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Political geography

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Political geography

Political geography is concerned with the study of 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 at the center, the study of international relations (or geopolitics) above it, and the study of localities below it. The primary concerns of the sub-discipline can be summarized as the inter-relationships between people, state, and territory. The concept of "geopolitics" was first used by an Swedes political scientist Rudolf Kjellén in 1899. Kjelllén said that the characteristics of economic, political and military of a country are rooted in the geography and environment of that country. Geographical factors may promote or inhibit the development of socio-economic and political, and contribute to shaping the identity and history of each country


Early practitioners were concerned mainly with the military and political consequences of the relationships between physical geography, state territories, and state powers, with close association to the regional geography. Focusing on the unique characteristics of regions and environmental determinism, and emphasizing on the influence of the physical environment on human activities. This association found expression in the work of the German geographer Friedrich Ratzel, who in 1897 in his book Politische Geographie, developed the concept of Lebensraum (living space) which explicitly linked the cultural growth of a nation with territorial expansion, and which was later used to provide academic legitimization for the imperialist expansion of the German Third Reich in the 1930s.

The British geographer Halford Mackinder was also heavily influenced by environmental determinism and furthering his concept of the 'Geographical Pivot of History' in order to make progress on his Heartland Theory . 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 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 allied against it. This perspective proved influential throughout the period of the Cold War, underpinning military thinking about the creation of buffer states 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, where buffer states were created between the USSR and Germany, to prevent either of them controlling the Heartland. At the same time, Ratzel was creating a theory of states based around the concepts of Lebensraum and Social Darwinism. 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, with an objective view of the world. Pre-World War II 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) such as Karl Haushofer who - perhaps inadvertently - greatly influenced Nazi political theory. Having close ties to Adolf Hitler, Karl Haushofer helped put geopolitical theory on foreign policy of the Nazi government after Hitler came to power in 1933. Accordingly, the Nazi government for that Germany should be extended "living space" (lebensraum) to be able to achieve self-sufficiency. This concept was the Nazi government used to justify the invasion of the territory of neighboring countries. We can say Germany's policy during this period was influenced by Halford Mackinder's argument that Germany would rise to global hegemonic position occupied lands if central Europe and unrestrained by marine powers like Britain or the United States. A form of politics legitimated by 'scientific' theories such as a 'neutral' requirement for state expansion was

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'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, Henry Bakis (1987) shows the role of information and telecommunications networks on political geography, and Peter Taylor's (e.g. 2007) work on World Systems Theory owes much to developments within structural Marxism. However, the recent growth in vitality and importance of this sub-discipline is related to changes in the world, as a result of the end of the Cold War. With the emergence of a new world order (which as yet, is only poorly defined) and the development of new research agendas, there has been more recent focus on social movements and political struggles, going beyond the study of nationalism with its explicit territorial basis. There has also 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 any 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) and informally (e.g. the Third World)
  • The relationship between states and former colonies, and how these are propagated over time, for example through neo-colonialism
  • The relationship between a government and its people
  • The relationships between states including international trades and treaties
  • The functions, demarcations and policing of boundaries
  • How imagined geographies have political implications
  • The influence of political power on geographical space
  • How Communications (telephone, radio, TV, ICT, Internet, social networks) have political implications
  • The study of election results (electoral geography)
  • Critical political geography

    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, post structural and postcolonial theories. Examples include:

  • Feminist geography, which argues for recognition of the power relations as patriarchal and attempts to theorise alternative conceptions of identity and identity politics. Alongside related concerns such as Queer theory and Youth studies
  • Postcolonial theories which recognise the Imperialistic, universalising nature of much political geography, especially in Development geography
  • Environmental justice which addresses the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. In other words, it is a human right for all people to share equally in the benefits bestowed by a healthy environment.
  • References

    Political geography Wikipedia

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