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critical geopolitics

  The bringing together of this adjective and noun represents a neat linguistic amalgam to problematize the least problematized part of twentieth-century geographical knowledge. As such it defies easy definition. One leading writer in the field insists that critical geopolitics is neither developing nor negating theory, rather it is \'parasitical\' on other knowledge making tactical interventions instead of indulging in grander strategic thinking (O\'Tuathail, 1996, p. 59). Critical geopolitics has not evolved as an integrated cluster of ideas but is represented as a \'constellation\', a juxtapositioning of studies impossible to reduce to any core set of ideas (Dalby and O\'Tuathail, 1996b, pp. 451-2). The result has been that studies of critical geopolitics \'follow varying research trajectories and engage diverse theoretical enterprises\' (ibid., p. 452). The best way to understand such a motley crew of geographers is to investigate their origins.

geopolitics as an unproblematized set of ideas has surfaced sporadically in the twentieth century to promote political projects of domination. Simple and easy to understand, such a geopolitics emerged to underpin the \'second\' Cold War stoked up by US President Reagan and his advisors in the early 1980s. Rather than simply dismissing this geopolitics as right-wing propaganda to be distinguished from \'objective\' political geography as done previously, geographers interrogated the latest rediscovery of heartlands and backyards to create a critical geopolitics. This was not, of course, the first radical critique of geopolitics but it is the first to produce a large and cumulative body of such studies. Although more traditional radical geography critiques, focusing on the neglect of the economic in geopolitics, emerged as a \'new geopolitics\' (e.g. Agnew and Corbridge, 1989), the prime intellectual stimulus to critical geopolitics came from outside the discipline. The mid-1980s saw the development of a dissident international relations school which explicitly problematized the spatial basis of their own discipline (Ashley, 1988; Walker, 1988). It was from this source that postcolonial and postmodern ideas informed the new critical geopolitics (e.g. Dalby, 1990). Hence, as well as being concerned for spatial practices, representations of space, and their meanings for the practices, were brought to centre stage. Foucault\'s ideas on power/knowledge and space, Derrida\'s deconstructing texts (cf. deconstruction), and Said\'s concern for the spatial Other (see Orientalism) have each been crucial to critical geopolitics (O\'Tuathail, 1996). Recently there has been an important debate on whether this focus upon political discourse has been at the expense of considering political economy, thus putting the emancipatory credentials of critical geopolitics in doubt (O\'Tuathail and Dalby, 1996). However, Agnew and Corbridge (1995) have been successful in setting their critical geopolitics within a world political economy context.

Although eschewing any \'essence\' in content, method or theory, critical geopolitics can be seen to be arranged around three basic ideas. First, there is a politics to all geographical knowledge. Second, there is a geography to all political practice. Third, the first two ideas can only be uncovered by challenging the taken-for-granted. The corollary of these is that although most critical geopolitics might continue to problematize questions of international relations and foreign policy, the logic of the position is not to recognize the taken-for-granted separation of the \'international\' from other politics. This is reflected in the content of a Political Geography special double issue on critical geopolitics (Dalby and O\'Tuathail, 1996a) which while dealing mostly with state and space, is concerned also with social movements, environmental politics and gender. (PJT)

References Agnew J and Corbridge, S. 1989: The new geopolitics: the dynamics of global disorder. In R.J. Johnston and P.J. Taylor, eds, A world in crisis? Oxford: Blackwell. Agnew J and Corbridge, S. 1995: Mastering Space. London: Routledge. Ashley, R. 1988: Untying the sovereign state: a double reading of the anarchy problematique. Millennium 17: 227-62. Dalby, S. 1990: Creating the Second Cold War. London: Pinter. Dalby, S. and O\'Tuathail, G., eds, 1996a: Special Issue: Critical Geopolitics. Political Geography 15 (6/7): 451-6. Dalby, S. and O\'Tuathail, G. 1996b: Editorial introduction. The critical geopolitics constellation: problematizing fusions of geographical knowledge and power, Political Geography 15 (6/7): 451-65. O\'Tuathail, G. 1996: Critical geopolitics. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press. O\'Tuathail, G. and Dalby, S. 1996: Debate and review essay: dissident IR and writing critical geopolitics. Political Geography 15 (6/7): 447-65. Walker, R.B.J. 1988: One world, many worlds. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.



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