Darwinian Concepts

All of this is not to say, however, that Ratzel's perspective turned geography, in any way, into a social science. Although anthropogeography (re)introduced human aspects into a predominantly physical geography, it firmly rested on a framework of causal explanations, cause–effect relationships, and natural laws characteristic for the sciences of his era. As a consequence, Ratzel was criticized by his French contemporary Emile Durkheim, the founder of academic sociology. Durkheim, in his journal L'annee Sociologique, reviewed both Ratzel's Anthropogeographie and Politische Geography. On the ne hand, he appreciated Ratzel's contributions in that they had underlined the significant role that the 'geographical factor' played for human life. On the other hand, Durkheim clearly disapproved of the idea that there were direct relations between the Earth and mankind. Ultimately interested in how the transformation of society – and more specifically the division of labor in the industrialization process – shaped the conditions of human life, Durkheim aimed at explaining spatial patterns by human agency, and not vice versa. Ratzel, by contrast, kept insisting that geographical knowledge had to be derived from the Earth or the ground (Boden).

In so doing, Ratzel was influenced by Darwinian concepts of evolution through natural selection and the struggle for survival. Not only had he, as a student, attended lectures of Ernst Heinrich Haeckel, whose excessive and overstated Sozialdarwinismus encompassed a series of evolutionary theories, for instance – and very prominent – the neo Lamarckian principle of direct heritable adaptation. He had also incorporated ideas of the naturalist, explorer, and evolutionary theorist Moritz Wagner who aimed at integrating the significance of migration and geographical isolation into the concept of evolution. According to Marc Bassin, the relationship with Wagner, whom Ratzel had met in the winter of 1871–72 in Munich, represented ''probably the single most significant influence on Ratzel's intellectual development, for Wagner's 'Law of Migration' provided the foundation on which Ratzel was to develop his anthropogeography'' (Bassin, 1987a: 124). Taking up Wagner's idea of the Lebensgebiet as the territorial base of a given species, Ratzel developed his concept of Lebensraum, or living space, which he continually emphasized as being of elemental significance for his work.

To Ratzel, every living organism required a specific, definite area from which to draw sustenance in order to come into existence. This was not only true for individual living organisms but also included entire populations, such as herds of animals. Even more importantly, and by means of a consistent biological analogism, Ratzel went on to apply his concept of Lebensraum to human society, conceptualizing the political state as the corresponding organism or 'aggregate organism'. It is precisely the idea of the political state as organic or biogeographical unit depending on, and at the same time struggling for, Lebensraum that represents the source of competing geographical imaginations standing at the heart of anthropogeography.