Tag Archive: social sciences


Recently, I came across a book called the Clash of Civilizations by Samuel P. Huntington which takes a look at people’s cultural and religious identities and argues that this will be the primary source of conflict in the 21st century.
 
I believe that the clash of civilizations seems to be a very broad statement in the use of Huntington’s thesis.  Personally, I have mixed feelings towards Huntington’s theory.  On one hand, it is possible to picture the validity of the clashing of civilizations; however, on the other hand, I am in agreement with an article by Amartya Sen (2006) titled “What Clash of Civilizations? Why religious identity isn’t destiny” that states that “the increasing tendency to overlook the many identities that any human being has and to try to classify individuals according to a single allegedly pre-eminent religious identity is an intellectual confusion that can animate dangerous divisiveness.”  When comparing civilizations, a civilization can be reduced down to a small scale, it doesn’t necessarily have to be compared to historic civilizations such as Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Mesopotamia, and so on.  
 
When comparing people from different parts of the United States such as Texans, Californians, New Englanders, and Georgians, all who are classified as Americans; however, each has their own distinct cultures within the United States.  But what is an American?  An American is not only somebody from the United States, but somebody in Mexico, or Costa Rica.  Back in 2005, I had taken a trip to Costa Rica to immerse in the culture.  One thing I noticed from the people there is that they were offended when Americans were only referred to the people of the United States.  With that said, single classifications can be very misleading.  If civilizations are divided by particular cultures, then Iraq, a majority Islamic state, could be broken up into three different cultures: The Kurds, Sunni Muslims, and Shiite Muslims, but Iraq is also home to other minorities such as Christians (Chaldeans), among many other ethnic groups.  
 
For Huntington to state that the world is divided into nine different civilizations is a misnomer.  The truth is that Huntington uses only one type of classification which is based off of religion; however, the different cultures within religious groups, classes, societies, and beliefs are other classifications that can be used to distinctly separate people from one another.  In many nations or states throughout the world, conflict usually arises within their own political boundaries as a result of some sort of clash.  It can usually be defined as cultural differences, but not all conflicts are solely violent.  Some may be political or even economical.  I do not believe Huntington is wrong for his ideology, but he is only looking at conflicts within global politics as one possible perception and is not looking outside the lines of religious/cultural classifications.  This sort of realignment that Huntington predicts has occurred throughout history.  
 
More recently, globalization is now mixing the various different cultures and civilizations throughout the world together and leading these different cultures and religions to share many commonalities than ever before.  On a separate note, Huntington discusses clashes between western civilizations and Islamic civilizations.   The majority of people in western civilization are Christians; therefore, in my opinion, Huntington goes on to discuss the conflicts between these two cultures as a future problem that needs to be considered in foreign policy.  I disagree with his views on this because Christians and Muslims have been fighting for thousands of years and it should already be in our foreign policies.  This is not only a future issue, but a past and present issue as well.


I believe all factors will come into play when conflict occurs, not only cultural factors like Huntington states. Every year, the world is becoming more and more global with technology, especially the internet. Many cultures that were once isolated years ago are now sharing many traits with other cultures because it is becoming the “norm” globally. Immigrants that live in repressed or poor regions of the world are now increasingly migrating to Western countries because they believe it will lead them to more opportunities and a better life. The mixing of cultures is becoming more and more acceptable; however, tensions of cultures worldwide will always have some sort of conflict. Huntington’s thesis is inaccurate when it breaks the world into eight different civilizations. Many states and nations within these “8” civilizations have conflicts daily and even within their political boundaries. Therefore, I believe the world is becoming more economical and countries of different cultures are now uniting with other countries of the world for these reasons. The main conflicts will be more of an internal conflict than a worldwide conflict of cultures.



So let’s take a step back for a moment at all the major conflicts since the 21st century.  Afghanistan War, Iraq War, Sudanese Civil War, Russo-Georgian War, Arab Uprising revolutions, and radical Islamist jihads.  With the exception of radical Islam, none of these other conflicts were really based on religious ideology.  They were either political, economic, or over territory in my opinion.  


Islamist radicalists can blend in with any society, no matter where it is to cause harm toward others.  In Huntington’s thesis, they are mostly concentrated as one civilization, “Islamic civilization.”  Regardless, there are no boundaries to these non-state actors and they have developed cells all over the world in many other civilizations than the Islamic one. I would think this would be the closest example that would tie into the thesis.  Yet still, they also fight within their own “civilization” and against other Muslims.  Their interpretation of Islam is very different than other interpretations within the culture.  Not all Muslims believe what these radical Islamists believe in; Islam is supposedly a peaceful religion, this just comes to show that it is not possible to divide the world into civilizations.  

 
I welcome everyone’s thoughts and comments on this posting.  I would like to initiate a respectable discussion.
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Maps can tell a great story without words, especially by showing a temporal depiction of the change of cultures and boundaries. Throughout history though, various empires conquered many lands across most of Asia and left behind many cultural influences that have molded today’s ethnic groups and languages in the region.

There are three main language families in this region depicted in the below map: Semitic (Yellow), Indo-Iranian (Orange), and Turkic (Green).

Semitic language roots trace back to the days of the Sumerians and Akkadians estimated around 2400 BC. These languages have evolved over time into the most commonly known languages of Arabic (commonly used in all Arab States), Hebrew (commonly used in Israel), Amharic (commonly used in Ethiopia), and Tigrinya (commonly used in Eritrea).

Indo-Iranian language roots trace back to 6th century BC. Indo-Iranian is most commonly known today as the Persian language family consisting of mainly Kurdish, Farsi, Pashto, Tajik, and Dari. Other Indo-Iranian languages are located in Pakistan and India.

Turkic language roots trace back to the early Middle Ages (around 8th century AD). Before the Turkic expansion occurred, most Turks were located in the Area known as Mongolia today. In the years following the early Middle Ages, the Turks expanded in all parts of Asia from Siberia to India to Turkey covering a vast land mass and influencing many cultures along the way. Today, Turkish, Azerbaijani, and the languages of the former Soviet republics in Central Asia make up what is part of the Turkic family.

The following maps are courtesy of the Gulf/2000 Project funded by Columbia University:

Linguistic Composition of Southwest Asian States: Present Day

The following group of maps reveals historic changes as a result of the various conquerors, empires, and cultures from 1450 to 2000 AD. Throughout the years, the only long standing empires have been the Ottoman/Turkey and Persia/Iran.

Islamic States ca. AD 1450
Islamic States ca. AD 1510
Islamic States ca. AD 1550
Islamic States ca. AD 1625
Islamic States ca. AD 1700
Islamic States ca. AD 1750
Islamic States ca. AD 1800
Islamic States ca. AD 1840
Islamic States ca. AD 1850
Islamic States ca. AD 1900
Islamic States ca. AD 1925
Islamic States ca. AD 1950
Islamic States ca. AD 2000
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) applications in social science are becoming more and more frequently used throughout the world in understanding several sub-fields of geography.  For this posting I will be discussing specifically the human geographic aspect that concentrates on understanding local populations and the implications of social change from effects of economic, political, geographic, and ethnographic issues through the use of GIS.  The typical uses or norms of GIS applications usually include science-related mapping, utility mapping, and/or disaster response/humanitarian efforts, and last but not least, map-making in general.  The social sciences and human geography are often overlooked and many people that I have encountered in life, school, and work are doubtful of the possibility of mapping human cultures.  This may be because in a global world today, most cultures are becoming more intermingled than ever before.  However, though globalization is beginning to merge many cultures, the majority of cultures still have unique characteristics that history has lent to them.
In GIS, there are many layers that would assist in developing spatial relationships among various aspects of human geography. This application is becoming more and more reliant by the United States government as a result of the issues with our military not understanding the cultures of Iraq and Afghanistan before the invasions earlier in the century. Not only do federal governments have a vested interest in human geographic applications, but non-government organizations also have their fair share of a need to understand the world from a social science perspective.
As a proof of concept, the following 3 layers are an integral part of this overall system, but keep in mind there many layers that are needed in order to understand the big picture.
Ethnicity Layers: These layers would consist of the cultural groups within say for instance in Iran such as the Azeris, Kurds, Iranians, among various other smaller cultural groups. A polygon layer would represent the generalization of where these groups mainly have geographic control over;  however, there may be overlap among the polygon layers in a macroscopic view of the region. This would provide a baseline for understanding any implications the Iranian government would enforce on the local population.
Neighborhood/City Layers: These layers would provide more of a microscopic view of the parts of the regions, specifically cities or urbanized areas. Within these urban areas, a mixture of cultural groups may be present. Identifying the neighborhoods specific to a particular group would help to isolate groups and provide geographic context to conditions under the assumption that segregation is prevalent in the city.  I have noticed through my studies that even in a global world, there is still much segregation in neighborhoods because ethnic groups and religions tend to stick with like people.  Also, the mix of ethnicity would be more visible with these polygon layers, because at larger scales, a GIS user can begin to see the relationship and isolation of each of the groups.  A new technique such as settlement mapping can also divide formal from informal neighborhoods assisting in identifying certain demographics of people.
Religious layers: These point layers will help identify any historic or religious sites across an urban area to assist in the overall analysis of identifying spatial attributes to a particular group. Examples of point shapefiles would be churches, mosques, religious sites, relgious institutions, religious monuments, et cetera.  Alternative to point layers, polygons may also be helpful from a macroscopic scale for identifying which religions tend to favor certain geographic areas over others.  This may be from diasporas or history.
Researching human geography can be done and converted into geospatial information.  Another thing to keep in mind is that geographical text can be extracted and developed into data, which is one thing in any social science field, is part of the data collection.  One would have to convert text into geographic data, not only from information with geographic locations, but the surrounding context.  There are many ways to go about finding information.  Many anthropologists and other related fields have published many studies regarding cultures and civilizations.  These types of papers have an abundance amount of geographic insights, references, and data that can be extracted in to spatial data.
Commerical remote sensing imagers (i.e. Orbview, Geoeye, DigiGlobe) may also lead a helping hand; many cultures or ethnic groups in the eastern hemisphere have their own specific characteristics for architecture, buildings, and homes.  Many of these architectural distinctions are observable from space, especially with a favorable look angle.  If the imaging platform takes a snapshot of an area at nadir, it may be more difficult.  Other ways to find information is through social media sites that promote collaborative mapping and that may also provide insight into human geography.  Sites like Wikimapia, openstreetmaps, and amateur cartographic sites provide insight into cultural data.  Of course there are many different sources of information, and it would be someone’s job who is involved in human geographic mapping to analyze all possible layers to establish a final cartographic map that details the human geography of an area.
Keep in mind, if you are expecting 100 % accuracy on any of these layers, then you are in the wrong business, as you should always question the data since nothing is perfect.  There are many things to take into consideration when looking at mapping human geography.  You also have to consider what is the end use or final deliverable for the project.  Some geographic layers that are important to conduct such analyses are terrain, elevation, roads, buildings, hilltops, rivers, transit zones, local language, ethnicity, education, and demographics.  Where does one get all of this information?  The data can be acquired via remote sensing, various open sources, or other means.  All this data plays into the bigger picture, but most of us take them for granted.

Ease of mobility is a huge factor in cultural mapping.  In rural areas across Asia, even if the groups are forced out, they tend to stick together.  Not all populations have the luxury to send their kids to Tehran University or hop on the highway to go to Kashmir on a nice scenic vacation.  Ethnicity is another hindering factor like race is still an issue in America.  Therefore the infrastructure plays a huge role in identifying areas where cultures are prevalent.  In the United States, when people emigrate there, they tend to stick together with like-minded and like-speaking peoples hence why we still see segregation in our urban cities.  It’s not much different when cultural groups are forced to flee their land to another part of a country or to neighboring countries, hence why you see other ethnicities such as the Turkmens in Afghanistan or Iran even though there is a country of Turkmenistan.

Furthermore, there are many factors involved in understanding this and aggregating information is the key to success.  You need to acquire as much data and information that one can.  In addition to data, information is a key aspect to this in providing context to areas.  The world is not as isolated as it once was and there is a plentiful amount of information and data that would be suffice for a fairly accurate assessment of an area; you just need to know where to find it.

I just wanted to provide a little taste of what could be done more than the typical GIS applications that everyone knows about.  Hope this helps!

Brian G – @geocrusader80
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