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- Merje Kuus Merje Kuus Department of Geography, University of British Columbia
- Published in print: 01 March 2010
- Published online: 30 November 2017
Critical geopolitics is concerned with the geographical assumptions and designations that underlie the making of world politics. The goal of critical geopolitics is to elucidate and explain how political actors spatialize international politics and represent it as a “world” characterized by particular types of places. Eschewing the traditional question of how geography does or can influence politics, critical geopolitics foregrounds “the politics of the geographical specification of politics.” By questioning the assumptions that underpin geopolitical claims, critical geopolitics has evolved from its roots in the poststructuralist, feminist, and postcolonial critique of traditional geopolitics into a major subfield of mainstream human geography. This essay shows that much of critical geopolitics problematizes the statist conceptions of power in social sciences, a conceptualization that John Agnew has called the “territorial trap.” Along with political geography more generally, critical geopolitics argues that spatiality is not confined to territoriality. The discursive construction of social reality is shaped by specific political agents, including intellectuals of statecraft. In addition to the scholarship that draws empirically on the rhetorical strategies of intellectuals of statecraft, there is also a rich body of work on popular geopolitics, and more specifically on resistance geopolitics or anti-geopolitics. Another emerging field of inquiry within critical geopolitics is feminist geopolitics, which shifts the focus from the operations of elite agents to the constructions of political subjects in everyday political practice. Clearly, the heterogeneity of critical geopolitics is central to its vibrancy and success.
- world politics
- critical geopolitics
- human geography
- political agents
- intellectuals of statecraft
- popular geopolitics
- feminist geopolitics
Critical geopolitics investigates the geographical assumptions and designations that enter into the making of world politics (Agnew 2003 :2). It seeks to illuminate and explain the practices by which political actors spatialize international politics and represent it as a “world” characterized by particular types of places (Ó Tuathail and Agnew 1992 :190). This strand of analysis approaches geopolitics not as a neutral consideration of pregiven “geographical” facts, but as a deeply ideological and politicized form of analysis. Eschewing the traditional question of how geography does or can influence politics, it investigates how geographical claims and assumptions function in political debates and political practice. In so doing, it seeks to disrupt mainstream geopolitical discourses: not to study the geography of politics within pregiven, commonsense places, but to foreground “the politics of the geographical specification of politics” (Dalby 1991 :274). Critical geopolitics is not a neatly delimited field, but the diverse works characterized as such all focus on the processes through which political practice is bound up with territorial definition.
This essay reviews critical geopolitics as a subfield of human geography: its intellectual roots, trajectories, internal debates, and interactions with other fields of inquiry. Its goal is to situate critical geopolitics in the study of international affairs and to highlight its contribution to that study. To underscore the spatiality of world affairs is not to add a token “geographical” perspective to international studies. It is rather to insist that a critical inquiry into the spatiality of world affairs must be central to the study of politics. All analyses of international affairs make geographical assumptions, whether acknowledged or not. Critical geopolitics seeks to make these assumptions visible so as to submit them to analytical scrutiny.
The essay proceeds in four steps. The next section (“Geopolitics and its Discontents”) briefly situates critical geopolitics in the scholarship that preceded it and lays out the principal theoretical and empirical concerns of this subfield. The following two sections discuss some key strands of and debates within critical geopolitics in more detail. Thus, the third section (“Locating Critical Geopolitics”) addresses the debates over the “location” of critical geopolitics in two senses of the term. It first discusses the location of that scholarship within human geography and the social sciences more broadly, and then addresses its geographical scope. The subsequent section (“Geopolitics and Agency”) tackles questions about who produces geopolitical discourses. In particular, it foregrounds the substantial work on intellectuals of statecraft, popular geopolitics, feminist geopolitics, and resistance or antigeopolitics. In so doing, the section seeks to illuminate the role of human agency (capacity to act) in geopolitical practices. The final section (“Critical Geopolitics as the Fragmented Mainstream”) summarizes the position of the field within human geography today. Throughout, the focus is not only on studies that are self-consciously “critical geopolitical,” although these are central to the essay. Rather, the essay takes a broader look at geographic analyses on the spatiality of international affairs, regardless of whether they are commonly labeled as critical geopolitics.
Geopolitics and its Discontents
To understand the intellectual and political concerns of critical geopolitics, we must briefly consider the troubled relationship between academic geography and classical geopolitical thought. Classical geopolitics, taken to mean the statist, Eurocentric, balance-of-power conception of world politics that dominated much of the twentieth century , is closely bound up with the discipline of geography. This is an association of which geography unfortunately cannot be proud. It goes back to the birth of self-consciously geopolitical analysis in the nationalism and imperialism of fin-de-siècle Europe. From the beginning, geopolitics was intimately connected to the competitive ambitions of European states (Parker 1998 ; Heffernan 2000 ). For example, Friedrich Ratzel ’s ideas of living space grew out of the widespread anxiety about the position of Germany in European politics, and Halford Mackinder ’s heartland theory reflected similar anxieties in Britain (Ó Tuathail 1996b ). For many writers inside and outside academic geography, geopolitics promised a privileged “scientific” perspective on world affairs. It appeared as an objective science, a detached “god’s eye” view of the material (or geographical) realities of world politics (Ó Tuathail 1996b ). This so-called classical geopolitics conceptualized politics as a territorial practice in which states and nations naturally vie for power over territory and resources quite similarly to evolutionary struggles. As such, it served to justify interstate rivalry throughout the twentieth century (Atkinson and Dodds 2000 ; Agnew 2003 ). In the 1930s and 1940s, geopolitics acquired an association with the intellectual apparatus of the Third Reich, in part because of the works of the prominent German geographer Karl Haushofer . This episode was subsequently used in American geography and political propaganda to vilify the whole field of geopolitics and to treat is as synonymous with Nazi expansionism (even though there is no evidence of the far-reaching influence on Hitler that Haushofer was said to have had). Geopolitics became one of the most controversial terms in the modern history of the discipline (Atkinson and Dodds 2000 :1).
Because of its negative image in the decades after World War II, academic geographers virtually ignored geopolitics. Geography’s way of dealing with the troubling baggage of the term was to exclude it from the discipline’s historiography (Livingstone 1993 ). Of the numerous books and articles on geopolitics during the Cold War, most have little to do with the discipline of geography. Geopolitical writing of that time was an explicitly strategic analysis closely bound up with foreign and security policies of core states (Ó Tuathail 1986 ; 1996b ; Hepple 1986 ; Parker 1998 ). Its assumption of state-based bipolarity dovetailed neatly with the statism of the postwar social sciences more generally (Herb 2008 ). Although the tradition of “classical” geopolitics had been discredited by its (presumed) connection to the Nazi regime, the everyday use of the term geopolitics treated geography as a stable given – an independent variable of sorts. To speak of geopolitics was to speak of seemingly natural realities. The rhetorical power of geopolitical claims stems in significant part from their link to such supposedly self-evident “geographical” facts.
The end of the Cold War, which had been the containing territorial structure of political thought for over forty years, fueled anxiety about the spatial organization of power (Agnew and Corbridge 1995 ). It spelled trouble to the analyses that were analytically premised on superpower rivalry within the state system, brought increased interest in the spatiality of power across the social sciences, and rejuvenated the subdiscipline of political geography (Hepple 1986 ; Agnew 2003 ; Herb 2008 ). Geographic work concentrating explicitly on geopolitical thought and practice was not long in coming.
This new work was an integral part of a broader rethinking of power in the social sciences. In geography as well as other disciplines, it grew out in particular of the wide-ranging interest in Foucauldian genealogy. This work approaches power not only as coercive and disabling but also as productive and enabling. It contends that power relations are not imposed on already existing subjects: rather, it is within and through power relations that political subjects come into being. Such processes of subject-making are among the key themes of analysis in that broadly Foucauldian scholarship.
In geography, this relational and anti-essentialist work produced a marked interest in the discursive construction of political space and the role of geographic knowledge in this process. Approaching geographical knowledge as a technology of power – both the result and a constitutive element of power relations – it pushed geography out of the illusion of political neutrality and fueled a critical examination of the discipline itself. Whereas traditional geopolitics treats geography as a nondiscursive terrain that preexists geopolitical claims, critical geopolitics approaches geographical knowledge as an essential part of the modern discourses of power. Thus, the 1990s produced numerous analyses of the complicity of geography and geographers in colonialism, imperialism, nationalism, and Cold War superpower enmity (Livingstone 1993 ; Gregory 1994 ; Ó Tuathail 1996b ).
Many of these early analyses were historical. They traced geopolitical theorizing to the emergence of European geopolitical imagination during the Age of Exploration (Gregory 1994 ; Agnew 2003 ; Heffernan 2007 ). They showed how geopolitical thought – the god’s eye view of the world as a structured whole that can be captured and managed from one (European) viewpoint – emerged as a part and parcel of European exploration and colonialism. Highlighting that many of the key territorial assumptions of international politics have European origins – often more specifically northern European origins – this work showed that the history of geopolitics is also the history of imposing these concepts inside and outside Europe. It also reexamined the key writers of classical geopolitics, illuminating the role of geographical knowledge in legitimizing the balance-of-power politics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (see Holdar 1992 ; Crampton and Ó Tuathail 1996 ; Ó Tuathail 1996b ).
The critical work on geopolitics was further fueled by the increased popularity of explicitly geopolitical claims in mainstream political analysis. The term critical geopolitics was first coined by Simon Dalby ( 1990 ) in his analysis of the representational strategies of the Committee on Present Danger (a conservative foreign policy interest group) in the 1970s and 1980s. By the late 1990s, after numerous articles and several further books (e.g. Agnew and Corbridge 1995 ; Ó Tuathail 1996b ; Ó Tuathail and Dalby 1998 ), critical geopolitics was a clearly discernible and rapidly growing strand within political geography.
Much of this early self-consciously critical work tackled the legacies of the Cold War. It highlighted the ways in which the Cold War and international politics in general were informed by entrenched geographical and territorial assumptions about East and West, freedom and unfreedom, development and underdevelopment. It showed that these supposedly universal concepts were highly parochial, coming out of a particular corner of Western intellectual and political circles. This early work also situated critical geopolitics in other strands of the social sciences, including International Relations (IR) theory, as well as feminist and postcolonial theory (Dalby 1991 ; Ó Tuathail 1996b ). At the same time, critical geopolitics also differentiated itself from political theory by its more sustained engagement with political economy and the materiality of power more generally.
Although one can tentatively trace critical geopolitics back to the early 1990s, as has been done here, it has never connoted a clearly delimited or internally coherent research program. It is rather a set of approaches that borrow particularly, but not exclusively, from poststructuralist strands of social theory. It is distinct from other themes in political geography not by its empirical focus but by its theoretical and methodological underpinnings. In broad terms, critical geopolitics does tend to differ from other strands of critical scholarship, such as Marxism, by its explicitly Foucauldian underpinnings. Like much of poststructuralist analysis, it pays greater attention to micro-level capillaries of power than to macro-level or global economic developments. However, there is no neat distinction between poststructuralist and other critical approaches. Thus, the subfield includes a range of works that explicitly address economic structures and/or utilize Marxist perspectives, among others (e.g. Agnew and Corbridge 1995 ; Herod et al. 1997 ; Agnew 2005b ). The key trait of critical geopolitics is that it is not a theory-based approach – there is no “critical geopolitical” theory. The concerns of critical geopolitics are problem-based and present-oriented; they have to do not so much with sources and structures of power as with the everyday technologies of power relations. The field’s key claim is that although (classical) geopolitics proclaims to understand “geographical facts,” it in fact disengages from geographical complexities in favor of simplistic territorial demarcations of inside and outside, Us and Them. Critical geopolitics seeks to destabilize such binaries so that new space for debate and action can be established. Conceptualizing geopolitics as an interpretative cultural practice and a discursive construction of ontological claims, it foregrounds the necessarily contextual, conflictual, and messy spatiality of international politics (Herod et al. 1997 ; Toal and Agnew 2005 ; see also Campbell 1993 ). In so doing, it offers richer accounts of space and power than those allowed within mainstream geopolitical analysis. Geography in that conceptualization does not precede geopolitics as its natural basis. Rather, claims about geographical bases of politics are themselves geopolitical practices.
Nearly twenty years later, critical geopolitics has influenced every strand of geographic scholarship. From its beginnings as a primarily historical investigation informed by poststructuralist political theory, it has fanned out to virtually all aspects of human geography. The field is prominently represented in major political geographic journals like Political Geography and Geopolitics . There are now several textbooks that take an explicitly critical geopolitical position as their starting point (Agnew 2003 ; Dodds 2005 ; Ó Tuathail et al. 2006 ). Given the diversity of critical geopolitics, it is difficult and indeed pointless to catalogue its main themes and arguments. Any such themes are subject to voluminous internal debate. With these caveats in mind, and in an effort to nonetheless offer a tentative guide to the field, the essay proceeds to highlight some key clusters of work and lines of debate.
Locating Critical Geopolitics
Spatiality and subjectivity.
A substantial part of critical geopolitics seeks to unpack the rigid territorial assumptions of traditional geopolitical thinking. Thus, numerous analyses dissect post–Cold War geopolitics to reveal the continued reliance on binary understandings of power and spatiality, on notions of East and West, security and danger, freedom and oppression. More recently, geographic scholarship has foregrounded how the “war on terror” works with these same binaries (Agnew 2003 ; Gregory 2004 ; Gregory and Pred 2006 ).
In particular, much of critical geopolitics problematizes the statist conceptions of power in social sciences – a conceptualization that John Agnew (e.g. 1999 ) calls the “territorial trap.” Along with political geography more generally, critical geopolitics argues that spatiality is not confined to territoriality, either historically or today (Murphy 1996 ). It advances the drift away from rigidly territorialized understandings of politics toward more nuanced understandings of the complex spatialities of power (Agnew 1999 ; 2005b ; Dalby 2002 ; Elden 2005 ; Sparke 2005 ). State power, it shows, is not limited to or contained within the territory of the state; it is also exercised nonterritorially or in space-spanning networks (Kuus and Agnew 2008 ). It is applied differentially in different spheres and to different subjects (Gregory 2006 ; Painter 2006 ; Sparke 2006 ). The argument is not that geography or borders no longer matter. In fact, the celebrations of borderless world also equate spatiality with state territoriality, mistakenly taking the transformations of state power for the “end of geography” (Agnew 2005b ). This applies not just to popular writers like Thomas Friedman (for a critique, see Sparke 2005 ). Proclamations of the transnational governmentality termed “Empire” by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri ( 2000 ) also betray insensitivity to the intricate topographies or power (Sparke 2005 ; Coleman and Agnew 2007 ). Critical geopolitics argues that the emerging forms of global governance do not “flatten” space; to the contrary, they increase spatial differentiation globally (Albert and Reuber 2007 :550). In terms of the state, the key questions to address are not about the “real” sources, meanings or limits of state sovereignty in some general or universal sense, but, more specifically, about how state power is discursively and practically produced in territorial and nonterritorial forms (Kuus and Agnew 2008 ; Painter 2008 ). The task is to decenter but not to write off state power by examining its incoherencies and contradictions (Coleman 2005 :202). Such investigations must also be mindful of the increasing complexity of regional integration and differentiation (Agnew 2005a ). Regionality here does not refer to any pregiven constellation, such as the European Union (EU) or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It rather refers to the multilayered socioeconomic and cultural processes through which “regionness” is produced and sustained (Sidaway 2002 ; Albert and Reuber 2007 :551).
This drift away from state-based analysis of world politics links up with interest in subjectivity and identity across the social sciences. For the assumption that international politics is a fundamentally territorial (as distinct from spatial) politics of states is closely bound up with the notion that states are the basic subjects of international politics (Kuus and Agnew 2008 ). Critical geopolitics departs from both of these assumptions. It does not examine the identities or actions of pregiven subjects; it rather investigates the processes by which political subjects are formed in the first place. It shows that the sovereign state is not the basis for, but the effect of, discourses of sovereignty, security, and identity. Put differently, state identity and interest do not precede foreign policy, but are forged through foreign policy practices. The enactments of state interest and identity are therefore among the key themes of critical geopolitics. The principal object of this scholarship is not the state as an object but statecraft as a multitude of practices (Coleman 2007 :609).
As a part of this interest in political subjectivity and subject-formation, there has been tremendous interest in identity politics, that is, in the geographical demarcation of Self and Other, “our” space and “theirs.” This strand of work has been so voluminous that critical geopolitics is sometimes accused of overvalorizing culture and identity at the expense of economic issues (e.g. Thrift 2000 ). Much of this “cultural” work has focused on the construction of national spaces and the geopolitical cultures of particular states (e.g. Campbell 1998 ; Sharp 2000 ; Toal 2003 ; Jeffrey 2008 ). It shows that geographical claims about cultural borders and homelands are central to narratives of national identity. There is also an extensive literature on bordering practices (Paasi 1998 ; 2005a ; Newman 2006 ; Rajaram and Grundy-Warr 2007 ; Agnew 2007b ; Kaiser and Nikiforova 2008 ). It argues that international borders are best viewed not as lines representing already existing political entities called states or nations. Rather, these entities themselves are constituted through bordering practices. In John Agnew’s ( 2007b :399) succinct formulation, “borders […] make the nation rather than vice versa.” It is indeed at borders first and foremost where these entities are defined: where the inside is demarcated from the outside and Self is differentiated from the Other. This process is not only about exclusion. It is also about borrowing and adaptation – for example, of the concepts of statehood and nationhood. Borders thus have multiple functions: they serve as barriers, but they must also necessarily allow movement across in order to reproduce the entities they supposedly contain. Statecraft is being activated and transformed at multiple scales at and far away from borders (Coleman 2007 ). Borders do not simply differentiate space. They are spaces where both different as well as similar conceptions of citizenship and belonging are operationalized. State borders are becoming markedly more porous in some spheres and for some groups, while being securitized for other flows of goods, people, and ideas (Sparke 2006 ).
These processes of geopolitical subject-making are not limited to nation-states. On the supranational level, region-building processes, such as the processes of European integration, are deeply geopolitical exercises in the same way (Moisio 2002 ; Kuus 2007 ). European integration, for example, may well overcome nationalist narratives of territory and identity, but it entails powerful claims about Europe as a territorial and cultural unit (Bialasiewicz 2008 ; Heffernan 2007 ). This process is a particularly fascinating geopolitical project because it explicitly moves beyond the state-centered understandings of space. The power of the EU is the governmentalized power of technical and political standards. There is an emerging literature that explores the intricate reworking of political, economic, and juridical borders inside and around the EU. This reworking is richly illustrative of processes of regionalization and the respatialization of borders today (Agnew 2005b ).
Given the large-scale violence engendered by the “war on terror,” the scholarship on subject-making includes substantial work on militarization. It seeks to analyse the current period of militarization without uncritically reifying the role of the state in this process (Flint 2003 ; Kuus 2009 ). It focuses not so much on military institutions and military conflict – although these issues are undoubtedly important – as on the structures of legitimacy on which military force depends. For as Enloe ( 2004 :220) points out, most of the militarization of social life, a process in which social practices gain value and legitimacy by being associated with military force, occurs in peacetime. To understand the dynamics of this process, then, we need to look at the civilian rather than the military. Critical geopolitics documents the explicit glorification and implicit normalization of military force and military institutions throughout society (Hannah 2006 ; Cowen and Gilbert 2007 ; Flusty 2008 ; Gregory 2008 ; Sidaway 2008 ; Pain and Smith 2008 ). It also exposes the intellectual apparatus of militarization; for example, an integral part of academic geography is the development of the US military-industrial complex (Barnes and Farish 2006 ). This work is part and parcel of the growing work on security as a key concept and trope in political life today. The “war on terror” has clearly fueled (uncritical) geopolitical analysis that operates with explicitly militaristic and imperialist language (Retort 2005 ; Dalby 2007 ). This analysis maps some parts of the world in an imperial register as spaces in need of military pacification; understanding that process requires that we first unpack such maps (Gregory 2004 ; Dalby 2007 ). Geographers were latecomers to the critical study of security, but there are now a number of specifically geographic studies on the processes of securitization. They flesh out the inherent spatiality of these processes – the ways in which practices of securitization necessarily locate security and danger (e.g. Dalby 2002 ; Gregory 2004 ; Kuus 2007 ; Dodds and Ingram 2009 ).
Although the bodies of work above do not make up one set of literature, they all investigate the processes by which people are socialized as members of territorial groups, be it at subnational, national, or broader regional level. Their focus is not simply on what various actors think or believe. It is rather on the discursive constructions of ontological claims – the ways in which material reality of politics is problematized within geopolitical discourses (Toal and Agnew 2005 ). The argument in that work is not that objects cannot exist externally to thought or that they are not produced through material forces. The contention rather is that objects cannot be represented as outside any discursive formation (Campbell 1993 :9).
Much of critical geopolitics focuses empirically on the core states of the West, especially the US. This is not surprising given that US foreign policy, scholarship, and popular culture have been hegemonic in the exercise of geopolitics for over sixty years now. As Agnew points out (2007a:138), much of what goes for geopolitical writing involves projecting US context and US interests onto the world at large. Geographers have therefore looked closely at the geographs of American political elites and popular culture, as well as the processes through which these are projected onto the world at large.
In parallel, there has been substantial interest in broadening critical geopolitics empirically outside the core states. If critical geopolitics is to disrupt commonsense geopolitical narratives, it must first undermine the tacit assumption of American (or Western) universalism that underpins these narratives. Furthermore, numerous other countries have rich geopolitical literatures. There are now substantial literatures on key states such as Britain, Germany, France, and Russia (see Hepple 2000 ; Ingram 2001 ; Dodds 2002 ; Bassin 2003 ; O’Loughlin et al. 2005 ). In addition to these obvious cases, and perhaps more interestingly, there are also numerous studies of geopolitical traditions of smaller and historically more peripheral states (see Ó Tuathail and Dalby 1998 ; Dodds and Atkinson 2000 ; see also Berg and Oras 2000 ; Megoran 2005 ; Sidaway and Power 2005 ; Kuus 2007 ). This work amply demonstrates both the consistency and diversity of geopolitical thought. In terms of the former, for example, claims of national exceptionalism or external threat are extraordinarily consistent throughout the twentieth century . As for diversity, geopolitical practices are deeply rooted in the specific political circumstances of particular countries. They involve not only the predictable right-wing tradition of geopolitical analyses, but also a critical and radical tradition of geopolitics, as for example in the pages of the French journal Herodote (Hepple 2000 ). Some claims are repeated, but their specific political functions and effects vary considerably. By highlighting such variation, critical geopolitics shows that there is no single tradition of geopolitical thought or practice. There are, rather, different geopolitical cultures owing to specific geographical contexts and intellectual traditions.
These case studies notwithstanding, critical geopolitics still tends to concentrate on North America and Western Europe. This narrow focus has been pointed out repeatedly since the 1990s (Dodds and Sidaway 1994 ; Dowler and Sharp 2001 ; Chaturvedi 2003 ; Kuus 2004 ), but it is still relevant today. The case studies of other countries, as valuable as they are, have not shifted the center of gravity of the subfield as a whole. They tend to be cited mostly as examples of particular empirical contexts rather than as instances of broader geopolitical theorizing. The subfield in this sense mirrors the focus on the Anglo-American realm in human geography more broadly (Paasi 2005b ). This is a problem because it impoverishes our understanding of the very geographical complexities that critical geopolitics seeks to foreground. If critical geopolitics is about geographical context, then it must be empirically and theoretically firmly grounded in contexts outside North America and Western Europe. Ideas move and their political uses and functions change in the process (Agnew 2007a ). Disrupting the hegemonic status of certain geopolitical claims requires that we show their empirical flatness as an integral part of their conceptual primitivism.
This is not simply a matter of cataloging distinct geopolitical cultures: British, Russian, Estonian, and so on. Such glamorization of local knowledge would be as problematic as the assumption of geopolitical universals. Rather, in addition to tracing the geopolitical traditions of different countries, and perhaps more importantly, we must also examine the power relationships between centers and margins of dominant geopolitical discourses. For example, as Sergei Prozorov ( 2007 ) compellingly shows, contemporary Russian geopolitical thought has as much to do with Russia’s relations with the West as it has with any quintessentially Russian identity or interests. At the same time, although Russians work with hegemonic concepts from the West, they do not necessarily adopt these concepts at face value. Geopolitics is not simply written in the concert of great powers and then handed down to the smaller, relatively marginal, states. Geopolitical discourses in central locations, such as North America and Western Europe, are not only constitutive of such discourses elsewhere, but are also in part constituted by these “other” discourses.
This foregrounds the role of political actors on the margins – outside the main power centers of the US and Western Europe. These actors do not simply bear witness to dominant geopolitical discourses; they also appropriate these discourses for their own purposes. Put differently, these actors do not only consume geopolitical concepts; they also produce these concepts. We therefore have to unravel the maneuvers of relatively marginal actors vis-à-vis the dominant narratives of the center, and vice versa (Kuus 2004 ). Concepts are not misinterpreted, but they are interpreted in particular ways. For example, the work of Mackinder or Samuel Huntington has been utilized for particular nationalist goals in a variety of contexts (for examples, see Ingram 2001 ; Moisio 2002 ; Dodds and Sidaway 2004 ; Megoran 2004 ; Kuus 2007 ). What functions as state-of-the-art geopolitical thinking in particular social contexts has as much to do with such appropriation as it does with the original objects of appropriation. In the Central Europe of the 1990s, for example, these were not simply “Western” views, but a very narrow range of Western views that were influential there. These views did not present themselves to the people in the marginal states; they were translated, literally and figuratively, by local intellectuals of statecraft. For example, to say that Huntington’s thesis of civilizational clash is influential in Central Europe tells us little. We need to understand how specifically it has been made influential locally. Huntington’s thesis would not be as influential in Central Europe if it was not actively promoted by influential individuals in the region. The Huntingtonian arguments of these individuals, in turn, were legitimized by Huntington’s prestigious position at the center of the Western security establishment. The reverse flow of information and influence is at play as well. Local intellectuals of statecraft are often the main sources of the so-called local insight to Western scholars and journalists. They are key players in mapping places for Western scholars and diplomats alike. Hegemonic discourses of the center are so powerful in part because they are bolstered on the margins. In terms of Huntington, then, being cited at a putative civilizational faultline like Central Europe has greatly enhanced the standing of Huntington’s thesis in the West itself. Both sides – the center and the margin – need each other for the Huntingtonian narrative to work (Kuus 2007 : ch. 3).
This example underscores the need to examine how broad politically charged categories, such as security, identity, and geopolitics, are problematized and used by different groups in different circumstances. In particular, it shows that this process has to do not only with the substance of the ideas but also with the power relationships among the actors who promote them. The task is not only to look at more actors – not only the United States but also Hungary or Morocco, for instance – but also to unpack the power relationships among these actors. In other words, we need to look not at “marginal perspectives” as such, but to flesh out the relationships between centers and margins (Paasi 2005b ; Parker 2008 ). We need to analyze how some Western views become “state of the art” while other views do not even reach political debates in the margins – and vice versa. To do so is not to romanticize “local knowledge” but to acknowledge the complexity of knowledge production.
This highlights the need to investigate the practitioners of geopolitics – from presidents and foreign ministers, through a wide range of journalists, government officials, leaders of nongovernmental organizations, and activists, to the so-called average people. Arguments about the discursive construction of social reality remain flat unless they illuminate how this process is shaped by specific political agents. The agency or capacity to act of all these actors is the realm of numerous debates in critical geopolitics. This is the subject of the next section.
Geopolitics and Agency
Intellectuals of statecraft.
Geopolitics is traditionally conceived as a highbrow matter – too important and too specialized for a lay person. An aura of dignity sets off the statesman from the politician (Kuklick 2006 ). Foreign policy is in substantial measure a realm of elite-level pronouncements and well-established state institutions. Although the practices of modern state are highly diffuse and operate throughout social life, foreign policy has remained a relatively concentrated realm of specialized elites. These elite circles extend beyond elected and appointed officials; they include academics, journalists, and various analysts and pundits who gain social acceptance for their (presumed) expertise in international affairs. Located within the government apparatus as well as universities and think tanks, these intellectuals of statecraft explain international politics to the domestic audience and translate (figuratively and sometimes literally) national debates to foreign audiences. They offer a map of the world as a collection of particular kinds of places, and they narrate the dominant story of the nation’s place in that world.
Not surprisingly, a substantial part of critical geopolitics has focused empirically on intellectuals of statecraft – the academics, politicians, government officials and various commentators who regularly participate and comment on the activities of statecraft. This is the case especially with the early work, which indeed defined geopolitics in terms of that group of professionals – as the study of how intellectuals of statecraft represent international politics (Ó Tuathail and Agnew 1992 :193). In order to unpack the influence of that group in more detail, that work loosely divided geopolitical reasoning into formal, practical, and popular geopolitics. In this division, formal geopolitics denotes formal highbrow analysis, practical geopolitics refers to the reasoning of politicians, pundits and specialized journals, and popular geopolitics encompasses the ways in which world politics is spatialized in popular culture. The three levels are closely intertwined (as will be elaborated below) and none should be treated as primary. This notwithstanding, practical geopolitics – the realm of intellectuals of statecraft – is particularly effective because it combines the clout and authoritative tone of formal geopolitical reasoning with commonsense metaphors from popular culture. Critical geopolitics has thus paid close attention to the production of geopolitical knowledge in these elite circles. Even today, a large share of the critical scholarship focuses on the cultural and organizational processes by which foreign policy is made in states. It investigates the geographs of elected and appointed government elites as well as popular commentators like Robert Kaplan , Samuel Huntington , Thomas Friedman or Thomas Barnett . In one sense, this work dovetails with critical analyses of intellectuals of statecraft within IR (e.g. Campbell 1998 ; 1999 ). Yet it also differs from these other critiques by focusing explicitly on the spatial assumptions underpinning their arguments (Roberts et al. 2003 ; Sparke 2005 ; Dalby 2007 ).
The point of this scholarship is not to uncover what the “wise men” think. It rather dissects the assumptions that enable and constrain elite geopolitical practices. True, even a cursory investigation of geopolitical practices quickly reveals that these assumptions are not homogeneous. Disagreements and power struggles among different state institutions, think tanks, news organizations or schools of scholarship are well known (for geographical analyses, see Dalby 1990 ; Flint 2005 ; Gregory 2006 ). Indeed, as Gertjan Dijkink ( 2004 ) points out, a great deal of geopolitical writing is penned by elites who are frustrated with received wisdom (see also Coleman 2004 ). However, although intellectuals of statecraft do not work in the same end of the political spectrum, they tend to draw on and embellish a loosely coherent set of myths about nature, culture, and geography (Gusterson and Besteman 2005 :2). As a result, vigorous debates are often contained in simplistic unexamined assumptions about geography and territoriality (Campbell 1999 ; Dahlman and Ó Tuathail 2005 ).
A problem with this emphasis on intellectuals of statecraft is that it focuses on a very narrow range of geopolitical actors. In response, recent work has paid greater attention to geopolitical practices outside state structures (and these strands of work will be discussed below). In addition, there have also been attempts to analyze state bureaucracies in more detail. Especially in the context of increased state power in the realms of security, state institutions require renewed scrutiny as sites of geopolitical practice (Agnew 2005b ; Coleman 2005 ; Retort 2005 ). This attention to the fragmented and articulated institutional structures of geopolitics links up with analyses of policy. For policy impinges on all aspects of self and society. It shapes not just societal outcomes but, more importantly, the processes that produce these outcomes. To study policy is to investigate not a ready-made blueprint but a dynamic and unpredictable process. In geography as well as other social sciences, there is today a growing recognition of the need for utilizing ethnographic methods to understand policy (Megoran 2006 ; see also Mitchell 2005 ; Agnew 2007a ; Neumann 2007 ). Ethnographic work is especially helpful for dislodging studies from the stereotype that policy professionals merely execute pregiven political and juridical blueprints without any significant agency of their own.
Ultimately, this closer focus on policy procedures is about sensitivity to specific geographical contexts. Such contexts include the personal backgrounds, interests, and identities of the individuals who actually articulate geopolitical claims. Intellectuals of statecraft are not synonymous with the state and we cannot assume that they merely voice some pregiven state interest. Rather, their geopolitical practices need to be carefully contextualized in their specific societal settings. For example, we cannot understand American geopolitics of the Cold War era without considering the personal anticommunism of some of the leading writers – in some cases because of their personal contacts among Russian émigré circles (Crampton and Ó Tuathail 1996 ; Ó Tuathail 2000 ). We likewise cannot comprehend the culturalist flavor of Central European geopolitics without considering the arts and humanities backgrounds of many of the region’s leading politicians (Kuus 2007 : ch. 5). In that example, humanities backgrounds give these individuals special legitimacy to speak in the name of culture and identity. The culturalist narratives of foreign policy in Central Europe – for example, the “return to Europe” narrative – points to the need to carefully unpack such cultural resources.
In addition to adding nuance and color to analyses, there are at least two further reasons why a close examination of agency in geopolitics must include in-depth studies of intellectuals of statecraft. The first reason has to do with their influence. Other actors undoubtedly contest the dominant geopolitical discourses, but their arguments are still positioned in relation to intellectuals of statecraft. Over the long run, the institutional and cultural resources available to them serve to systematically push the game in their direction. As James Scott ( 2005 :401) puts it, even though the dominant arguments do not reach the ground uncompromised, “can there be much doubt about which players in this […] encounter hold most of the high cards?” The “war on terror” has further highlighted the crucial importance of a few state agencies, particularly those connected to the national security apparatus, in mainstream conceptions of world affairs (Gregory and Pred 2006 ; Coleman 2007 ; Dalby 2007 ). It is easy to say that we need to look beyond elites and beyond the state. Yet this process of producing hegemonic norms outside the sphere of the state is still heavily influenced by state elites.
The second reason why we need more studies of these professionals has to do with their diversity. Simply speaking of power discourses can overlook the conscious manipulation of (geo)political claims by specific well-placed individuals. If we broaden our definition of geopolitics from the narrowest circles of officials in the highest echelons of the state apparatus, we need to analyze more diverse settings of policy. These settings include immigration, trade and aid policies, as well as international and supranational institutions – and all of these in addition to locations like foreign ministries. The study of geopolitics must not be limited to the handful of men at the key nodes of state power, but neither should it exclude these men. Given the relatively closed nature of foreign policy, challenges to dominant geopolitical narratives come as much from the inside as from the outside of policy structures (see Ó Tuathail 1999 ; Dijkink 2004 ). The challenge, then, is not to bypass intellectuals of statecraft, but, to the contrary, to offer more nuanced accounts of them. There is no easy way around the methodological difficulties (e.g. access) in attempting such accounts, but they should be pursued nonetheless. Critical geopolitics is indeed increasingly engaged with fieldwork in diverse empirical settings (Megoran 2006 ; see also Pain and Smith 2008 ).
To argue for a closer engagement with intellectuals of statecraft is not to imply that we should try to uncover their “identities” in some abstract sense disconnected from their social context. It is likewise not an attempt to uncover some “real story” in the corridors of power. It is rather to argue for a closer examination of the interconnections between geopolitical practices and the agents of these practices (Agnew 2007a ). It is to more closely consider the daily production of geopolitical knowledge – the mundane repetition of claims not just in official speeches, but also around the coffee machine (e.g. Neumann 2007 ). This would help us to bring into focus the multiple structures of authority and legitimacy through which geopolitical arguments work.
Popular Geopolitics and Anti-geopolitics
The same air of power and secrecy that seems to set geopolitics apart from “normal boring” politics also feeds popular fascination with it. Although explicitly geopolitical arguments evoke exclusive expertise, the categories of security and danger, community and enmity, Us and Them on which these claims rely are formed at the popular level. The “expert” statements would not hold if they were not legitimized at the popular level. This duality, whereby security and geopolitics excite popular fascination and play on popular beliefs, and yet the authority to speak on them is relatively limited, is a necessary part of geopolitical arguments. To be effective, these arguments need both sides.
Not surprisingly, then, in addition to the scholarship that draws empirically on the rhetorical strategies of intellectuals of statecraft, there is also a rich body of work on popular geopolitics – that is, the geopolitical narratives that circulate in popular culture. Investigating various cultural products as well as their producers and audiences, it offers insights into a range of locations and agents of geopolitics outside the realm of the state: popular magazines, newspaper reporters, cartoonists, film directors, and social activists of various kinds (see Power and Crampton 2005 ). Thus, there is extensive literature on the narratives that animate James Bond films (Dodds 2003 ; 2006 ), the Captain America comic strip (Dittmer 2005 ; 2007 ), or the Readers Digest magazine (Sharp 2000 ). There is also a substantial popular geopolitics scholarship on the “war on terror.” This work situates the spatiality of everyday life and popular culture specifically in the current period of militarization and political violence (e.g. Toal 2003 ; Falah et al. 2006 ; Flusty 2008 ; Pain and Smith 2008 ; Dodds and Ingram 2009 ). In that effort to understand current political violence, geographers are also paying more attention to the linkages between religion and geopolitical thought (e.g. Agnew 2006 and the special issue it introduces). Much of this work analyzes the structure of the texts and the techniques used to make them credible: the metaphors, the repetitions, the claims of authority and authenticity. It thereby brings into relief the broader cultural milieu in which particular geopolitical claims thrive.
One part of this inquiry into popular culture and everyday life is the work on resistance geopolitics or anti-geopolitics. Paul Routledge ( 2006 :234) defines anti-geopolitics as “an ambiguous political and cultural force within civil society that articulates forms of counter-hegemonic struggle.” By civil society, Routledge means those institutions that are not part of either material production in the economy or the formal sphere of the state. By counter-hegemonic, he means resistances that challenge the material and cultural power of dominant geopolitical interests or states and their elites ( 2006 :234). The work focusing explicitly on resistance geopolitics is still relatively slim, but there are studies of activist groups (Routledge 2008 ; Slater 2004 : ch. 8), journalists (Ó Tuathail 1996a ; Dodds 1996 ), as well as the so-called average citizens (Mamadouh 2003 ; Secor 2004 ) who challenge dominant geopolitical representations.
A key challenge in this scholarship, as in resistance studies more broadly, is to avoid glamorizing resistance and the civil society in general: to show the diversity of resistance, the entanglements of domination and resistance, and the futility of looking for the “self-evidently good” (Sharp et al. 2000 ; Kuus 2008 ). For elite discourses are not only resisted but also reproduced by nongovernmental organizations in the civil society. Moreover, resistance involves much more than conscious overt dissent. In today’s society it is increasingly difficult to stand heroically on the edge of the system of power one opposes and to practice dissent as an overt, conscience-driven rejection of an official practice. Rather, we need to look at passiveness, irony, and anonymity as resources for resistance. To do justice to the entanglements of domination and resistance, critical geopolitics increasingly foregrounds the practices that “pursue a certain anonymity, prefer tactics of evasion and obfuscation over those of repudiation and confrontation, and seek a loose or vague or superficial rather than definitive, weighty or substantial identity” (Bennett 1992 :152–3).
Critical geopolitics emerged out of the same postpositivist and anti-essentialist intellectual ferment as feminist work. It undermines the “view from nowhere” of the traditional geopolitical reasoning by offering more situated and embodied accounts of power. Yet ironically, the initial wave of critical geopolitics in the 1990s focused empirically almost exclusively on male intellectuals of statecraft at the centers of state power. In part, this focus has to do with its subject matter – Cold War superpower politics was a heavily male dominated affair. However, the effect of studying such a small group of individuals was not only to describe but also to tacitly prescribe geopolitics as a narrow field of male practice and analysis. From early on, feminist research has sought to broaden the conception of agency in critical geopolitics beyond such a narrow field of inquiry. There is now a discernible subfield of feminist geopolitics.
This work – and feminist political geography of which it is a part – argues that the focus on policy elites implies an untenable conceptual division between the public sphere of international relations and the private sphere of everyday life. As a result, even though critical geopolitics compellingly challenges the power relations embedded in dominant geopolitical narratives, it still tends to offer a disembodied “spectator” theory of knowledge (Hyndman 2004 :6; see also Dowler and Sharp 2001 ; Gilmartin and Kofman 2004 ; Staeheli et al. 2004 ). In other words, despite the subfield’s avowed critical stance toward power structures, critical geopolitics to some extent reproduces the view from the center that it critiques.
Feminist geopolitics aims to rectify this gap by engaging closely with actors and locations outside the formal sphere of the state (Hyndman 2007 ). It takes the central tenet of feminist work – that the personal is also political – to posit that the personal is also geopolitical (e.g. Sharp 2005 ). Approaching the so-called average people as political subjects, it seeks to understand “how political life plays out through a multiplicity of alternative, gendered political spaces” (Hyndman 2000 ; Secor 2001 :192). By highlighting the geopolitical practices of those located outside the top echelons of the state apparatus, it brings into focus the institutional structure through which the illusory division between political and “nonpolitical” spheres, or the realm of “geopolitics” and “normal” or “domestic” politics is constructed (Hyndman 2004 ; Sharp 2005 ). As a body of work, feminist geopolitics shifts the focus from the operations of elite agents to the constructions of political subjects in everyday political practice (Kofman and Staeheli 2004 ). It thereby links up with the broader efforts to produce more embodied accounts of power (e.g. Marston 2003 ; Pratt 2003 ; Mountz 2004 ; Staeheli et al. 2004 ). This strand of work is relatively new and there are few empirical investigations to follow up on its theoretical exposés (but see Secor 2004 ; Hyndman 2007 ; Sundberg 2009 ). However, feminist geopolitics is clearly one the growing fields of inquiry within critical geopolitics.
Critical Geopolitics as the Fragmented Mainstream
This essay charted the development of critical geopolitics as a subfield of human geography since the 1990s. It highlighted the field’s intellectual roots as well as its engagements with other strands of inquiry within and beyond geography. To discuss critical geopolitics as a distinct subfield is not to essentialize or to homogenize it. To the contrary, perhaps the principal conclusion of the essay is that we should resist temptations to delimit critical geopolitics by subject matter, theoretical concerns or methodology. Such limitations would create an illusion of internal coherence and external differentiation that this work does not possess or claim. Critical geopolitics is concerned not with power in general but with the operation of power relations in particular places. To treat critical geopolitics as a subfield of human geography is rather to foreground the sustained engagement in geography with the spatiality of power and politics on the global scale.
The essay also highlighted some ongoing debates on the geographical scope and theoretical reach of critical geopolitics. In particular, it has been argued that more work still needs to be done to illuminate the diversity of geopolitical arguments in different countries and in different spheres of social life. Debates on agency in geopolitics – that is, questions about the capacity of various groups to participate in and influence the production of geopolitical discourses – form an integral part of that effort. There has been indeed a discernible shift toward a more explicit analytical emphasis not just on political processes, but, more specifically, on political agency within these processes (Albert and Reuber 2007 :553). The various strands of work on agency all problematize the notion of pregiven political subjects to investigate the processes of subject-making. They all share the sustained attention on nonstate and nonelite actors in the spatialization of world politics. As a field, critical geopolitics has engaged more closely with not just formal and practical geopolitical reasoning but also with the prosaic and mundane geopolitics of everyday life. This line of inquiry requires considerable methodological diversity, as well as sensitivity to the geography of knowledge production (Agnew 2007a ).
The heterogeneity of critical geopolitics is central to its vibrancy and success. This field is not about producing core texts but about questioning the assumptions that underpin geopolitical claims. Through such efforts, critical geopolitics has emerged from its roots in the poststructuralist, feminist, and postcolonial critique of traditional geopolitics to become an integral part of mainstream human geography. To study geopolitics within the discipline of geography today is to study it critically. Even treatments that are not labeled “critical” as such draw from various anti-essentialist nonpositivist approaches to power, be it various strands of Marxism, feminism, or postcolonial work, or world systems theory (e.g. Flint 2005 ; Cowen and Gilbert 2007 ). These analyses may not necessarily seek the label of critical geopolitics, but this is not because they are not critical but because their critical stance can be taken for granted. The debate in geography has moved beyond critiquing mainstream geopolitics; it is now about how specifically such critique can be combined with effective visions for alternative political spaces.
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I thank Colin Flint , Klaus Dodds , and two anonymous referees for constructive feedback on earlier versions of the essay. Research for the essay was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Lawrence Santiago provided helpful research assistance.
date: 20 March 2023
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- International Relations
- Geopolitical Discourse
- International Politics
- Human Geography
J.P. Sharp , in International Encyclopedia of Human Geography , 2009
Critical geopolitics is a post-structural approach which insists that rather than being an apolitical influence on international politics, as conventional accounts of geopolitics would argue, geographical relationships and entities are specific to historical and cultural circumstances. The meaning of geography can be made to change so that there is a politics to the use of geographical concepts in arguments about international relations. Following Foucault, critical geopolitics analyzes discourses of geography in international relations theory and practice to examine the power relations supported by such representations. Various attempts have been made to apply the critical geopolitics approach to the analysis of political speeches and policy documents, popular culture, and to go beyond the approach’s origins in textual analysis to provide a critical account of geopolitics which understood the inscription of international politics in the body.
Joanne Sharp , in International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (Second Edition) , 2020
Critical geopolitics was established as a poststructural approach, which insists that rather than being an apolitical influence on international politics, as conventional accounts of geopolitics would argue, geographical relationships and entities are specific to historical and cultural circumstances. As the meaning of geography can be made to change, there is a politics to the use of geographical concepts in arguments about international relations. Following Foucault, critical geopolitics analyzes discourses of geography in international relations theory and practice to examine the power relations supported by such representations. Various attempts have been made to apply the critical geopolitics approach to the analysis of political speeches, policy documents, and popular culture. More recently, scholars have sought to go beyond the approach's origins in textual analysis to provide critical accounts of geopolitics which understand the inscription of international politics in the body, take account of the multiple practices that comprise the geopolitical, and offer an extended understanding of agency that takes in a variety of nonhuman actants in the theorization of both the -politics and the geo- in geopolitics.
Space and Social Theory in Geography
Barney Warf , in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition) , 2015
Critical Political Geography
Inspired by the critical geopolitics of the 1990s (especially Ó Tuathail, 1996 ), political geography has undergone a sustained engagement with issues of discourse, culture, and identity, including feminist thought ( Hyndman, 2004 ). Following Foucault, power is conceived largely in terms of its linkages to knowledge and ideology, funneled through numerous channels, simultaneously discursive and material, contingently exercised, and invariably resisted. Its effects are seen throughout the rhythms of daily life and social reproduction, including the media, educational systems, and the geopolitics of the body. Issues of immigration and citizenship loom large in this respect ( Staeheli, 2011 ). As a result, popular culture has also received pride of place in this school, including comics and religious fundamentalism ( Dittmer, 2005, 2008, 2012 ) and the broader phenomenon of banal geopolitics ( Leib, 2011 ).
In the same vein, drawing on the enormously influential work of Edward Said (1978) , orientalism has been the topic of repeated inquiries in political geography, including its internal variants ( Jansson, 2003 ; Johnson and Coleman, 2012 ). Many geographers drew on the work of Giorgio Agamben (2005) and his thesis of the ‘state of exception’ to examine the geopolitics of the war on terror, including, for example, the Guantanamo prison in Cuba ( Gregory, 2006 ).
Globalization has had important repercussions for political geography, including the continued viability of the nation-state and the rapidly changing significance of borders ( Diener and Hagen, 2009 ; Popescu, 2011 ). Viewed through the telescope of social constructivism, territory too is a product of political relations ( Forsberg, 2003 ). Finally, as environmental issues have grown in severity across the planet, environmental geopolitics has gained mounting significance ( O'Lear, 2010 ), including struggles over water and the paramount issue of anthropogenic climate change and its effects ( Raleigh and Urdal, 2007 ).
Shannon O'Lear , in International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (Second Edition) , 2020
Fundamentals: Political Geography, Geopolitics, and Critical Geopolitics
Environmental geopolitics is a form of critical geopolitics , because it questions arguments about how environmental features are tied either to risk or to security. Statements about risk or security are ultimately narratives about power because they identify what is thought to be important and worth protecting. Therefore arguments or narratives about risk and security are a concern for political geography. For instance, there may be statements about threats to the security of “our” state or to our way of life. There are other statements or arguments about what should be done to secure or maintain current arrangements of power such as taking action to protect our borders, to secure our national interests, or to enhance national security. These kinds of claims, both about risks and pathways to security, are about power: What is the current arrangement of power? Who has power? How is this power going to be maintained or threatened? Political geography recognizes different forms of power, including physical force, cultural norms, legal rights, and resistance to dominant expressions of power. How those forms of power play out in different places, how they shape places, and how they take spatial forms are all concerns of political geography. Threats to power may also be spatial when these threats occur in particular places or have the ability to move to other places. For political geographers, there is always a spatial dimension. Power in the hands of some people is likely to mean less power for others, and arrangements that suit some forms of power are detrimental or obstructive to other forms of power. Instability and struggle, therefore, can serve to challenge current arrangements of power. When power arrangements favor one group of people, that form of “security” may also be a form of “risk” for other people who do not benefit from that arrangement of power.
A subset of what political geography studies is geopolitics. Geopolitics take the form of claims that are made either to maintain certain arrangements of power (e.g., control over territory) or claims about things that threaten certain spatial arrangements of power (e.g., threats to our national security). Political geographers look at geopolitics as narratives, not as objective truth. Geopolitical narratives, instead, are claims or perspectives from a particular point of view. They are often supported by maps or cartographic representations to demonstrate why that view is (seemingly) correct. However, there can be multiple geopolitical views from different perspectives at the same time.
Critical geopolitics responds to geopolitical narratives by examining the geographical knowledge portrayed by those narratives and how they represent the world. Critical geopolitics questions the way that geographical knowledge about places and spatial strategies and processes is put together and explained. In this sense, “critical” does not mean an outright rejection of something. Instead, it indicates an approach that examines underlying assumptions. A critical approach questions how pieces of information are strung together to make an argument, and it also considers what kinds of information may be missing from an argument or explanation. A critical stance also questions how an explanation is focused. It inquires into who benefits from that kind of focus and what other views could also be considered to generate a different explanation.
The difference between geopolitics and critical geopolitics may be illustrated with the idea of a map. A cartographer creates a map of a place, route, or feature in a way that communicates a certain way of seeing the world. The information reflected on any map is necessarily incomplete because all possible information cannot be represented on the map. So, what is represented? Are some features such as mountains or rivers considered important? Or is the map intended to show where certain groups of people are concentrated? A map is like a geopolitical narrative, because the cartographer captures certain elements of the world depending on the intended audience or use of the map. Critical geopolitics looks at the map, which provides geographical knowledge reflected in a particular geopolitical narrative and considers how the information is presented (Are there really only three groups of people in this place, or are there actually more? Are there features missing, minimized, or exaggerated? And what kind of information might be missing. For instance, a two-dimensional map might not be very useful in depicting ways in which power may be exerted vertically or the ways in which three-dimensional volume may be of geopolitical interest (e.g., implications of shrinking aquifers or expanding oceans). Returning to the point made above, how might different kinds of power—physical force, cultural norms, legal rights, and resistance—be represented on a map? How geographical knowledge is prioritized, produced, and represented are matters of interest to political geographers who take a critical geopolitics approach. Any map explaining “risk” or “security” is only able to tell a story or present a view from a limited and incomplete perspective. Like a map, a geopolitical narrative explaining “risk” or “security” may also be analyzed so that a fuller, more complete understanding of a given situation is brought to light.
Critical geopolitics examines arguments about power and place. It offers an approach to take apart arguments about why particular places should be made secure or why other places or processes are thought to pose a threat. It looks at who is making any given argument and how the argument selectively portrays a situation. Critical geopolitics is an up-front recognition that there is not a universal explanation of how the world works or a single way of seeing what kinds of things are either a risk or worth securing. Instead, critical geopolitics starts with claims about places—why they are associated with risk or security—and inquires into the selective portrayal of places and features that serves to promote the power of a particular group of people. Critically examining geopolitical views, then, is a way to understand who is promoting what view of the world and why. It is a way to study how certain portrayals of security and risk favor particular groups of people. Investigating geopolitical claims about the world or about specific, spatial relationships, especially claims about risk or security, can lead to useful insights about who aims to exert power where and why.
Claims about risk and about security are effectively bids for power arrangements, either maintaining existing arrangements or avoiding changes to those arrangements. Therefore, whenever environmental features or processes are drawn into claims about risk and security, there is an underlying effort to explain or justify a power arrangement. Although the environmental feature may appear to be the focus of these kinds of claims, the approach of environmental geopolitics offers a way to examine these claims and investigate underlying bids for power arrangements. In that way, environmental geopolitics disrupts the seemingly obvious ties linking environmental features to risk or to security to see more clearly dynamics of power playing out geographically.
U. Oslender , in International Encyclopedia of Human Geography , 2009
The Anti-Geopolitical Eye
One of the most prolific writers of the critical geopolitics tradition, Gearóid Ó Tuathail coined the term anti-geopolitical eye in 1996. With that he refers to an alternative way of seeing and representing that disturbs the all-seeing-eye usually evident in geopolitical arguments. The anti-geopolitical eye acknowledges its view from somewhere specific. It represents a situated view of the world that rejects the detached perspectives of statesmen. Instead it travels at ground-level to observe, feel, and transmit a moral proximity to those observed and described. Ó Tuathail considered the anti-geopolitical eye a provisional category, which he introduced to analyze the impassioned reports of the war in Bosnia that the British journalist Maggie O’Kane sent back to the readership in Britain from the frontlines. Her reporting was based on an eyewitness approach of multiple perspectives. The victims of the war in Bosnia were present in her visceral descriptions of the horror of war. The suffering of the victims entered graphically into her reporting, which accused, took sides with the victims, and did not try to hide behind the high-minded abstractions of traditional geopolitical discourse. The anti-geopolitical eye breaks down the distance between observer and observed. It reveals a moral proximity that accuses and asks awkward questions enquiring about ethical responsibilities that are often ignored.
Ulrich Oslender , in International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (Second Edition) , 2020
The Anti-geopolitical Eye
One of the most prolific writers of the critical geopolitics tradition, Gearóid Ó Tuathail coined the term "anti-geopolitical eye" in 1996, referring to an alternative way of seeing and representing that disturbs the all-seeing-eye usually evident in geopolitical arguments. The anti-geopolitical eye acknowledges its view from somewhere specific. It represents a situated view of the world that rejects the detached perspectives of statesmen. Instead it travels at ground level to observe, feel, and transmit a moral proximity to those observed and described. Ó Tuathail considered the anti-geopolitical eye a provisional category, which he introduced to analyze the impassioned reports of the war in Bosnia that the British journalist Maggie O'Kane sent back to the readership in Britain from the frontlines. Her reporting was based on an eyewitness approach of multiple perspectives. The victims of the war in Bosnia were present in her visceral descriptions of the horror of war. The suffering of the victims entered graphically into her reporting, which accused, took sides with the victims, and did not try to hide behind the high-minded abstractions of traditional geopolitical discourse. The anti-geopolitical eye breaks down the distance between observer and observed. It reveals a moral proximity that accuses and asks awkward questions inquiring about ethical responsibilities that are often ignored.
Klaus Dodds , Chih Yuan Woon , in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition) , 2015
We are not trying to posit a strict dichotomy between classical and critical geopolitics nor are we suggesting a linear progression from the former to the latter. As O'Tuathail (in Jones and Sage, 2010 : 316) reminds us, critical geopolitics is not simply a more advanced or superior version of its classical variant. Rather “in exposing geopolitics as a convenient fiction, critical geopolitics reveals itself as a similarly convenient fiction of opposition. It is merely the starting point for a different form of geopolitics ….” After all, it must be remembered that the fundamental impetus of critical geopolitics is precisely to question the power/knowledge imbued in classical geopolitical discourses. In other words, the development of critical geopolitics cannot be adequately analyzed or fully appreciated without reference to its classical counterpart.
Indeed, the continued need for critical geopolitics to deconstruct and expose how geostrategic knowledges are used to legitimate warfare has been demonstrated by a number of scholars. By underscoring the geographical tropes of warfare embedded within Robert Kaplan's (2009) work, Dalby (2010) , for instance, concurs with Fraser MacDonald's (in Jones and Sage) assessment that the persistence of classical geopolitical reasoning makes sustained critique necessary. Both MacDonald and Dalby are wary that critical geopolitics' forays into a host of other research avenues (the ‘little things’ such as affect/emotions, lived experiences of people, etc.) will dilute its original purpose concerning the writing of global political space (i.e., the ‘big things’). But if we accept O'Tuathail's (in Jones and Sage, 2010 : 316) claim that critical geopolitics is “no more than a general gathering place for various critiques of the multiple geopolitical discourses and practices that characterize modernity,” the eclecticism of the field can only be seen as a stimulating and necessary intellectual and political project to engage with some of the most pressing issues of our times (terror, diseases, migration, human rights, and environmental risk) as part of a wider set of critical approaches to political geography ( see Political Geography ). What perhaps needs to be further pursued then, are critical studies on the ways in which the ‘big’ and ‘little’ things of geopolitics are intimately connected. This necessitates a multiscalar approach to understanding geopolitics and its multifarious impacts and relevance on society and its people.
Melissa N.P. Johnson , Ethan McLean , in International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (Second Edition) , 2020
Gramscian Discourse Analysis
One prominent vein of discourse analysis, which has been used in the field of critical geopolitics , draws on neo- or post-Marxist ideas. In particular, this vein makes use of the theories of Antonio Gramsci, and sometimes of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe's Discourse Theory (DT). From a methodological standpoint, there are no fully articulated sets of procedures specific to performing either Gramscian or DT-based discourse analyses. Gramscian approaches to discourse analysis are concerned with how discourse functions as a medium for the transmission, naturalization, and domination of particular ideologies over others via consent and coercion (rather than force). Gramsci referred to this consensual ideological domination as “cultural hegemony.” In this view, discourse leads to sociomaterial outcomes via ideology (and discourse is therefore fundamentally political). Meanings are always relational and unfixed. Even seemingly hegemonic relations of meaning are subject to contestation in this approach. Indeed, Gramscian discourse analysts view the struggle for hegemony as the attempt to temporarily “fix” particular relations of meaning. The main drives of Gramscian discourse analyses are twofold: to denaturalize the normative, hegemonic position of certain discourses and ideologies; and to expose the social and political interests they serve. Gramscian approaches might be considered more explicitly political in purpose than FDA, although both aim to interrogate different aspects of (often hidden) power relations critically.
Human geographers have shown interest in Gramscian approaches to discourse analysis in multiple ways and contexts: from examinations of colonialism, imperialism, ethnocentrism, immigration, and foreign policy, to considerations of resource politics and climate change. Gramscian approaches lend themselves particularly well to geographers in contexts where different discourses could offer competing, taken-for-granted, or perhaps “official” visions and narratives of both space and place. These instances might exemplify language users' attempts, for political or other reasons, to fix relations of meaning in the construction or administration of space and place, to attain hegemony, or to legitimize spatialized activities. The concept of hegemony has featured strongly in the following: geopolitical analyses of the discourse and spatial activities of states; research concerning what might be considered the discourses of elite institutions; and, more broadly, examinations of power asymmetries. That said, some critics argue that purely Gramscian-influenced discursive analyses focus too heavily on the hegemonic discourses of sociopolitical elites, thereby overshadowing more marginalized, counterhegemonic discourses observable at other sociospatial scales.
Alexander B. Murphy , in International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition) , 2015
Geopolitical Conceptualizations and Practice
Geopolitics is clearly back on the political geography agenda, as evidenced by the interest in critical geopolitics , by the publication of a spate of recent books, and by the founding of a journal titled Geopolitics in 1996 (its name for the first 2 years was Geopolitics and International Boundaries ). The recent literature on the subject reveals some continuing interest in the development of formal geopolitical models, but recent studies in this vein have concentrated on the changing geopolitical environment for interstate relations and on the worldviews and priorities of political actors. Considerable attention has been paid to the emergence of the modern world economy and its impacts on the conceptualization and pursuit of geopolitics. Feminist perspectives on geopolitics have also shaped the subdiscipline in recent years ( Hyndman, 2003 ) – encouraging consideration of the ways in which gendered identities and power relations affect geopolitical conceptions and practices. Political geographers with an interest in geopolitics have also examined topics as diverse as the locational components of conflict, the geopolitical dimensions of environmental change, and the ways in which popular culture reflects and shapes geopolitical practice. The end of the Cold War and the initiation of a US-led ‘War on Terror’ represent a particularly important empirical focus of investigation, with studies examining the ways in which geopolitical ideas and practices are influenced by the inertia of colonial relationships and by the understandings of territory and terror that developed in conjunction with the modern state system ( Gregory, 2004 ; Flint, 2005 ; Elden, 2009 ).
Md Azmeary Ferdoush , in International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (Second Edition) , 2020
Structuration and Critical Border Studies
In recent decades, border studies have emerged and spread as a significant and timely aspect within the study of critical geopolitics . From the early 2000s, border studies took a sharp turn toward understanding the mobile borders or toward placing the border in everyday life . This turn in the approach shifted scholarly attention more toward the analysis of everyday actions and individual behaviors regarding a border whether it might be a state border, an airport, or a supermarket. Thus critical border studies also became divided into the agency/structure duality. Some favored state and state boundaries to be the ultimate unit of analysis arguing that without the concept of sovereign state, no border makes sense. Contrary to them, others concentrated on daily actions and experiences of individual agents to analyze borders and borderworks. To bridge this gap, Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly first offered a theory of borders based on the structuration approach in the Journal of Geopolitics in 2005. Although his approach enjoyed and continues to enjoy positive reception among the scholars of borders, hardly has anyone subsequently directly acknowledged Giddens in their works.
In his paper titled Theorizing Borders: An Interdisciplinary Perspective , Brunet-Jailly argues that four equally important analytical lenses must be applied for a comprehensive study of borders. These are market forces and trade flows, policy activities at multiple levels of governments on adjacent borders, the particular political clout of borderland communities, and the specific culture of borderland communities. He brings the ideas of structure, agency, and the territory of the modern world together in his framework. Starting with a brief historical survey from the Treaty of Westphalia, he moves on to a concise discussion of the contemporary ideas on borders. Having done so, he contends that the conventional view of state-centric border studies has focused on two directions: (1) horizontal relations between similar governments or government agencies; and (2) vertical relations that have been understood as intergovernmental relations. He argues that the four lenses (mentioned above) are essential to understanding a border, and each of them can operate either at the structural or at the agency level. The hypothesis of his synthetic model of border regions is that an economically, politically, and culturally integrated borderland emerges if the lenses augment and support each other. Thus, an empirical analysis of borders needs to analyze those lenses. He also cautions that, in most cases, empirical analysis might demonstrate that they do not complement and enhance each other. But such a comparison will allow scholars to move beyond the dominant view that each border is unique, and no general theory of borders can be developed because there are too many types of them.
Building both on Giddens and Brunett-Jailly, Ferdoush came up with a theoretical framework in 2018 in his paper titled Seeing Borders through the Lens of Structuration: A Theoretical Framework. In this paper, Ferdoush breaks down the “structure” of the border into seven factors while analyzing reflexive borderlander's behavior in terms of the background that they come from. He iterates that the borderlanders are reflexive human beings who interact with a given border on a day-to-day basis. Through their interactions, they reflect upon the structural factors and actors that determine the nature of the border. While interacting, using their agency, action, and power they influence the structure, that is, the border. In turn, the structure reflects back on these interactions and influences the borderlanders. This is how the nature of a border is determined, and the practices at that border are continually (re)produced. Fig. 3 illustrates the framework in detail.
Figure 3 . Borders and structuration based on Ferdoush (2018).
Fig. 3 shows that borderlanders are perceived as reflexive human beings whose levels of consciousness are determined by three factors. These are the sociopolitical characteristics, the economic condition, and the cultural background. These three factors interact and combine in different ways to constitute a given border. For example, if there are better economic opportunities on the other side of the border, borderlanders are more likely to cross that border (legally or illegally), making that border porous.
Ferdoush breaks down the structural factors directly connected to a border into seven categories. These are (borderland's) relationship to its own state region, relationship to the neighboring state/region, nature of the central state institutions, level of governance operating at the border or borderlands, the nature of the state economy, political strength of the state, and market forces and trade flows. He argues that each of these structural factors plays a determining role in shaping the nature of a given border. Thus, in any analysis of the border, these factors must be taken into account. While they are structural factors, they do not operate independently of individual actors, that is, the personnel in charge of the structural offices or institutions. Thus, the interaction between the structure and the borderlanders means the interaction between the borderlanders and the personnel in charge of those structural bodies. During this interaction, both the borderlanders and the structural bodies drawing on their agency, action, and power influence each other. In so doing, they draw on the rules and resources of the game influencing the social system of interaction. As a result, the routinization, structural principles, and institutions are affected and reshaped in nature finally resulting in a change in the border and the bordering practices.
Platform for Geopolitical Skills Development
Ian Klinke: Five minutes for critical geopolitics – A slightly provocative introduction
Introducing ian klinke.
His research at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies investigates the spatiotemporal narratives that structure the relationship between the European Union and its East.
Key research areas include International Relations theory, German energy security and the geopolitics of Belarus.
Geopolitics: critical vs. classical
Although not exactly hip and trendy, geopolitics is very much on the agenda these days. Often sloppily defined, geopolitics tends to be employed as a tag that lends authority to politicians, journalists and academics. It is in geopolitics that these enlightened geopoliticians claim to have found a sober and apolitical view that allows them to perceive a deeper layer of reality – to see the world as it really is . Global politics as the eternal power struggles of states under the influence of geography. ‘Dangerous nonsense!’ a critical geopolitical perspective will respond. But what exactly are the contours of such a critical perspective, where does it come from, what does it want and what does it have to add?
A conceptual matrix
Critical geopolitics is a loose platform that emerged in the 1990s at the interface between Political Geography and International Relations. Despite the wide array of conflicting ‘postmodernisms’ that underlie its perspective, critical geopolitics is also unified – by its rejection of classical geopolitical reasoning. Classical geopolitics, closely related to the tradition of political realism in International Relations, is seen by critical geopolitics as an ideology (or ‘discourse’ to speak the lingo) that has legitimised some of the bloodiest military campaigns of the 20th and early 21st century. Critical geopolitics’ aim is to disenchant classical geopolitics by denaturalising it. Therefore, instead of arguing from a fixed normative position (universal liberalism or utopian socialism), it tries to de-legitimise geopolitics by placing it in its historical context and highlighting the contradictions already at work in geopolitics.
It is difficult to sketch critical geopolitics without delving into the wider philosophical debates that underpin its approach. It is however possible to approach critical geopolitics via its relationship with classical geopolitics. Hereby we could claim that critical geopolitics centres around four key issues (space, identity, vision and statecraft), which it identifies at the core of (classical) geopolitics itself. Crucially, these concepts reveal what the sweet venom of geopolitics is and does as well as the critical distance at which critical geopolitics operates when dealing with it. Let us briefly discuss these in turn.
Space is essential to critical geopolitics. However, unlike classical geopolitics and its often implicit materialism, it questions any simple causal relationship between geographical space and global politics. Instead, it investigates the social construction of space – the way in which space is made meaningful by a wide array of geopolitical actors and their ideas. In other words, it is not so relevant to our understanding of post-World War II British geopolitics that Great Britain is an island, but that it thinks of itself as one. Similarly, it is not primarily the material features (geographical position, military infrastructure) that construct the Republic of Belarus as a Russian buffer zone, but the ideological framework of geopolitics itself (power struggle between Russia and NATO etc.). Therefore, instead of understanding humans and states as victims of geography and geopolitics, they are its source. The supposed laws classical geopolitics claims to have unearthed (Land vs. Sea Power, eternal power struggles) are part of both this active writing of geographical space and the violence that is inflicted in the name of spatial categories (East/West, Middle East, Lebensraum etc.).
Closely related to this conception of space (not as a causal factor but as something that is constructed through geopolitics) is critical geopolitics’ understanding of identity . Again, just like space, identity is not seen as being pre-given (something that states already ‘have’) but as constantly (re-)negotiated. What critical geopolitics adds to the existing literature on identity in International Relations is its focus on this spatial construction of social identity. What matters here is the ways in which spatial communities such as nations, ethnic groups or other forms of spatial organisation (the European Union) construct group identity via references to a spatial ‘We’ (the ‘West’, Europe) and an often threatening and aggressive ‘Them’, located in a fundamentally different territory (the Soviet Union, ‘the Islamic world’ etc.).
Having established that geopolitics functions to shape spatial identity by distinguishing an (unfamiliar) Other from a (familiar) Self, we can now understand the second way in which (classical) geopolitics charms us: as a detached and simplifying vision . It is this geopolitical gaze that puts the geopolitician in a God-like position above the geopolitical map, faking both objectivity and apolitical neutrality. Hereby geopolitics disguises the fact that it is shot through with positivist, nationalist and colonialist ideology. The geopolitical map (both cartographic and mental) also enables viewers to perceive the world as a structured whole. It lures us into its simplicity by carving up the globe into more or less homogenous spaces (spheres of influence, heartland/rimland etc.), a practice that evades the complexities of the actual places it is meant to discuss.
Critical geopolitics also points out that geopolitics has historically served as a tool of statecraft , as a form of knowledge that is bound up with the emergence of the modern state. Geopolitical thought has served as a guide to statesmanship and therefore as legitimisation for exclusivist foreign policy agendas and invasions throughout the world. It is through geopolitical institutes (think tanks, universities and government bodies) that the state has produced knowledge of (distant) Others. In order to understand this creation of geopolitical knowledge and legitimacy for the state, critical geopolitics has diverted our attention from classical geopolitical themes to the role of so-called ‘intellectuals of statecraft’, which, embedded in the wider structures of the modern state, continue to write the scripts of global politics (the Cold War, the War on Terror etc.).
The claimant has the last word
To summarise, critical geopolitics is not an add-on to classical geopolitics (although it certainly is a much needed addition to the debate on geopolitical thought) but an alternative to it. Although the opposition between critical and classical is perhaps a provocative overstatement (after all, the dimensions of space, identity and statecraft are not absent from critical geopolitics), it should be remembered that the former does offer a number of significant departures from the latter:
- it rejects the causal relationship classical geopolitics detects between geographic space and global politics,
- it questions the rigid boundaries the latter draws between essentialised territorial identities,
- it problematises the supposedly objective yet thoroughly political perspective classical geopolitics offers and
- exhibits the connections between geopolitical thought, the structures of the modern state and the waging of war.
Finally, we may add, critical geopolitics is not so much a perspective on global politics (although it can legitimately be used as such) as on classical geopolitics itself. It talks back.
- Agnew, J. (1998) Geopolitics: Re-visioning World Politics (London: Routledge)
- Agnew, J. & Corbridge, S. (1995) Mastering Space: Hegemony, Territory and International Political Economy (London: Routledge)
- Campbell, D. (1992) Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press)
- Dalby, S. (1990) Creating the Second Cold War: The Discourse of Politics (London: Pinter)
- Dodds, K. (2005) Global Geopolitics: A Critical Introduction (Harlow: Pearson Education)
- Dodds, K. & Sidaway, J. D. (1994) ‘Locating critical geopolitics’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 12: 515-524
- Ó Tuathail, G. (1996) Critical Geopolitics: The Politics of Writing Global Space (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press)
- Ó Tuathail, G. & Agnew, J. (1992) ‘Geopolitics and discourse: Practical geopolitical reasoning in American foreign policy’ Political Geography 11(2): 190-204
- Ó Tuathail, G. & Dalby, S. (1998) Rethinking geopolitics (London: Routledge)
- Ó Tuathail, G. et al. (2006) The Geopolitics Reader (London: Routledge)
- ← Leonhardt van Efferink: The Definition of Geopolitics – The Classical, French and Critical Traditions
- Gérard Dussouy: International Relations, realism and liberalism →
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I’ve somewhat sloppily not done enough digging on you to completely legitimize my overwhelming support, however, I’m on an airplane & I don’t believe I need to. You unpacked it so brilliantly that it appears almost self-evident. “Embedded in the wider structures”…”continue to write the scripts.” If the idealistic tenants of the Informed Citizen were being fulfilled by a preponderance of today’s “serious minds”, this would have already been required reading. In any case, it is something that will undoubtedly be taken seriously. Bravo and good luck.
I will pass on the compliment to the author, Patrick. Kind regards, Leonhardt
I pitch my camp with this paradigm shift in geopolitics. Critical geopolitics is revolutionary…
Well said Mr AUTHOR but African states tend to attempt to duplicate politics of of Western states. They are oblivious of the fact that Germany-Britain-or The Netherlands are run on domestic politics: they wrongly consider geopolitics!
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…example of such analyses is critical geopolitics. Political geography was a marginal subdiscipline for several decades after World War II, with geopolitical thinking disparaged because of its association with the work of geographers in 1930s Nazi Germany. Its revival involved regaining an appreciation of how influential political thinkers and politicians…
- Critical geopolitics
- Introduction and origins of the (sub)discipline of political geography
- The origins and evolution of States
- Democracy, citizenship and elections
- Urban policy
- A political geography of the city: urban agriculture and public space
- Identity politics and social movements
- Nationalism and regionalism
- Imperialism and postcolonialism
- Regional environmental governance
Geopolitics addresses the impact that spatial features have on politics. Critical geopolitics is a more recent discipline from the 1970s and 1980s that will study how spatial patterns will mobilize politics. We will focus on critical geopolitics. Political geography and geopolitics are different. At the very beginning of the discipline, the two terms were considered equivalent. Instead of just looking at what is geopolitical today, we will address the critical approach that has developed over the last twenty years as a result of the confusion of the two terms.
It is striking how journalists use the term geopolitics as if everything international would be geopolitics. On the one hand, we will look at the influence of space on politics with the idea that it is spatial configurations that determine political practices. On the other hand, we will see the evolution of the state, but we will approach it in the context of globalization. Finally, we will return to the observation that political geography can be considered as a discourse. Critical geopolitics must be seen in its historical context. Today, most publications on political geography are Anglo-Saxon.
Content avaible in English
- 1 Training and the evolution of States
- 2 Rediscovering geopolitics
- 3 From geopolitics to critical geopolitics
- 4.1 Geopolitics in France
- 4.2 Anglo-Saxon geopolitics
- 5 The geopolitics of resources
- 6 A critical geopolitics of climate change
- 9 References
Training and the evolution of States [ modifier | modifier le wikicode ]
The establishment of states is a complex social process because there is no theory of the state, there are several theories from different disciplines focusing for the most part on the processes of formation and transformation. The social contract serves as a tool to deliver sovereignty from its religious tradition. The geographical dimension of the formation of States is reflected in the precise delimitation of borders, the exclusivity of territories, the location of the State apparatus and the development of population monitoring tools. These are characteristics that have already been identified by people like Ratzel.
The welfare state appeared in Europe after 1890 and in the United States after the Great Depression. It aims at the provision of services in education, health, housing, etc. with a universalist geographical perspective. The welfare state began to suffer in the 1970s following upheavals in the world economy that led to a loss of sovereignty from above, from below and from the sidelines, revealing internal contradictions, as its activities threatened contributions that were essential for its survival, or administrative processes became too complex.
Rediscovering geopolitics [ modifier | modifier le wikicode ]
At the end of the 1970s, there was a series of major upheavals in the United States, but also in Europe and other continents in the context of decolonization and integration into a global economy. Among these upheavals, we can note the loss of national consensus on foreign policy, particularly in the context of the Vietnam War and the Cold War, making the public much more critical. Much of what is described as context is specific to the United States. This does not mean that there was no context in which there was no loss of national consensus around foreign policy in Europe, but it was often oriented towards the United States. The civil rights movement highlights that there are many sectors of society that do not have the same rights leading to a democratic crisis. The oil crisis will lead to a questioning of the capitalist Bretton Woods system. It also produced an Intellectual Revolution with a shift towards postmodernism and a re-emergence of Marxist perspectives including among geographers like David Harvey.
It is in this national and international political context, dominated by the Cold War and witnessing a crisis of the national state, that discourses emerge that use the term "geopolitics". This can be seen above all in the speeches of politicians, but in some ways it serves to legitimize power practices such as the justifications seen in the Reformation era when intellectuals provided arguments for the consolidation of the state or the first political geographers of the 20th century who justified arguments for imperial colonial enterprises.
What people like Kissinger and Brezinski do when they use the term "geopolitics" is to naturalize and objectify politics in a way that makes people think that because geography is behind it, it is more scientific and natural.
Kissinger is known for the policy of détente and was the architect of American foreign policy in the late 1960s and 1970s. He is interested in all forms of power, notably through his approach to balancing power between the United States, USSR, China and India. Brezinski was Johnson's adviser and also national security adviser to Jimmy Carter, he was also one of Obama's leading foreign policy advisers. There were strategic imperatives focusing on geostrategic hubs such as Turkey, Central Asia, Iran and South Korea. It will focus mainly on the Eurasian continent. We see a mixture of arguments provided by Ratzel, Mackinder, but also Kjellén.
From geopolitics to critical geopolitics [ modifier | modifier le wikicode ]
What is now considered critical geopolitics is defined by Agnew in Why criticizing grand regional narratives matters published in 2013 as "the critical sense that world politics is based on countless assumptions and patterns about how the world's geographical divisions, strategic plans, global images and the disposition of continents and seas enter into the production of foreign policy and its popular legitimization [.these assumptions and patterns are considered social constructions for social and political purposes that are not of a natural geopolitical order.
The ideas and that it is a critical view on the discourses conducted in geopolitics. The classical geopolitics of the early 20th century is only one specific example of a geographical mask that hides imperialism or hegemony behind a "naturalized" causality. Agnew analyzes for the most part the emergence of critical political geography in the United States, but it is not the only one where the term "geopolitics" is reintroduced and used.
Critical geopolitics: French and Anglo-Saxon versions [ modifier | modifier le wikicode ]
Geopolitics in france [ modifier | modifier le wikicode ].
Yves Lacoste identifies exactly when and in what context the term "geopolitics" appeared in 1979 in the "fratricidal war" between Vietnam and Cambodia. Le Monde argues that this conflict "is geopolitics".
Yves Lacoste became one of France's most radical geographers. He refers to Reclus's radical criticism of the geography of academics: geography has always been the basis of true geopolitical reasoning. University geographers refuse to address political issues "while geography is regarded as political knowledge by men of action and power". In 1976, he published La géographie, ça sert, d'abord, à faire la guerre. For him, geography in France has totally evacuated the political aspect in the teaching of geography making geographers have always been in the service of war since it is always geographical knowledge at the end that serves to make war.
According to Lacoste, geopolitics is the "relationship between precisely localized political forces, whether official or clandestine". This definition does not go as far as the one proposed by Agnew. Lacoste launched Herodotus magazine in 1976. What is also interesting to note is that in general, the intellectual upheaval in the American context which posed a strong interest in postmodernist theories is not very visible in critical geopolitics in France.
Lacoste took the example of the dike case in Vietnam in 1972. There is a rumour of American bombardment of the dikes of the Red River. Lacoste reacts to rumour following an article in Le Monde. He is sent to Hanoi to analyze these rumors and then will demonstrate that the Americans were bombing the dikes to flood the delta. His report will back down in the United States.
In his perspective, he mobilizes geographic knowledge to dismantle political ends. It is a critical geopolitics of the early hours, but at the same time one can wonder if this is really critical when analyzing the discourse of the Americans.
Political geography is a discourse that takes place in a historical context. Lacoste positions itself in an academic environment in which politics has been completely evacuated from geography. The task is to reintroduce politics into geography. Many writers now identify with critical geopolitics.
Anglo-Saxon geopolitics [ modifier | modifier le wikicode ]
The context of the 1970s in the Anglo-Saxon world is marked by the Cold War, Vietnam which is a context similar to that of France, but also has its own specificities, notably with the Watergate scandal which is a symbolic event that reinforces the feeling among intellectuals and the general public that there is a political crisis of states.
Given that politicians will start using the term "geopolitics", the question arises whether there is something outside geography that should be considered. Although the Cold War was characterized by competition between two economic systems, the question arose as to whether there was anything space-related in the Cold War, could the fact that geopolitics had a bad reputation serve to analyse the Cold War from a critical perspective.
In this context, postmodernist theories have become popular with Anglo-Saxon scientists. Wallerstein was to develop the system-world theory, Peter Taylor being known as the founder of Political Geography which was the most important journal in political geography.
Critical geopolitics are found today in environmental geography. Gearóid Ó Tuathail analyzes the civil war in El Salvador between 1980 and 1992 and more precisely the open American support to the opposition of the socialist revolutionaries by analyzing the speeches of the United States which allows them to justify their support. The American discourse is based on the domino theory, which is the idea that you can't let a single state down in the Cold War, otherwise there would be a decrease in its hegemony. Another justification was to defend the interests of American companies. What Ó Tuathail brings to his analysis through the analysis of discourses is what was the basis of the discourses of the United States, namely a conceptualization in their sphere of influence. The idea is that we find the beginnings in the Monroe doctrine and that more fundamentally, the practices and interventions of the United States in El Salvador and other Latin American countries and in Africa would be a cultural imperative which is to impose the "American way of life". This is an imperative that is still highly visible today.
Simon Dalby is one of the first to take an interest in the environmental aspect of critical geopolitics. In 1998, Dalby and Ó Tuathail published Rethinking Geopolitics. For Dalby, geopolitics deals with the ideological process of constructing spatial, political and cultural boundaries in order to separate the domestic space from an Other Threatening.
The geopolitics of resources [ modifier | modifier le wikicode ]
The 1960s and 1970s were not only economic and political upheavals in the state crisis, but also the beginning of the environmental movement. Environmental issues are resurfacing and are being translated into environmental safety issues. The ways in which government issues surface are found in the chemical pollution of animals and in the accumulation of toxic substances in the body. Environmental safety is first to be found in health safety, which will later become more structural.
There is a trend in physical geography towards modelling that is beginning to focus on the global functioning of the environment around the ozone layer and climate change. We realize that this is a relationship between human beings and the earth, which means that there are variables from the social sciences that must be integrated using interdisciplinarity and a rapprochement between physical geography and social geography. For Cox, in A perspective on globalization published in 1997, geographers can fuel interdisciplinarity through their expertise in the interdependence between knowledge, power and scale. Cox is a critical geographer who tells physical geographers that his discipline can contribute. emerges an appreciation of the ecological limits of the world, a whole series of international conferences and publications that will put in visibility.
Kattalin Gabriel-Oyhamburu notes in the article Le retour d'une géopolitique des ressources? published in 2010 that the third globalization comes at the same time as the crisis of the state translated by deregulation, decompartmentalization and disintermediation. There is a whole series of transformations in the financial world that go hand in hand with globalisation. The third globalization is also characterized by a whole series of spatial effects such as coastalization, maritimeization, metropolization, polarization of territories and the emergence of places in the world. The first two spatial effects that revolve around the positioning of powers and populations in coastal areas are directly linked to the arguments of Thucydides and the ancient Greeks who analysed competition between territorial and maritime powers. Later, the American hyperpower gave itself the mission of expanding "American Way of Life" requiring the opulence of mining, energy and agricultural resources. It is a whole series of transformations that characterize the first phase of the third globalization, focusing its argument on the geopolitics of resources.
For Gabriel-Oyhamburu, zonal geopolitics emphasizes the territory being the founding idea of Ratzel and Mackinder's arguments with the idea that whoever controls the heartland will control the world. An object geopolitics is the geopolitics of resources, that is, the usefulness of a territory is no longer a matter of the territory as a whole, but of the fact that it is a place of resources.
Gabriel-Oyhamburu argues that explanations based on zonal geopolitics are no longer sufficient, because the geopolitical theories that remained on zonal logics had not taken into account the emerging powers and the rise in power of emerging countries like China, which are experiencing a development "not totally foreseen by Brezinski and the American neo-realists".
In Le retour d'une géopolitique des ressources?, Gabriel-Oyhamburu is obsessed with energy, agri-food and water resources. For her, the third globalization "did not upset the thought patterns of the founders of geopolitics. For Gabriel-Oyhamburu, the geopolitics of a territory pass through three perspectives: a vision of the world that is geohistory and territorial representations, a vision of the world such as an expansionist power and a degree of integration into the world system through economic growth or its political legitimacy. It is a zonal geopolitics with a return to an objectal geopolitics around the control of power vector resources.
Gabriel-Oyhamburu advances the idea of geostrategic nodes that are not pivots as in Mackinder's argument, but they are resource-rich places with strong political instability: "To control the world, you have to control the objects of the world, the means of survival of the world, and therefore the resources to survive. This is where geostrategic objectives in terms of resources are concentrated.
A critical geopolitics of climate change [ modifier | modifier le wikicode ]
On the question of "who wins, who loses" in the Arctic, this is interesting because polar melt should provide access to new natural resources and new shipping routes, making it an "Arctic Rush". Canada, Greenland, Norway, Russia and the United States are in competition, particularly on issues related to sovereignty, which allows the granting of exclusive economic zones.
Climate change, which brings about changes such as the melting of polar ice, also brings new political trends and developments. These trends are linked to security issues, namely energy security issues in the Arctic. Dalby speaks of securing the environment by taking a biopolitical stance that serves to control populations.
Summary [ modifier | modifier le wikicode ]
Critical geopolitics places extreme emphasis on the discursive character of political geography by analyzing discourses that use spatial arguments to divide the world by identifying a threatening Other. Its emergence comes in parallel with the rediscovery of the word "geopolitics" by politicians and the media.
It is possible to ask whether environmental geopolitics is moving towards "neodeterminism". Securing the environment opens the door to disciplines and touches on issues that directly concern us.
Annexes [ modifier | modifier le wikicode ]
References [ modifier | modifier le wikicode ].
- ↑ Profile de Jörg Balsiger sur le site de l'UNIGE
- ↑ Profile de Jörg Balsiger sur le site de European Univeristy Institute
- ↑ Profile de Jörg Balsiger sur Google Scholar
- ↑ Profile de Jörg Balsiger sur Researchgate.net
- ↑ Profile de Jörg Balsiger sur academia.edu
- ↑ Profile de Jörg Balsiger sur Britannica.com
- ↑ Profile de Jörg Balsiger sur le site de Scientific Network for the Caucasus Mountain Region
- Jörg Balsiger
Research at St Andrews
University > Research portal > Research publications > Critical geopolitics
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Critical geopolitics. / Sharp, Joanne .
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T1 - Critical geopolitics
AU - Sharp, Joanne
PY - 2019/12/4
Y1 - 2019/12/4
N2 - Critical geopolitics was established as a poststructural approach, which insists that rather than being an apolitical influence on international politics, as conventional accounts of geopolitics would argue, geographical relationships and entities are specific to historical and cultural circumstances. As the meaning of geography can be made to change, there is a politics to the use of geographical concepts in arguments about international relations. Following Foucault, critical geopolitics analyzes discourses of geography in international relations theory and practice to examine the power relations supported by such representations. Various attempts have been made to apply the critical geopolitics approach to the analysis of political speeches, policy documents, and popular culture. More recently, scholars have sought to go beyond the approach's origins in textual analysis to provide critical accounts of geopolitics which understand the inscription of international politics in the body, take account of the multiple practices that comprise the geopolitical, and offer an extended understanding of agency that takes in a variety of nonhuman actants in the theorization of both the -politics and the geo- in geopolitics.
AB - Critical geopolitics was established as a poststructural approach, which insists that rather than being an apolitical influence on international politics, as conventional accounts of geopolitics would argue, geographical relationships and entities are specific to historical and cultural circumstances. As the meaning of geography can be made to change, there is a politics to the use of geographical concepts in arguments about international relations. Following Foucault, critical geopolitics analyzes discourses of geography in international relations theory and practice to examine the power relations supported by such representations. Various attempts have been made to apply the critical geopolitics approach to the analysis of political speeches, policy documents, and popular culture. More recently, scholars have sought to go beyond the approach's origins in textual analysis to provide critical accounts of geopolitics which understand the inscription of international politics in the body, take account of the multiple practices that comprise the geopolitical, and offer an extended understanding of agency that takes in a variety of nonhuman actants in the theorization of both the -politics and the geo- in geopolitics.
KW - Assemblage
KW - Discourse
KW - Feminism
KW - International politics
KW - Post-structuralism
KW - Postcolonialism
KW - Posthumanism
KW - Power/knowledge
KW - Realism
KW - Statecraft
U2 - 10.1016/B978-0-08-102295-5.10457-3
DO - 10.1016/B978-0-08-102295-5.10457-3
M3 - Entry for encyclopedia/dictionary
SN - 978-0-08-102296-2
BT - International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (Second Edition)
A2 - Kobayashi, Audrey
PB - Elsevier Inc.
CY - Oxford
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Towards a New Concept of Constructivist Geopolitics: Bridging Classical and Critical Geopolitics
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- Page(s): 26-57
- First published online: 20 March 2021
- Issue published: 20 March 2021
- DOI: https://doi.org/10.51870/CEJISS.A150102
‘In Space We Read Time’.
This essay deals with the question to what extent perspectives of classical and critical geopolitical thought are suitable for analysing geopolitical structures of world politics. The following article discusses the potential that opens up a constructivist perspective for the conceptualisation of space and spatiality in geopolitics. This article is about links between geopolitics and international relations for a theoretical rebuilding of geopolitics. It focuses on the constructivist geopolitics and thus questions of power, space, politics and new political spaces; however, not only in a global and national context but also on a local and regional scale. According to the basic premises of constructivist geopolitics, geopolitical constructions and conceptions of space can be asserted as subjective and objective categories. From this perspective, it also shows that the geopolitical world order can be understood not only objectively but also subjectively in reciprocal interaction. These discussions are seen as an interrelated contribution to combine two different paradigms and to promote the synergy of scientific expertise to understand world politics and for the management of temporary global problems. Constructivist geopolitics attempts to conceptually rethink classical geopolitics and critical geopolitics together in a new way to enrich the subject of geopolitics as a possible approach.
One of the well-accepted narratives of our time claims that world politics is in the midst of a transformative change. With the end of the East-West Conflict and the years after the end of the bipolar world order, the unanswered question remains how new spatial structures of international relations and world politics have developed. From this perspective, a series of new geopolitical narratives, namely clash of civilisation, geo-economy and new bloc formation, claim to offer plausible discursive framings for changing global constellations of power. [i] Today's global politics go far beyond a simple model of the power-based interaction of sovereign states in an anarchic international system. [ii] At the global level, nothing illustrates this better than the Covid-19 pandemic and the challenge that climate change presents — especially the impact of fossil fuel emissions on an increasingly crowded planet. In this respect, the world faces two types of geopolitical impasse. One is the poor state capacity and the other is the poor market capacity. [iii] But the rising of this new world order is not yet completed, it is structurally between the Westphalian state system and postmodern statehood; historically between the certainties of a particular bipolar world order and the uncertainties of a world without a world order, and geographically between the end of the static ‘ensemble world’ and the emerging of the dynamic ‘integrated world society’. [iv] Therefore, in order to recognise the structures of the emerging world order, the question is often asked how new geographical structures of international relations and world politics in the 21st century have developed, especially regarding its geographical perspective – Eurocentrism or Sinocentrism –, its shape – multilateral or asymmetrical multipolarity –, its tendency – universal interculturality or multicultural coexistence –, and its norms and values – competitive or cooperative multipolarity. But where this rising world order leads world politics in the 21st century remains controversial and constitutes the relevant reference point of the debates within political science, international relations, and geopolitics. [v] This article seeks to make a further contribution to this debate from the point of view of a multi-theoretical approach in the context of constructive geopolitics.
In the tradition of geopolitical thought, space has always been seen as a relevant entity. Thus, the importance of geographical space for politics and its interrelations has always been the subject of political reflection. [vi] Political geographers such as Alfred Thayer Mahan (1897), [vii] Halford J, Mackinder [viii] (1904), Karl Haushofer (1937) [ix] and Nicholas J. Spykman (1942) [x] have asked questions about typography, climate and others factors, in which they explicitly or implicitly speculated about the way strategy might influence the geography of world affairs.. [xi] Accordingly, it is less about the influence of the climate on the political constitution of political communities, but about how the global power structure can be shaped and changed for their benefit. Geopolitics unfolded at a time when the term ‘World’ was experiencing a boom. [xii] Thus, geopolitical thinking orientated itself on the global power structure. The heightened significance of the world as the basis of political thought and action had already been demonstrated by the fact that the world was perceived as fully developed. [xiii] World politics and its order appear to have a clear and objective framework from which guidelines for political action can be derived. [xiv] It is therefore about how the political reality of the world order is perceived and structured on the one hand, and on the other side how it flows into thought and action on the other. The spatial conceptions diverge depending on the perception of the spatial conditions. In this way, a different assessment of the world order, allowing for different interpretations, depends on the perspective of those who make the assessment. [xv] Thus, the world order can either be competitively interpreted or valued as a cooperative central policy option. In this sense, the new diversity of spatial images and spatial discourses have a high degree of dynamics. [xvi] From a discourse-theoretical perspective among the competing conceptions of space, some conceptions become dominant and shape political interactions. The question of which spatial concept is used to analyse the geopolitical world order always reflects the hegemonic power relations in a specific histological, disciplinary and linguistic context. [xvii]
Since the beginning of scientific geography, space has been thought of as a given wholeness at the centre of its scientific discussion. This understanding of space was aimed at the identification and description of political and social processes and structures according to the laws and the givenness of an objective space. [xviii] In doing so, classical determinists studied the influence of the natural and objective space as determinant factors on the behaviour of political actors. Spatial relations are subject to a direct influence on politics, in which a biological comprehension of space revealed itself. [xix]
From this one can distinguish a possibilistic point of view, which does not consider space as objectively given spatial structure. In contrast to the deterministic view, it considers space as a variable and subjective factor which can influence political reality. [xx] It emphasises that man is part of nature, but he can dominate nature through his wisdom, skill and technology. At the end of the 1960s, geographers criticised the objective given spatial patterns for explaining political and social processes and the spatial-scientific thinking in causal laws of space. [xxi] In contrast to this objectivist understanding of space, some geographers focus on how spaces are produced and reproduced in everyday life and communication. [xxii] They assume that the construction of spaces is shaped by social practices and structures. At the same time, spaces are constructed as expressions and consequences of social practices and structures.
The connection between spatiality and social realities is radicalised in discourse-oriented approaches insofar as they assume that social structures or actors are never established, but always find themselves in a situation of conflict and fragility. Spaces cannot simply be an expression of a fixed and static social structure. But the production of spaces is always a constitutive element of the permanent (re-)production of the social processes. [xxiii] With this critique of stable social power structures and the conception of autonomous actors, the negotiation processes for particular interpretive ways and identities as well as conflicts resulting from them are in the focus of the analysis [xxiv] .
Space, territory and borders have always been prominent and determining factors in the planning of the military and politics. The geography with its natural space factors is often considered objective in the tradition of the realistic school of international relations from which normative compulsions are driven to act, which are circumscribed using the terms geopolitics and geostrategy. With the end of the East-West Conflict, the years after the end of the bipolar world order and the elimination of political boundaries also meant the creation of intellectual freedom which developed a critical relationship to the traditional conception of geopolitics. [xxv] Political Geography always sets itself as a more theoretical understanding through which is no longer accepted the traditional positivist-scientist view of geopolitics and geostrategy. So the processes get social space construction in the focus of interest, but the critical approaches do not become a substitute for classical geopolitical thinking. [xxvi] Traditional thinking of geopolitics continues to coexist alongside emerging modern approaches.
Up to this time, as a legacy of classical geopolitics, the creation of difference through territorial metaphors has remained an essential part of many more recent approaches. [xxvii] Geopolitical thinking is essentially interested in structuring space by drawing boundaries. In short, geopolitics is a form of spatial inclusion and exclusion. Geopolitics can be described as thinking in terms of spaces of power, zones of influence and areas of power. [xxviii] Critical approaches, therefore, deal very centrally with which boundaries are drawn, where this happens, how divisions are legitimised and naturalised and which mechanisms of exclusion and inclusion are discussed. Since its inception, critical geopolitics has used other theories and approaches both methodically and theoretically. Integrations of other approaches may therefore have to be done carefully and taking into account the respective specificity. What can be methodologically and theoretically helpful in a discipline may be inspiring for critical geopolitics, but a congruent transfer raises problems. However, the focus is not only on the methodological and theoretical applicability but also on the fact that a comprehensive approach is excluded from the outset. Although this view leads to a large number of criticisms as a result - above all the accusation of arbitrariness - it also opens up the chance of alternative approaches and the option of dealing not only with unorthodox topics, apart from traditional approaches and regardless of possible sensitivities, but also to integrate methods and theoretical structures.
Mono-paradigm and monodisciplinary methods for the analysis of world politics and for the design and vision of world politics are limited and need to be re-discussed and redesigned. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to provide a new approach in the context of critical geopolitics to examine the geopolitics of world politics. After the introductory first part, the second part deals with the theoretical principles of the investigation. First, the most important theories of geopolitics are explained, and the development of geopolitical thinking is elaborated in order to specify these constants and to be able to establish a connection to constructivist geopolitics. After considering these debates and theories of geopolitical science, this new geopolitical approach will be further developed. The two approaches contain elements that are cited in order, by combining them, to develop the argument for geopolitical thinking from the perspective of a constructivist approach and to understand world politics. From the perspective of a constructivist-geopolitical analysis approach, this study is based on three constants: firstly on the global geopolitical structure on which a state orients itself and on which its structure of interests depends, secondly on the domestic structure of a state, in which not only spatially relevant criteria but also its structure of values form a basis for policy decision-making processes, and thirdly on the spatial actions of states when pursuing their interests and goals in the international system. In order to specify these constants and to be able to establish a connection to constructivist geopolitics, this new geopolitical approach will be further developed after considering debates and theories of geopolitical science. With their help, a new geopolitical concept is systematically derived. Afterward, a convergence between classical and critical geopolitics is worked out for a new structural approach to geopolitics.
Against this background, this article presents first the most important theories of geopolitics and the development of geopolitical thinking are elaborated in order to specify their constants and to establish a connection to constructivist geopolitics. The constructivist geopolitics is developed in this study on the one hand based on constructivism theory by Alexander Wendt, and on the other hand, focuses on the reconciliation of classical and critical geopolitics. Afterward, the question of how geopolitical thinking developed in the post-bipolar world order is discussed. Based on this basic understanding, a look at geopolitical thinking and the current debates of geopolitics after the end of the East-West conflict, namely geo-economy, geo-culture, regionalism and the spatial turn, will be thrown out. Subsequently, a rapprochement between classical and critical geopolitics will be elaborated on this new constructivist approach to geopolitics. After considering these debates and theories of geopolitics, this new constructivist geopolitics will be further systematically derived.
Geopolitical Thinking in the Post-Bipolar World Order
Concerning globalisation and developments in world politics, geopolitical thinking has experienced a new change of perspective. Globalisation and the resulting consequences influence international politics [xxix] and lead the world of states to ever greater cooperation and internal solidarity. Accelerated global change through economic globalisation requires a new paradigm. [xxx] As a result of globalisation, representatives of a geopolitical paradigm shift argue that geopolitics should be replaced by geo-economics and geo-culture. [xxxi] Accordingly, they point out that world politics has entered the era of the geo-economy. [xxxii] Economy and culture are the new driving forces for the spatial analysis of world politics. From this perspective, the primacy of the economy is emphasised. Besides, world politics is no longer geopolitically and politically characterised but is identified by an enormous dynamic economisation. [xxxiii] Based on the view that the geo-economy necessarily calls for international cooperation through cross-border capital markets and international peaceful trade, [xxxiv] representatives of the geo-economy and geo-culture point out that world politics has left behind the era of geopolitics and the resulting territorial and ideological conflicts, which involved power and influence politics as well as territorial conquest. Rather, geopolitics seems to be replaced by the geo-economy. [xxxv] In geo-economics, world politics is shaped by economic cooperation and the logic of competition. Although advocates of the geo-economy note that the intergovernmental rivalries and the associated politico-military power politics as well as the threats of the 20th century - especially those of the Cold War - have been replaced by the geo-economy. However, some critics emphasise that geopolitics and political power conflicts are not replaced by the geo-economy but have shifted to economic and financial conflicts. [xxxvi] In this sense, they contradict the thesis of the geo-economy as an alternative paradigm to geopolitics.
Another perspective that provides the basis for a new orientation in geopolitics and that unfolds as a crucial space-related factor after the end of the East-West conflict is geo-culture. Geo-culture was developed based on Hegel's philosophy of history by Francis Fukuyama (1989) [xxxvii] in a paper entitled ‘The End of History?’ Fukuyama formulates his thesis on the East-West conflict and considered it as the last struggle between two antagonistic ideologies. He argued that after the end of the East-West conflict, liberalism prevailed in the form of democracy and a market economy as a final model of world order. In this sense, Fukuyama proclaimed the victory of the culture of liberal democracy. In this context, he emphasises that liberal democracy is the only Geo-cultural and democratic model that, compared to other political systems, can make a universal claim to satisfy human needs within society, to give social recognition and to safeguard human freedom. With this, Fukuyama says that the end of geopolitics and the resulting rivalries and conflicts have come. [xxxviii]
Against the thesis of Fukuyama Samuel Huntington (1993) [xxxix] positioned in his contribution ‘The Clash of Civilizations?’ based on the view that world politics of the 21st century will no longer be marked by political, ideological or economic conflicts, but by conflicts between different cultural groups. In contrast to Fukuyama, he argues with the basic thesis that conflicts between different cultural areas - especially those of the western culture with the Chinese and Japanese as well as the Islamic cultural space - will determine the new world order. Accordingly, in his book entitled ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, he noted that world politics had become uni-multipolar and multicultural after the end of the East-West conflict. From this perspective, political-economic ideologies no longer determine world politics, but they are constituted by cultural spaces. Against this background, he contradicts the thesis of the victory of liberal-democratic philosophy and its universal validity and advocates that the West in the new world order cultural values of other actors must be considered to avoid potentially global conflicts. Unlike Fukuyama, Huntington argues that the dominance of Western civilisation is not based on its superiority in terms of universal ideas and values, as this superiority has been established not through the recognition of Western culture but organised violence. From this perspective, the future world order is determined by different cultures. [xl]
Despite the innovative efforts of the theoretical approaches of geo-economics and geo-culture, which attempted to thematise world political contexts in terms of economy and culture according to the premises of a bipolar world order, their theoretical and methodological approach has been criticised because their treatment of geopolitical reality appears to be reductionist and unsatisfactory. The critics of the geo-economic and geo-cultural models assume that the end of geopolitics has not come [xli] and that the approaches presented are unable to replace the significance of geopolitics as an approach to analysing world politics. [xlii] In this sense, they emphasise that international geopolitics will continue to be determined by the political power struggle over the spaces. [xliii] Also, geopolitics is an action-guiding discipline that deals with power-political, economic and cultural factors to grasp the global political reality. Although the growing importance of economic and cultural factors in the age of globalisation is being pointed out for the analysis of world politics, geopolitics has not lost its significance and influence, [xliv] but its claim of scientific theory has even been rediscovered in terms of power policy aspects for the analysis of foreign trade and world politics. Although culture and economics play crucial roles in international politics as spatial factors, geopolitics deals with these aspects even more comprehensively and, as a discipline with both its comprehensive perspective and its holistic approach, considers culture and economics alongside political power factors on scientific-theoretical and methodological analysis.
Spatial Turn and Paradigm Shift of Geopolitics
In recent decades, geopolitics has been marginalised and space has been displaced into oblivion. [xlv] Furthermore, the importance of geopolitics and the resulting concepts - such as space, identity and object - was hidden in scientific discussions. In recent years, the social and cultural sciences have experienced a ‘Spatial Turn’. In this context, we discuss geopolitics and the ‘Return of Space’. [xlvi] In this sense, space, identity and culture concerning the concept of the Spatial Turn are placed at the centre of political and geopolitical considerations. [xlvii] In this sense, the action-initiating character of geopolitics for the analysis of political reality should be emphasised not only in international relations but also in foreign policy. [xlviii] Although geopolitics was taboo after the Second World War because of its impact on Nazi politics, its theoretical and methodological foundations were questioned and marginalised about space, [xlix] but geopolitics experienced a renaissance at the end of the East-West conflict and its action-initiating character became the focus of politics for spatial analysis of political reality. [l] Thus advocates argue for geopolitics as a design-oriented and action-guiding discipline that deals with space, politics and power. [li] Geopolitics captures spatial relationships and addresses the political reality in the context of politics and geography. Here, in respect of the Spatial Turn, it is argued that space and its significance are indispensable for the object of analysis of politics or foreign policy. [lii]
In the field of tension between hegemonic struggles and equilibrium politics, world politics is divided between different powers and spheres of influence between the major powers. From the point of view of Lacoste (1994), [liii] geopolitics is a socio-historical discourse. In other words, it is ‘a Mode of Representation of the World’. He assumed that we live in a time when the Marxist approach to the many conflicts in the world could no longer claim and provide a sufficient explanation for the conflict. According to the basic premise of his teaching in geopolitics:
‘Geopolitics considers power rivalries to the extent that they are territorial, which is very often the case since the control (or possession) of the territory is a means the people and resources that are here to exercise power or influence. This not only refers to intergovernmental rivalries, which can revolve around spaces and very significant dimensions but also competitions between other forms of political forces, which may involve territories of relatively small dimensions’. [liv]
Lacoste emphasises in his theorem that the geopolitical conflicts at all levels arise from historical developments and their socio-cultural backgrounds are to be addressed. Finally, from his point of view, geopolitics refers to the power rivalries for spaces, for the control of people and resources and the political problems in its geopolitical basis, not only on a global level but that it should also be perceived and analysed at a local level. In his view, it is taken into account that power factor and power politics continue to play a crucial role in geopolitics in current international relations.
Similarly, he argues that, after the end of the East-West conflict, global politics was determined by the geopolitical tensions between hegemony and power balance, which proved to be the basic pattern of current geopolitics. [lv] Current international geopolitics results from both political rivalries and regional economic power competitions where regional coalitions and the integration of nation-states play a significant role together. [lvi] This geopolitical regionalism enhances the political and economic competitiveness of nation-states within a geographical region. Besides, regions' space for manoeuvres is guaranteed by the regional power and their increasing competition between them leads both to the regional balance of power and regional hegemony. [lvii] In a sense of power politics, the new basic structure of world politics arises from rivalries of the major powers through alliances, counter-alliances or regional power-building and counter-power formation between central actors in a political power and economic competition. National states are intensifying their influence policies in the form of regional structures to ensure their competitiveness in international relations. [lviii] By turning to regionalism, which primarily refers to the interaction between political power and the geographical environment, it is possible to look at the relationship of political actors in the international system, which is shaped by foreign policymakers in different regions. In this sense, current geopolitics deals with power-political rivalries and competitions. It is about differentiated spheres of influence of both global and regional dimensions. In this context, geopolitics and its spatial analysis are hegemony, power balance and counter-power formation.
Constructivist Approach of Thinking in Geopolitics
Constructivism is referred to as a meta-theory and an alternative explanatory perspective that has developed in the ontological examination of neorealism. [lix] The constructivists assume that the ‘Social Reality’ does not open up to us directly, but is constituted by the shared ideas (social) about the world. Constructivism transfers the object of investigation from the epistemological level – as knowledge is constituted – to the ontological level – as the world is constituted. From a constructivist point of view, ‘Social Reality’ is the subjective ideas that are constituted by the interaction processes. [lx] The ontological objects are the focus of constructivism. Alexander Wendt is the most prominent reference theorist who has built up the basic premises of constructivism in international relations. Wendt focuses his theory on two basic assumptions: Anarchy is a socially constituted reality and not an exogenous given reality. [lxi] The change of the international system can be explained by the change of identities and interests. Although Wendt (1994) developed his theory with the critique of neorealism, he adopts several neorealist basic assumptions. [lxii] In his main work ‘Social Theory of International Politics’, Wendt accepts the form of anarchy as constituted reality, which is embodied through the interaction processes of its content and structure. In this sense, Wendt says that international politics is anarchic and that states have offensive capabilities. Anarchy is what the states make of it. Where constructivists think it is so made of social relationships. [lxiii]
Constructivism starts from a fundamental ontological assumption that the social structure for the construction of social reality is at the centre of the investigation. Wendt points out that this social structure can only be perceived through the idealistic and material dimensions. This social structure is implemented through the actions of the actors and embedded in an interaction process and produced and reproduced over time. The ideal dimension of the social structure deals with the constitution of the identities and interests of the actors so that they are in a cooperative-reciprocal relationship with other actors. Based on the structuring theory of Giddens, Wendt (1995) considered the basic premise of the ‘Agency-Structure Problem’ at the centre of his theory. [lxiv] He argues that states are the key players in the international system. Still, the role of local-global actors such as institutions, NGOs and social movements should be taken into account. Therefore, Wendt argues that states, on the one hand, and the construction of world politics, on the other hand, have no fixed structural identities and interests. At the same time, the identity and interests of the states are taken from their interactions and actions. Wendt (1999) illustrates how the structures in international relations are constituted by social constructions. Wendt emphasises that the structures and the actors constitute each other. [lxv] The actors are influenced by the structures, and at the same time, the structures are changed by the interaction processes between the actors. [lxvi] The central question of constructivism was how the change in international relations can be explained. For the answer to this question, Wendt referred to the various factors that depend on the structural change in international politics. Wendt expressed that the structural change in international politics is produced, reproduced and transformed by interactions between states. At the heart of constructivism are the changes in the structure of international politics and the changes in the interaction processes between states. Furthermore, constructivism represents an alternative explanatory approach for the description of states. Constructivism focuses on the ‘Social Reality’ of world politics, drawing on the categories of conflict, competition and the cooperation of political actors. Finally, the main question is the constructivist theory of how and under what conditions states constitute their actions and interaction processes in the international system and how they change. [lxvii]
The preoccupation with the social construction of space locates the present statements almost inevitably in the broader catchment area of geopolitics and international relations. Space-related constructivist research questions and their methodological approaches can be found in political geography as well as in political science since the late 1980s. At the centre of research interest of critical geopolitics stands geopolitical discourses and models as targeted to expose geopolitical constructions. [lxviii] By revealing the role of language, one can not only be more transparent about its role in the social construction of space but at the same time make society sensitive to the working of language as the basis of all perception, evaluation and experience. [lxix]
By referring to discursively mediated spatial representations and interpretations, the critical geopolitics approach is of particular interest for constructivist issues. In contrast to the traditional thinking of geopolitics and space-deterministic approaches, geopolitics is understood by critical geopolitics as a social phenomenon; the geopolitical discourse, represented by the actors of international politics. [lxx] This means that geopolitics is losing its status as a prophet of almost natural truth. Conversely, it is understood as a discursive practice of international politics. [lxxi] Geographical knowledge is discursively produced and constitutes and legitimises spatial orders. The study of geopolitics in discursive terms, therefore, is the study of the socio-cultural resources and rules by which geographies of international politics get written. [lxxii] Something can only arise and be perceived as existing if it is delimited from something else and constructed as existing at all. Boundaries are the basis of the structure of the social and natural environment. [lxxiii] Against this background, differentiation and normalisation between the 'own' and the 'other' is a crucial moment in geopolitical practice. The aim of critical geopolitics is not only to deal critically with classical geopolitics but also, and above all, thinking in dichotomies, binary demarcations and differences must be countered with (self)critical thinking that recognises the heterogeneity, diversity and the complexity of the 'other'. [lxxiv] The central question of critical geopolitics is accordingly how geopolitical worldviews are linguistically constructed in the discourse of the actors, how new political spaces are designed in the form of geographical regionalisation and delimitations and how these discursive concepts then develop their dynamics in the political arena. Critical geopolitics shows how political actors promote their territorial-political interests with the means of geopolitical argumentation, with a geographical context and separation rhetoric to ensure its supposed coherence and correctness. Geopolitical constructions including their cartographic representations are not perceived as objective entities, but rather as subjectively constructed for political purposes. In the sense of a constructivist ontology, deconstructivist approaches do not understand Political Geography and especially geopolitics as an objective description of the world, but rather assume that certain concepts of order and power relations are (re-)produced with geographical descriptions. [lxxv] Inevitably, the critical geopolitics research approach thus thematises the relationship between geography, politics and power. Methodically, critical geopolitics is based on Foucault's archaeology and genealogy as well as on interpretative text-analytical methods of literature and linguistics. Discourse analysis is used to formulate research questions, the deconstructivist geopolitical discourses. As can be seen from the brief sketch of post-structuralist geography, such research programs are compatible, in fact only possible if the assumptions of constructivism are supported. [lxxvi] Similar research questions, such as in critical geopolitics, are also investigated and justify recourse to social constructivist premises. From the previous explanations of the underlying theoretical understanding, it becomes apparent that constructivist approaches necessarily aim at texts, symbols, linguistic utterances and representations, and the mediation and representation of the events, therefore, move ahead of the events themselves. [lxxvii] Which narrative ultimately prevails, also because of the means used, is a question of connectivity, which ultimately enables assertiveness. With the discursive context of reality, it becomes clear that objective realities are only valid with reservations. Because the mediation and representation of whatever kind of space and categorisation are based on narratives, a multitude of narratives result from the discursive contextuality. [lxxviii] Which narrative version prevails after all is closely related to the question of power. However, this power is not tied to individual actors but rather is located in the discourse itself. Discourses allow certain representations and language acts and prevent others. A complete break out of discursive contexts is not possible, but individual statements can gradually change the discourse. It is essential, however, that actors cannot make the decision for or against a speech act in the discourse based on a generally valid and thus objective reality, but only in the context of discursive contexts and interpretations. Moreover, actors do not influence how the speech acts performed are received in the discourse.
Critique of the Postmodern Constructivist Understanding of Critical Geopolitics
The approach of critical geopolitics is not free from antinomies, discrepancies and Inconsistencies. The problems range from fundamental, ontological objections to specific aspects of methodological implementation in empirical research. The subjective approach of critical geopolitics, due to the underlying postmodern ontology, does not want to claim absolute truth. The resulting potentially infinite possibilities of interpreting texts give the reader a wealth of options and ideas but make it difficult to get an overview of problem areas and areas of knowledge. At long last, the only thing left to the reader is the certainty of reading just one more 'story'. [lxxix] For a postmodern political science or geography, there remains the danger of sinking into insignificance due to obscurity and uselessness. The criticism of the reduction of multiplicity and the exclusion of the different [lxxx] also gives cause for complaint. The reduction should certainly not be accepted without reflection, but without a reduction in complexity, many aspects are hardly understandable, especially from the sometimes difficult to understand international relations. [lxxxi]
A lack of alternatives, which can hardly be developed from internal logic, weakens the approach, at least for practical interest. Into the bargain, critical geopolitics is not concerned with factual criticism in such a deconstruction. Their goal is not the supposedly better reformulation of such a concept. [lxxxii] But still vibrating in the deconstruction, geopolitical models always include an implicit criticism that suggests an 'other' and has possibly found a better answer. An image of supposed objectivity emerges, especially through the reflexive use and recognition of one's subjective position. This positioning creates the impression of a superordinate meta-level with a prevalent perspective, which leads to a seemingly superior point of view. [lxxxiii] Despite all the criticism of the discourses and the disclosure of hidden backgrounds and strategies, the approach remains just another discourse. A radical breakaway from given structures must remain an illusion. But the multitude of competing points of view also lead to criticism. To understand subjective spatial concepts and conflict views in the interplay of subjective interests and socio-political structures, [lxxxiv] one would have to gain an insight into the thinking of the actors. This is not only denied to outsiders, but also the agent himself in the case of unconscious actions. Another point of criticism that critical geopolitics is often accused of is its focus on elites. The work of statesmen, politicians or influential personalities would be the focus. [lxxxv] However, with the expansion of the work in the area of critical geopolitics, this point of view can no longer be maintained without further ado. The origins of the critical geopolitics program, which undoubtedly mainly relate to the deconstruction of rulership structures, have now diversified. [lxxxvi] The critical geopolitics approach is criticised for its too strong focus on taking nation-states as the primary level of analysis without adequately addressing it.
Besides, critical geopolitics understands itself as a representative of postmodern or poststructuralist approaches that explicitly avoid, basically even doubt the existence of, wanting to make normative statements. But that does not rule out an emancipated critical attitude towards everyday political business. In the public discussion, which demands that science provide statements that guide action, this attitude is met with criticism. On top of that, the approach does not have a clearly defined theoretical concept, which through the reference to postmodern or poststructuralist meta-references, must be denied anyway. The increasing number of publications on Critical Geopolitics and its theoretical background suggests that the debate will continue to expand in the future. What all geopolitical approaches have in common is their dealing with space. However, the underlying ontological and epistemological assumptions differ significantly. While the classic understanding of geopolitics does not question the content of space as such, but only questions its relationship to politics, alternative approaches understand geopolitics and space as negotiable. As the above has shown, critical geopolitics is not one deterministic spatial science in the traditional sense. Rather, strategic political content hidden by discourse analysis should be shown to make the background to action more transparent. Here, the classic thinking in binary categories as opposed to an approach that does not negate the respective specific differences, but accepted them. Nonetheless, it is explicitly aware that the deconstruction is merely a different, further reconstruction that only contributes to an emancipated self-understanding, but cannot deliver an objective result.
The Rapprochement between Classical and Critical Geopolitics
Every scientific discipline has some basic concepts that help us to gain our knowledge of an object that underlies all objects of this science as a node. Science investigates the world on account of such concepts and perspectives. Geopolitics, like other disciplines of social science, knows these basic concepts and has occasionally tried to explain the specific events due to their view in international geopolitics. [lxxxvii] Geopolitics has been outlawed since 1945 and neglected by the disciplines of international relations, political science and political geography. [lxxxviii] Political scientists understand the term geopolitics as an analysis of political-economic phenomena, [lxxxix] which focuses on geographical causal factors and focuses on violent power politics and military-geostrategic interests. [xc] Concerning tectonic shifts in geopolitical structures of world politics and the consequent conflict-laden events following the East-West conflict, it is not only the end of geopolitical thinking that has come in geostrategic categories, but also the end of history. [xci] Against this background, the geopolitical conflicts on international politics are not completed, and political science and international relations can no longer claim or find any meaningful solutions. [xcii] At this time, it seems that the geopolitical approach as an alternative should be able to grasp the new world order, explain increasingly globalised world politics and address change processes of new geopolitical spatial structures when it comes to geopolitical conflicts in the global to theoretically get a grip on the scale because of its complexity and intertwining by the international relations and political science. Accordingly, political conflicts are rarely explained successfully on a disciplinary basis. Accordingly, an increasing dialogue between international relations and geopolitics is indispensable.
In this context, classical and critical geopolitics is at the centre of the discussion. Classical geopolitics is based on objective political reality and existing power structures and, on a theoretical level, complements the consideration of geographical factors and circumstances to explain the evolution and action of states in formulating their foreign policy. [xciii] In the face of this, classical geopolitics sought recurring geographic patterns in world politics. In this way, the contrast between land and sea crystallised and the question of which of these two spaces was more appropriate opened up the opportunity for global power projection. Global power and dominance would therefore depend on whether a country was positioned as a naval or a land power. Thus, the global rivalry between the land and sea powers forms a basic pattern of geopolitical thinking. To summarise, in classical geopolitics, thinking in global power structure occupies a crucial position whereby the domination of either the land or the sea is seen as a prerequisite for the exercise of global power. In doing so, it works in a reductionist, simplifying way, suppressing, simplifying and thus creating controllable geopolitical abstracts. [xciv]
In a postmodernist way, critical geopolitics criticises the scientific-theoretical currents of classical geopolitics and questions their basic statements, which from a positivist point of view are indispensable for science. In this way, the main theorists of critical geopolitics advocate a new kind of Enlightenment that links itself to a new understanding of science through the deconstruction of established science. Critical geopolitics turns the traditional understanding of geopolitics upside down. It assumes that the reality of world politics can no longer be explained from a naturalistic, objective given space and that space is by no means an objectively predetermined quantity for humans, in which the political space of the world of defined reality is unfolded [xcv] They postulate that space is constituted in a discursive practice through both human actions and the emancipatory potential of communication. In this sense, they reject the naturalistic concept of space and the resulting processes of objectifying cognition. [xcvi]
In contrast to classical geopolitics, critical geopolitics is based on the idea that objective reality does not exist outside and independently of human consciousness. [xcvii] Instead, critical geopolitics looks at reality from the subjective point of view of the viewer. From this perspective, the reality consists of plurality and diversity, which are constituted in different cultural, social and political spaces in manifold constructions and forms of organisation. [xcviii] This starts from the view that space is constituted from a constructivist point of view as a social-cultural and political construction through linguistic mediation in specific discourses. [xcix] According to Foucault's philosophy, critical geopolitics tends to define geopolitics as a discursive process from a constructivist point of view, in that geopolitical world views and spatial constructions are not constituted by space, but instead as the result of a discursive practice unfolded through both linguistic mediation and socio-cultural and political actions of space, power and knowledge. [c] Although critical geopolitics distinguishes itself from classical approaches to geopolitics and, according to its understanding of science, excludes space and its unfolding as an objective predetermined category in political reality. [ci]
Since this approach avoids all scientific knowledge of the political reality in the sense of a deconstructivist analysis, its position, and the resulting theoretical and methodological basis, remains controversial. [cii] Furthermore, the basic premises of critical geopolitics, which involve the discovery of territorial power discourses and power relations are considered contradictory in neighbouring sciences. Geopolitics has dealt with the analysis of spatial power relations from the outset about its theoretical starting point, while critical geopolitics questions the ontological premises of classical geopolitics and is characterised by a postmodern discourse. [ciii]
However, classical and critical geopolitics are different in most respects. On the one hand, the classical approach takes on a decisive position with spatial thinking in global spaces of power and thus deserves attention as a contribution to international relations and foreign policy. [civ] On the other hand, the critical viewpoint criticises the classical approach. According to the classical approach, the geographical position of a country affects its foreign policy. Classical geopolitics refers to its ontology and epistemology to a modernist aspect. [cv] In contrast, critical geopolitics is based on a postmodern view. [cvi] The modernist ontological perspective of classical geopolitics regards spatial reality as an objective reality in the exterior that differs from the observer. In contrast, critical geopolitics is based on a subjective spatial-political reality. [cvii] From this context, however, it also follows that the political reality for description and analysis requires a theoretical perspective which allows for a greater technical ability and plausibility of the scientific-theoretical and fundamental maxims of geopolitics in international relations and foreign policy. [cviii] The question, therefore, arises as to what extent the perspectives of classical or critical geopolitics are suitable for describing world geopolitical structures and analysing the geography of world politics, and what the indications are for a new geopolitical approach. That is why a constructivist geopolitics theme is discussed here, and thus the questions of power, space and politics in the international system of states are conceived. For these purposes, both approaches are considered as a possible step to increase the technical ability of the basic science-theoretical knowledge of geopolitics. In this sense, political reality emerges from a combination of objective and subjective dimensions. Therefore, both approaches can complement each other in their theoretical and methodological foundations.
Towards a New Concept of Constructivist Geopolitics
As early as the 1970s, some philosophers tried to emancipate science from normatively binding methods of scientific thinking. Their philosophical approach should free people from the tyranny of philosophical obscurants and abstract concepts such as truth, reality or objectivity. They emphasised that these abstractions can only be logically and comprehensibly derived if their contingency is integrated into the original premises. [cix] True insights are thus degraded to a contextual decision that is always possible differently. The contingency of truths can be transferred to other levels of social action. Therefore, space as an absolutist category seems incompatible with postmodern theoretical approaches.
From this perspective, space, as an unchangeable leading category, must be critically questioned and rather presented as a socio-historical phenomenon. Boundaries that are taken for granted and other apparent facts are problematised. Postmodern approaches claim to deconstruct concepts and try to reflect on the contexts of power through discourse analysis to gain a new perspective on international politics. In doing so, not only are the drawing of boundaries, theoretical or ontological basic assumptions of other orientations or disciplines critically questioned, but one's hypotheses and embedding of power is also critically and reflexively accompanied. [cx] This multidimensionality and openness can also be found in the analytical understanding of postmodern approaches. Such an understanding of postmodernism by John Gerard Ruggie and Alexander Wendt is represented [cxi] and after which there is ultimately a describable reality. Denying more radical views although not the existence of a reality per se, they do not regard its comprehensibility as immediately given, but only through the detour of language. Reality is always discursive reality. The real space in the world is the consciousness of the actors. All knowledge is therefore always relative, shaped by inevitable historicity, contextuality and contingency. While positivist approaches start from the possibility of objective knowledge that reveals seemingly irrefutable truths, the change to constructivist approaches brings about a change of perspective in the sciences. [cxii] The construction and use of knowledge, of apparent, or at least temporary truth, move to the centre of scientific investigation. This makes these approaches interesting for the analysis of spatial order patterns. Geopolitics in particular is branded by the ideologically motivated use of objective facts, also apart from various ontological basic assumptions. On the other hand, post-positivist approaches are more radical in their assumptions and take neither ideas nor interests as given a priori. Because if there can be no objective knowledge, then this knowledge, which cannot be objective either, inevitably leads to aporia. Avoiding this infinite circularity and avoiding the need for an imperative subjunctive can only be successful if the constructivism debate does not focus on the concept of reality, but rather focuses on the knowledge, the perception of reality by the subject, the discursive production as well as the relationship between the subject of knowledge and the object of knowledge. Almost inevitable for a postmodern understanding of constructivism [cxiii] is the preoccupation with language as a central element in assigning meaning to social constructions. [cxiv] Ideal factors that are at the centre of a constructivist ontology are linguistic constructions, which explains the frequent recourse of constructivist approaches to discourse-analytical procedures. [cxv] Linguistic statements are part of discourses and the analysis of linguistic representations therefore often refers to the level of discourse. Since discourses themselves only appear as producers of linguistic utterances, the post-positivist variant of constructivism can also be understood as constructivism focusing on language or as discursive constructivism. Language is not tied back to reality as such; rather, it is about discourses that appear as producers of this reality. [cxvi] This also means that language or the discourse with all the internal logic and mechanisms is the prison that determines the ultimate analysis. However, this also raises the question of which version of reality is understood as a linguistic-social construct that ultimately prevails and how this happens.
Basic Ontological Premises
In the geopolitical context, the global reference level is of crucial importance. The world thus turns out to be a primary geopolitical framework for action and orientation. Geopolitics helps us to understand global politics on a global level. [cxvii] Geography as a science that deals with the investigation of the interrelation of social and political relations and space is at the centre of its research subject on the three levels of human, space and interaction. Thus, geography is the material-ecological and social structures in which the identity of the actor is constituted. In geography, interaction couples space and man into a composite entity, because without these interactions effects no spatial forms and constructions are designed. The people, their space, and the interaction between them are situated in a certain place, which through the personalisation of the interaction causes the peculiarity of the space so that the constituted social identity in one space is different from another space. The population is assigned to states and these states identify themselves with a territory in which the views and beliefs of their population are determined. [cxviii] In other words, one belongs to a territorially determined community in which to live and experience special but shared visions of meaning from a place in the world and the global system. This spatial identification of a community that belongs to a particular territory that is linked to a particular culture can be understood as origin and identity. People are socialised in different territorial sections, how they live, how they understand the information they receive and how they communicate through geographically specific institutions. With the turn to space and currently, the identity of a country is shaped. Rather, the identity of a country is shaped in its unique space, interpreted in its time by dominant and ruling institutions. [cxix]
However, the new emerging transnational actors relativise the thesis of the meaning of territorial states or nation-states. Rather, in the process of globalisation and networking, nation-states are being sealed off across their borders. [cxx] On the other hand, the objection is raised that states are in any case dependent on their external framework conditions and that the sovereignty of nation-states is not replaced in the process of globalisation, but that only the borders of nation-states have been exceeded. In this line, political-economic and social interactions have been located only in a transnational space. [cxxi] Starting from the view that space could also be understood as a container in which state and society act. [cxxii] States have not been abolished by the process of interdependence and transnationality, but have been placed next to the space of nation-states in another space of transnationality. [cxxiii] Against this background, the territorial states and their political spaces and the spatial images and spatial concepts resulting from them as the object of political science as well as geopolitics are still in the centre. Moreover, when spatial thinking is taken into account, there are also transnational spaces in addition to nation-state spaces. [cxxiv]
Space and dealing with it should, therefore, be regarded as a resource of political thought. Insofar as space is of interest as a component of geopolitical or political thinking, it is not about the space itself, but about how it is perceived on a conceptual level and included in the thinking. In this respect, space forms the categorical frame of reference to which scientific thinking and action have an explanatory-theoretical function. Space is thus seen as a factor determining policy. Here it is possible to distinguish between the possibilistic and the geo-deterministic approach. However, this can be differentiating forms, as far as once a geopolitical determinism is represented, which points to classical geopolitics. Classical determinists studied the influence of the natural and objective space as determinant factors on the behaviour of political actors. Spatial relations are subject to a direct influence on politics, in which a biological comprehension of space revealed itself. From this one can distinguish a possibilistic point of view, which does not consider space as an objectively given spatial structure but considers it as a variable factor that can influence political reality. It emphasises that man is part of nature, but he can dominate nature through his wisdom, skill and technology. In the possibilistic school, the effects of social law, rather than natural law, on human habits play an important role. [cxxv] With his dependence on nature, man becomes less and he remains aware that nature limits his possibilities. From the possibilistic point of view, the politics of a state can be arranged according to geographical categories. From the point of view of constructivist geopolitics, different conceptions of space and spatiality in Political Geography can be interpreted. The spatial conceptions diverge depending on the perception of spatial relations. In this way, a different subjective perception of the objective space takes place. In this sense, spatial images reveal a high degree of dynamic in the production of spaces, which is a constant constitutive element of the permanent production and reconstruction of the social. However, this is not only dependent on subjective considerations, but also the objective-material spatial structure.
The identity construction of each state is constituted in its geographical space. Into the bargain, the states are geospatial coverage of their national geography on the international stage. Space represents a social-cultural difference that shows us how one particular group identity is constituted in comparison to another group identity, and how different geographical landscapes reflect different identities. Space represents the extensive interaction contexts that provide the background for the constitution of different identities. Accordingly, the politico-spatial actors pursue the appropriate interests that correspond to their identity construction and result from their geographical space. It should be noted that the different political actions based on different cultural geographies are a series of actions that are taken by political actors in pursuit of their interests concerning the geopolitical space for power. States form their spatial identity with other states with three levels of scale at local, regional and global levels. How a country orients itself to the world [cxxvi] is its spatial identity or geopolitical mental maps. In this sense, geopolitical visions form a basis for the understanding of world politics. They point to the geopolitical situation of a state in which its political space and the resulting structure of interests are recognisable. Based on these geopolitical maxims, a state orients its actions in its spatial relationship structures. This spatial identity presents the geopolitical actions not only of a state but also the actions of its population.
From this perspective, the constructivist geopolitics in this essay is an explanatory approach to the action of states in the context of space and power on a global scale in international politics. From this theory-oriented perspective, not only the idealistic material structures but also the spatial structure of states on the national-international level is examined. I assume that political reality has not only the social but also the spatial dimension. Rather, the identity and political action of states are primarily constituted in space and then constituted in social interaction processes. Each state is a spatial construction with different-specific characteristics compared to other states.
Turning to the constructivist geopolitics, geopolitical thinking can be shown on the one hand with ‘spatiality’, namely the influence of space on politics, and on the other hand in terms of ‘temporality’, including historical developments in spatial policy action and thought systematically reflects it. It becomes clear that the constructivist geopolitics and the investigation of the influence of space-relevant categories in a temporal framework are concerned with the geopolitical structures and the spatial actions of the political actors. Against this background, I assume two premises: First, the spatial factors or the geographic criteria as a basic pattern, and second the historical developments or experiences as temporal basic patterns have a decisive effect on shaping the geopolitical perspective of a state, and geopolitical world structure. Constructivist geopolitics is based on the structural view of the analysis of international politics. The inevitable structure of international politics has been generated by the interaction of actors, and the actors' actions are embedded in this structure and restricted. Constructivist geopolitics emphasises that anarchy derives from the distribution of power on the one hand and the condition of the individual dominant, shared ideas on the other hand. The political reality is characterised by the world order in which the political actor behaves, power-political competition and the distribution of power. The geopolitical world order and the resulting power competition have an important significance for the development of the foreign policy of a state and are regarded as a fundamental framework for the action of foreign policy actors in their spatial relationship structures. In contrast to the classical and critical geopolitical approach, which considers political reality or spatial-political processes either as objective spatial structures or as the result of subjective social structures, they are not a fixed concept and are changed by political actors. I put forward the thesis: Although the global political reality is usually shaped by certain political actors and changeable, they do not change so fast and have a relatively constant character. Regarding the geopolitical world order, I assume that the change in the spatial realities of world politics is occurring gradually and within the constraints of a long historical period called the geopolitical world order.
From this point of view, it is taken into account that power factor and power politics continue to play crucial roles in geopolitics in current international relations. Similarly, Werner Link argues that, after the end of the East-West conflict, world politics was determined by the geopolitical tensions between hegemony and power balance, which proved to be the basic pattern of contemporary geopolitics. [cxxvii] International current geopolitics results from power politics, countervailing power and power-economic competitions at the regional level, in which regional coalitions and the integration of nation-states play a significant role [cxxviii] . It should be pointed out that the states are regarded as the main actors in international politics and that their foreign policy activities are embedded in the national-international levels. This means that the state, as a political actor, once constituted, on a national scale, its identity and interest structure and then in the pursuit of its objectives on an international scale. The structure of international politics is repeatedly produced and changed by the actions of states. From a theoretical perspective, both the idealistic foundations of political action and the material-spatial conditions can be considered to explain the construction of reality in geopolitical analysis and Political Geography.
Constructivist geopolitics assumes that our perceptions and insights about the world are constructed. Moreover, this world outside of our perceptions is constituted in a spatial dimension. From this perspective, the geopolitical world is, on one hand, opened up by the nature of a social-political construction - such as language, symbols and shared ideas - and, on the other hand, the epistemology of constructivist geopolitics is concerned with how this social-political construction is constituted in a spatial construction. In other words, the constructivist view in geopolitics in knowledge production is how states act in international geopolitics through both experience and observation based on the scientific explanatory model of a causal of intersubjective shared ideas, which are based on the reconstruction of geopolitical reality from the discursive-historical processes in a constitutive understanding perspective. Constructivist geopolitics are the two explanatory and understanding perspectives for the analysis of the world geopolitical structure and the foreign policy action of the states in an epistemological viewpoint and focus on the geopolitical actions of political actors on the international scale, which as reality constructions of individual preferences, social rules and spatial relations are derived and constituted. From what has been said, a methodological spectrum of positivist-constructivist methods are to be undertaken. At the same time, the object of investigation and the question of geopolitics should be geared to a combination of quantitative-qualitative approaches, thereby establishing the specific research results and establishing validity about geopolitics.
In summary, one of the most important characteristics of theory formation in Geopolitics is its close interaction with the neighbouring discipline of international relations, which, in line with its concepts and perspectives, can be brought about again in Geopolitics. It should be noted, although the two disciplines examine the same object of knowledge, international relations is challenged by geopolitics because of its space oblivion ‘Raumvergessenheit’. It was shown how the action of states on spatial constructions in geopolitical models has been constituted. It, therefore, presents a possibility that overcomes the problematic separation between geopolitics and international relations through constructivist geopolitics. The Constructivist geopolitics in political geography is characterised by the fact that it focuses on the role and meaning and production of spaces for the production of political realities. Constructivist geopolitics thus makes an important contribution to the interdisciplinary debate between political geography and international relations. In this article, I have taken a position midway between rationalistic-classical geopolitics and post-modern approaches - critical geopolitics from the perspective of constructivist geopolitics to combine the positivistic and poststructuralist approaches in Political Geography and to bridge these two perspectives with a scientific theory to build. I developed this perspective based on a systematic structure and tried to explain world politics from the structure of the international system as the basis for the actions of political actors. The world politics and the actions of political actors can be understood not only in the context of the objective but also on the basis of the subjective space.
Rebin Fard received his, Ph.D. in Political Geography and Geopolitics from the University of Hamburg. His current research examines the development of spatial political relationship structures or new constellations of the post bipolar world order and assessing the prospects for a multipolar world. The author can be contacted at [email protected]
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