical environment predisposes societies and states towards particular development trajectories. Nineteenth century approaches held that climate and terrain largely determined human activity and psychology, and it was associated with institutionalized racism and eugenics. Many scholars underscore that this approach supported colonialism and eurocentrism, and devalued human agency in non-Western societies.Jared Diamond, Jeffrey Herbst, and other social scientists sparked a revival of the theory during the late twentieth century. This "neo-environmental determinism" school of thought examines how geographic and ecological forces influence state-building, economic development, and institutions.
Early theories of environmental determinism in Ancient China, Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome suggested that environmental features completely determined the physical and intellectual qualities of whole societies. Guan Zhong (720–645 BC), an early chancellor in China, held that the qualities of major rivers shaped the character of surrounding peoples. Swift and twisting rivers made people "greedy, uncouth, and warlike". The ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates wrote a similar account in his treatise "Airs, Waters, Places".
Writers in the medieval Middle East also produced theories of environmental determinism. The Afro-Arab writer al-Jahiz argued that the skin color of people and livestock were determined by the water, soil, and heat of their environments. He compared the color of black basalt in the northern Najd to the skin color of the peoples living there to support his theory.
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