How Geopolitics Works

Geopolitics is a component of human geography. To understand geopolitics we must
first understand what is human geography. This is easier said than done, precisely
because geography is a diverse and contested discipline—in fact, the easiest, and increasingly
accurate, definition is that human geography is what human geographers do:
accurate, but not very helpful.

Geography is a peculiar discipline in that it does not lay intellectual claim to any particular subject matter. Political scientists study politics, sociologists study society, etc. However, a university geography department is likely to house an eclectic bunch of academics studying anything from glaciers and global climate change, to globalization, urbanization, or identity politics. The shared trait is the perspective used to analyze the topic, and not the topic itself. Geographers examine the world through a geographic or spatial perspective, offering new insight in related disciplines. For example, a political geographer may study elections or wars (as would a political scientist or scholar of international relations) but argue that full understanding is only available from a geographic perspective.

So what is a geographic perspective? In the modern history of the discipline, dominant
views of what the particular perspective should be have come and gone. In the middle of the twentieth century there was an emphasis upon geography as a description and synthesis of the physical and social aspects of a region. Later, many geographers adopted a mathematical understanding of spatial relationships, such as the geographic location of cities and their interaction. Today, human geography is not dominated by one particular vision but many theoretical perspectives, from neo-classical economics through Marxism, feminism, and into post-colonialism, and different forms of postmodernism. Furthermore, it would also be hard to think of a social or physical issue that is not being addressed by contemporary geography (see Hubbard et al., 2002 and Johnston and Sidaway, 2004 to understand the history of geography and the variety of
its current content).

Geography and places

But still, some guiding definitions are available to introduce readers to the discipline, if
necessary, and also the content and purpose of geopolitics. Human geography may be
defined as: “Systematic study of what makes places unique and the connections and interactions
between places” (Knox and Marston, 1998, p. 3). In this definition, human geographers are seen to focus upon the study of particular neighbourhoods, towns, cities, or countries (the meaning of place being broad here). In other words, geographers are viewed as people who study the specifics of the world, not just where Pyongyang is but what are its characteristics. “Characteristics” may include weather patterns, physical setting, the shape of a city, the pattern of housing, or the transport system. Political geographers are especially interested, among other things, in topics such as how the city of Pyongyang, for example, is organized to allow for political control in a totalitarian country.
However, places (whether neighborhoods or countries) are not viewed as isolated
units that can only be understood through what happens within them. The first definition
also highlights the need to understand places in relation to the rest of the world.
Are they magnets of in-migration or sources of out-migration? Are investors of global
capital seeking to put their money in a particular place, or are jobs being relocated to
other parts of the world? Is a place a site for drug production, such as areas of Afghanistan,
or the venue for illegal drug use, such as suburban areas of the United States or
Europe? Understanding a place requires analyzing how its uniqueness is produced
through a combination of physical, social, economic, and political attributes—and how
those attributes are partially a product of connections to other places, near and far.

Geography and spaces

A further and complementary definition of human geography is: “The study of the spatial
organization of human activity” (Knox and Marston, 1998, p. 2). In this definition space
is emphasized rather than place. The term space is more abstract than place. It gives
greater weight to functional issues such as the control of territory, an inventory of objects
(towns or nuclear power stations for example) within particular areas, or hierarchies and
distances between objects. For example, a spatial analysis of drug production and
consumption would concentrate on quantifying and mapping the flows of the drug trade,
while an emphasis of place would integrate many influences to understand why drugs
are grown in some places and consumed in others.
The economic, political, and social relationships that we enjoy and suffer are medi-
ated by different roles for different spaces. Two banal examples: if you are going to
throw a huge and rowdy party, don’t do it in the library; as a student, when entering a
university lecture hall sit in one of the rows of seats rather than standing behind the
lecturer’s podium. The banality of these examples only goes to show that our understanding
of how society is spatially organized is so embedded within our perceptions
that we act within sub-conscious geographical imaginations. In addition, these two
examples also show that the spatial organization of a society reflects its politics, or
relationships of power. Standing behind the lecturer’s podium would be more than an
invasion of her “personal space” but a challenge to her authority: it would challenge the
status quo of student-lecturer power relationships by disrupting the established spatial
organization of the classroom.

Extracted from the Colin Flint's book "Introduction to Geopolitics"
How Geopolitics Works How Geopolitics Works Tuesday, August 18, 2015 Rating: 5
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