Political geography

Political geography

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Encyclopedia
Political geography is the field of human geography
Human geography
Human geography is one of the two major sub-fields of the discipline of geography. Human geography is the study of the world, its people, communities, and cultures. Human geography differs from physical geography mainly in that it has a greater focus on studying human activities and is more...

 that is concerned with the study of both the spatially uneven outcomes of political processes and the ways in which political processes are themselves affected by spatial structures. Conventionally political geography adopts a three-scale structure for the purposes of analysis with the study of the state
State (polity)
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...

 at the centre, above this is the study of international relations
International relations
International relations is the study of relationships between countries, including the roles of states, inter-governmental organizations , international nongovernmental organizations , non-governmental organizations and multinational corporations...

 (or geopolitics
Geopolitics
Geopolitics, from Greek Γη and Πολιτική in broad terms, is a theory that describes the relation between politics and territory whether on local or international scale....

), and below it is the study of localities. The primary concerns of the sub-discipline can be summarised as the inter-relationships between people, state, and territory.

History


The origins of political geography lie in the origins of human geography itself and the early practitioners were concerned mainly with the military
Military
A military is an organization authorized by its greater society to use lethal force, usually including use of weapons, in defending its country by combating actual or perceived threats. The military may have additional functions of use to its greater society, such as advancing a political agenda e.g...

 and political consequences of the relationships between physical geography, state territories, and state power. In particular there was a close association with regional geography
Regional geography
Regional geography is the study of world regions. Attention is paid to unique characteristics of a particular region such as natural elements, human elements, and regionalization which covers the techniques of delineating space into regions....

, with its focus on the unique characteristics of regions, and environmental determinism
Environmental determinism
Environmental determinism, also known as climatic determinism or geographical determinism, is the view that the physical environment, rather than social conditions, determines culture...

 with its emphasis on the influence of the physical environment on human activities. This association found expression in the work of the German geographer Friedrich Ratzel
Friedrich Ratzel
Friedrich Ratzel was a German geographer and ethnographer, notable for first using the term Lebensraum in the sense that the National Socialists later would.-Life:...

 who, in 1897 in his book Politische Geographie, developed the concept of Lebensraum
Lebensraum
was one of the major political ideas of Adolf Hitler, and an important component of Nazi ideology. It served as the motivation for the expansionist policies of Nazi Germany, aiming to provide extra space for the growth of the German population, for a Greater Germany...

 (living space) which explicitly linked the cultural growth of a nation with territorial expansion, and which was later used to provide academic legitimation for the imperialist expansion of the German Third Reich
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 in the 1930s.

The British geographer Halford Mackinder was also heavily influenced by environmental determinism and in developing his concept of the 'geopolitical pivot of history' or heartland (first developed in 1904) he argued that the era of sea power was coming to an end and that land based powers were in the ascendant, and, in particular, that whoever controlled the heartland of 'Euro-Asia' would control the world. This theory involved concepts diametrically opposed to the ideas of Alfred Thayer Mahan
Alfred Thayer Mahan
Alfred Thayer Mahan was a United States Navy flag officer, geostrategist, and historian, who has been called "the most important American strategist of the nineteenth century." His concept of "sea power" was based on the idea that countries with greater naval power will have greater worldwide...

 about the significance of sea power in world conflict. The heartland theory hypothesized the possibility of a huge empire being created which didn't need to use coastal or transoceanic transport to supply its military industrial complex, and that this empire could not be defeated by the rest of the world coalitioned against it. This perspective proved influential throughout the period of the Cold War, underpinning military thinking about the creation of buffer state
Buffer state
A buffer state is a country lying between two rival or potentially hostile greater powers, which by its sheer existence is thought to prevent conflict between them. Buffer states, when authentically independent, typically pursue a neutralist foreign policy, which distinguishes them from satellite...

s between East and West in central Europe.

The heartland theory depicted a world divided into a Heartland (Eastern Europe/Western Russia); World Island (Eurasia and Africa); Peripheral Islands (British Isles, Japan, Indonesia and Australia) and New World (The Americas). Mackinder claimed that whoever controlled the Heartland would have control of the world. He used this warning to politically influence events such as the Treaty of Versailles
Treaty of Versailles
The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of World War I. It ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers. It was signed on 28 June 1919, exactly five years after the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The other Central Powers on the German side of...

, where buffer states were created between the USSR and Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, to prevent either of the them controlling the Heartland. At the same time, Ratzel was creating a theory of states based around the concepts of Lebensraum and Social Darwinism
Social Darwinism
Social Darwinism is a term commonly used for theories of society that emerged in England and the United States in the 1870s, seeking to apply the principles of Darwinian evolution to sociology and politics...

. He argued that states were analogous to 'organisms' that needed sufficient room in which to live. Both of these writers created the idea of a political and geographical science
Science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

, with an objective
Objectivity (journalism)
Parent article: Journalism ethics and standardsObjectivity is a significant principle of journalistic professionalism. Journalistic objectivity can refer to fairness, disinterestedness, factuality, and nonpartisanship, but most often encompasses all of these qualities.- Definitions :In the context...

 view of the world. Pre-World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 political geography was concerned largely with these issues of global power struggles and influencing state policy, and the above theories were taken on board by German geopoliticians (see Geopolitik
Geopolitik
Geopolitik is the branch of uniquely German geostrategy. It developed as a distinct strain of thought after Otto von Bismarck's unification of the German states but began its development in earnest only under Emperor Wilhelm II...

) such as Karl Haushofer
Karl Haushofer
Karl Ernst Haushofer was a German general, geographer and geopolitician. Through his student Rudolf Hess, Haushofer's ideas may have influenced the development of Adolf Hitler's expansionist strategies, although Haushofer denied direct influence on the Nazi regime.-Biography:Haushofer belonged to...

 who - perhaps inadvertently - greatly influenced Nazi
Nazism
Nazism, the common short form name of National Socialism was the ideology and practice of the Nazi Party and of Nazi Germany...

 political theory. A form of politics legitimated by 'scientific' theories such as a 'neutral' requirement for state expansion was very influential at this time.

The close association with environmental determinism and the freezing of political boundaries during the Cold War
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...

 led to a considerable decline in the importance of political geography which was described by Brian Berry in 1968 as 'a moribund backwater'. Although in other areas of human geography a number of new approaches were invigorating research, including quantitative spatial science, behavioural studies, and structural Marxism, these were largely ignored by political geographers whose main point of reference continued to be the regional approach. As a result much political geography of this period was descriptive with little attempt to produce generalisations from the data collected. It was not until 1976 that Richard Muir could argue that political geography might not be a dead duck but could in fact be a phoenix.

Areas of Study



From the late-1970s onwards, political geography has undergone a renaissance, and could fairly be described as one of the most dynamic of the sub-disciplines today. The revival was underpinned by the launch of the journal Political Geography Quarterly (and its expansion to bi-monthly production as Political Geography). In part this growth has been associated with the adoption by political geographers of the approaches taken up earlier in other areas of human geography, for example, Ron J. Johnston
Ron J. Johnston
Ronald John Johnston, OBE, AcSS, FBA is a British human geographer, noted for elaborating his discipline's foundations, particularly its history and nature, and for his contributions to urban social geography and electoral geography...

's (1979) work on electoral geography relied heavily on the adoption of quantitative spatial science, Robert Sack's (1986) work on territoriality was based on the behavioural approach, and Peter Taylor's (e.g. 2007) work on World Systems Theory owes much to developments within structural Marxism. However the recent growth in the vitality and importance of the sub-discipline is also related to changes in the world as a result of the end of the Cold War, including the emergence of a new world order (which as yet is only poorly defined), and the development of new research agendas, such as the more recent focus on social movements and political struggles going beyond the study of nationalism with its explicit territorial basis. Recently, too, there has been increasing interest in the geography of green politics (see, for example, David Pepper's (1996) work), including the geopolitics of environmental protest, and in the capacity of our existing state apparatus and wider political institutions to address contemporary and future environmental problems competently.

Political geography has extended the scope of traditional political science approaches by acknowledging that the exercise of power is not restricted to states and bureaucracies, but is part of everyday life. This has resulted in the concerns of political geography increasingly overlapping with those of other human geography sub-disciplines such as economic geography, and, particularly, with those of social and cultural geography in relation to the study of the politics of place (see, for example, the books by David Harvey (1996) and Joe Painter (1995)). Although contemporary political geography maintains many of its traditional concerns (see below) the multi-disciplinary expansion into related areas is part of a general process within human geography which involves the blurring of boundaries between formerly discrete areas of study, and through which the discipline as a whole is enriched.

In particular, then, modern political geography often considers:
  • How and why states are organized into regional groupings, both formally (e.g. the European Union
    European Union
    The European Union is an economic and political union of 27 independent member states which are located primarily in Europe. The EU traces its origins from the European Coal and Steel Community and the European Economic Community , formed by six countries in 1958...

    ) and informally (e.g. the Third World
    Third World
    The term Third World arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either capitalism and NATO , or communism and the Soviet Union...

    )
  • The relationship between states and former colonies, and how these are propagated over time, for example through neo-colonialism
  • The relationship between a government
    Government
    Government refers to the legislators, administrators, and arbitrators in the administrative bureaucracy who control a state at a given time, and to the system of government by which they are organized...

     and its people
  • The relationships between states including international trades and treaties
  • The functions, demarcations and policings of boundaries
  • How imagined geographies
    Imagined geographies
    The concept of imagined geographies has evolved out of the work of Edward Said, particularly his critique on Orientalism. In this term, ‘imagined’ is used not to mean ‘false’ or ‘made-up’, but ‘perceived’. It refers to the perception of space created through certain images, texts or discourses...

     have political implications
  • The influence of political power on geographical space
  • The study of election results (electoral geography)

Critical Political Geography


(See also: Critical geopolitics
Critical geopolitics
The basic concept behind Geopolitics is that intellectuals of statecraft construct ideas about places, these ideas have influence and reinforce their political behaviors and policy choices, and these ideas affect how we, the people, process our own notions of places and politics.Critical...

)

Critical political geography is mainly concerned with the criticism of traditional political geographies vis-a-vis modern trends. As with much of the move towards 'Critical geographies', the arguments have drawn largely from postmodern, poststructural and postcolonial theories. Examples include:
  • Feminist geography
    Feminist geography
    Feminist geography is an approach in human geography which applies the theories, methods and critiques of feminism to the study of the human environment, society and geographical space.-Areas of study:...

    , which argues for a recognition of the power relations as patriarchal and attempts to theorise alternative conceptions of identity and identity politics
    Identity politics
    Identity politics are political arguments that focus upon the self interest and perspectives of self-identified social interest groups and ways in which people's politics may be shaped by aspects of their identity through race, class, religion, sexual orientation or traditional dominance...

    . Alongside related concerns such as Queer theory
    Queer theory
    Queer theory is a field of critical theory that emerged in the early 1990s out of the fields of LGBT studies and feminist studies. Queer theory includes both queer readings of texts and the theorisation of 'queerness' itself...

     and Youth studies
    Youth studies
    Youth studies is an interdisciplinary academic field devoted to the study of the development, history, culture, psychology, and politics of youth. The field studies not only specific cultures of young people, but also their relationships, roles and responsibilities throughout the larger societies...

  • Postcolonial theories which recognise the Imperialistic, universalising nature of much political geography, especially in Development geography
    Development geography
    Development geography is the study of the earth's geography with reference to the standard of living and quality of life of its human inhabitants. In this context, development is a process of change that affects people's lives. It may involve an improvement in the quality of life as perceived by...


Notable Political Geographers

  • John A. Agnew
    John A. Agnew
    John A. Agnew is a prominent British-American political geographer. Agnew was educated at the Universities of Exeter and Liverpool in England and Ohio State in the United States.-Life and career:...

  • Klaus Dodds
    Klaus Dodds
    Klaus Dodds is Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London.He was educated at Wellington College and the University of Bristol where he completed degrees in geography and political science...

  • Derek Gregory
    Derek Gregory
    Derek Gregory Ph.D. FBA, FRCC is an influential British academic and geographer who is currently Professor of Political Geography at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He formerly held positions at the University of Cambridge.Gregory is best known for his book The Colonial...

  • Richard Hartshorne
    Richard Hartshorne
    Richard Hartshorne was a prominent American geographer. He completed his undergraduate studies at Princeton University and his doctorate at the University of Chicago , then taught at the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin , with war-time interruption to...

  • Karl Haushofer
    Karl Haushofer
    Karl Ernst Haushofer was a German general, geographer and geopolitician. Through his student Rudolf Hess, Haushofer's ideas may have influenced the development of Adolf Hitler's expansionist strategies, although Haushofer denied direct influence on the Nazi regime.-Biography:Haushofer belonged to...

  • Ron J. Johnston
    Ron J. Johnston
    Ronald John Johnston, OBE, AcSS, FBA is a British human geographer, noted for elaborating his discipline's foundations, particularly its history and nature, and for his contributions to urban social geography and electoral geography...

  • Peter Kropotkin
    Peter Kropotkin
    Prince Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin was a Russian zoologist, evolutionary theorist, philosopher, economist, geographer, author and one of the world's foremost anarcho-communists. Kropotkin advocated a communist society free from central government and based on voluntary associations between...

  • Yves Lacoste
    Yves Lacoste
    Yves Lacoste is a French geographer and geopolitician. He was born in Fes, Morocco. In 1976 he established the French geopolitical journal "Hérodote"...

  • Halford Mackinder
  • Doreen Massey
    Doreen Massey (geographer)
    Doreen Barbara Massey FRSA FBA AcSS , is a contemporary British social scientist and geographer, working among others on topics typical of marxist geography...

  • Gearóid Ó Tuathail
  • Joe Painter
    Joe Painter
    Joe Painter is a British geographer and academic.He is as of 2006 a professor in the Department of Geography and Associate Director in the International Centre for Regional Regeneration and Development Studies at the University of Durham in the U.K.-Education:Painter was born and matured in st...

  • Friedrich Ratzel
    Friedrich Ratzel
    Friedrich Ratzel was a German geographer and ethnographer, notable for first using the term Lebensraum in the sense that the National Socialists later would.-Life:...

  • Ellen Churchill Semple
    Ellen Churchill Semple
    Ellen Churchill Semple was an American geographer. Ellen was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the youngest of five children by Alexander Bonner Semple and Emerine Price. She is most closely associated with work in anthropogeography and environmentalism...

  • James Sidaway
  • Peter J. Taylor
    Peter J. Taylor
    Peter James Taylor is an English geographer. Born in Tring in Hertfordshire, he was Professor of Political Geography at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne between 1970 and 1996, since when he has been Professor of Geography at Loughborough University...


Further reading

  • Agnew J 1997 Political geography: a reader London: Arnold ISBN 0470236558
  • Buleon P 1992 'The state of political geography in France in the 1970s and 1980s' Progress in Human Geography Vol. 16 (1) pp24–40
  • Short JR 1993 An introduction to political geography: 2nd edn. London: Routledge ISBN 0415082269
  • Spykman Nicholas John 1944 The Geography of the Peace, New York, Harcourt, Brace and Company.
  • Sutton, I., ed. 1991 The Political Geography of Indian Country, symposium, American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 15(2): 1-169.

See also


  • Geopolitics
    Geopolitics
    Geopolitics, from Greek Γη and Πολιτική in broad terms, is a theory that describes the relation between politics and territory whether on local or international scale....

  • Critical geopolitics
    Critical geopolitics
    The basic concept behind Geopolitics is that intellectuals of statecraft construct ideas about places, these ideas have influence and reinforce their political behaviors and policy choices, and these ideas affect how we, the people, process our own notions of places and politics.Critical...

  • List of geography topics
  • List of countries
  • Geography reference tables