Quantitative Revolution in Geography | UPSC Notes

Quantitative Revolution in Geography is a very important topic in UPSC Geography optional paper I. Many a times, questions have been repeated from this topic. So it is important to understand the concept well. Short notes like these would be useful for quick revision of Geographical Thoughts chapter.

  • It uses the language of mathematics in Geography and not the language of literature.
  • The methods used are extrapolation, prediction, analysis, theorizing, mathematical modelling, statistical testing, simplification and accurate and orderly description.
  • The use of mathematics and statistics is to make the subject of Geography more precise and understand geography as a system.


Burton was the first geographical thinker to introduce the concept of Quantitative Revolution in geography. It was further propagated by Hagget and Haggerstrand of Lund University. One remarkable work in this field was done by Stewart who gave the Gravity Model of Migration. However, the majority thinkers in Harvard University at that time believed that Geography is not a universal discipline. This pushed the field of geography to backseat.

Quantitative Revolution in Geography
Quantitative Revolution in Geography UPSC

Objectives of Quantitative Revolution

  1. To change Geography from being a descriptive subject to a scientific subject.
  2. To explain and interpret geographical concepts and phenomena in rational and objective manner.
  3. Usage of mathematical language and terminology in Geography, for example Koppen Classification of Climates.
  4. To be able to make precise statements about locational order instead of descriptive ones.
  5. To make estimations and predications of geographical occurences as well as developing models, e.g. von Thunen model of crop intensity.
  6. Locational analysis, i.e. to identify the optimal locations for certain economic activities so as to maximize profits.

Assumptions of Quantitative Revolution

The quantitative revolution in geography makes certain assumptions to operate. They are:

  1. Humans are rational economics beings with infinite knowledge of their environment.
  2. aMan is an optimizer and tries to optimise the resources and outputs all the time.
  3. It assumes that earth space is an isotropic surface and therefore it has the same properties everywhere.
  4. Any normative questions like cultural factors, beliefs, attitudes, customs, traditions etc had no place in the scientific study of Geography.


Quantitative revolution in Geography came as a reaction to the criticism of the field that it is unscientific and thoroughly descriptive. In post-WWII era the criticism grew regarding the spatial analysis as it was said to have no sound theoretical background.

A section of American geographers then turned to quantitative measurement and statistical analysis, specially in urban and economic geography. Numerical analysis was already part of physical geography but this era brought quantitative analysis to the forefront. It also borrowed ideas from ‘social physics’ and ‘neoclassical economics’.

Some of the prominent works are:
1. von Thunen Model of Crop Intensity (1826)
2. Weber’s Industrial Location Theory (1909)
3. Central Place Theory by Christaller (1933)
4. Urban Morphology models developed in USA
5. Hagerstrand’s Stochastic Model of Diffusion
6. Gravity Model of Migration by Stewart


  1. Usage of estimation, extrapolation, simulation, forecasting etc methods gave greater acceptability in the scientific world and also enriched the field.
  2. The systems approach helped in simplification of the geographical systems.
  3. It freed the field of study from personal biases that creep in because of descriptive and non-mathematical analysis.
  4. Many theories and laws were built.


  1. Quantitative revolution reduced Geography to mere spatial analysis and space geometry.
  2. Space geometry cannot adequately explain man-environment relationship which is very dynamic and subject to normative factors.
  3. It assumed man as a passive agent.
  4. It was basically economic determinism rather than geographical determinism.
  5. It excludes normative questions. For example, Lushai and Khasi tribes do not have culture of using dairy as food so quantitative analysis of dairy sector would fail without considering such normative factors.
  6. Marxists criticised that it served only capitalistic purposes and is wasteful and exploitative.
  7. Man in in reality not an optimizer but a satisficer. Satisficer means that man looks for solutions that are ‘good enough’ to satisfy needs in timely manner.
  8. Man has no infinite knowledge as assumed. New data is always coming u and technological changes happen rapidly.
  9. It primarily developed in Europe/USA and has over-generalizations. They are not applicable in different national and cultural contexts.

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