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political geography

  It has been conventional to divide the subject matter of human geography into three sub-disciplines dealing with economic, political and social events respectively. This is by no means original but merely mimics the standard division of modern social science into economics, political science and sociology. Hence, we may define what currently goes under the title of political geography as simply \'political studies carried out by geographers using the techniques and ideas associated with their spatial perspectives\' (Burnett and Taylor, 1981). More recently, Dear (1988, p. 270) has argued that this tripartite division is more than a convention and reflects \'the three primary processes which structure the time-space fabric\'. From this position he defines political geography more formally as \'the analysis of the systems of class/group conflict over time and space\'. But the history of political geography is much more problematic than this contemporary division of human geography suggests.

Although it has recently been considered the weakest of those three divisions of human geography, political geography actually pre-dates both economic and social geography and has traditionally attracted the most prominent geographers to its subject matter. Before the emergence of modern geography as a generally accepted academic discipline, the term political geography was applied generally to \'human\' aspects of geography: physical geography was an adjunct of geology, political geography the equivalent adjunct of history. With the establishment of geography in universities, human aspects of geography were given new names, indicating the creation of sub-disciplines. In this way a \'new\' political geography was created alongside colonial geography and commercial geography. This particular trilogy of human geographical knowledge reflects the concerns of the late nineteenth-century society in which the \'new\' geography was being developed (see imperialism). Political geography was established as a sub-discipline by the publication in 1897 of Friedrich Ratzel\'s Politische Geographie. Ratzel is remembered today for his organic theory of the state and the concept of Lebensraum or living space in which vigorous societies could expand. But Ratzel\'s political geography was much more than this. In keeping with the geography of his era he defined a broadly based environmental approach to political geography very different from the more narrow \'political studies\' currently in vogue (see anthropogeography).

The establishment of political geography cannot be discussed without mention of Sir Halford Mackinder\'s \'geographical pivot of history\' (1904) which later developed into the heartland theory. This initiated a geostrategic tradition in political geography that continued to provide a framework for strategic thinking throughout the period of the Cold War in international relations. The first major opportunity for Mackinder to apply his ideas came with the First World War and its aftermath. Mackinder and many other geographers were government advisors at Versailles where the task of redrawing the map of Europe brought geography and geographers into public view. This marks the heyday of traditional political geography both academically and in practice, epitomized by the publication in 1921 of The new world: problems in political geography by the chief geography advisor to the American government, Isaiah Bowman.

We now come to a very controversial episode in political geography: geopolitik or German geopolitics. Drawing on ideas from Ratzel, Mackinder and others, Karl Haushofer attempted to develop a special kind of political geography as a policy tool for the German state. His links with the Nazi leadership made him notorious during the Second World War. Some contemporary writers saw in Haushofer\'s work the blueprint for German conquests and Allied geographers were very strong in their condemnation of this embarrassing skeleton in their cupboard. In hindsight it now seems improbable that Haushofer had as much influence as contemporary enemies imagined; he was in effect a convenient and colourful bogeyman. Nevertheless, memories are long and the aftermath of Geopolitik has been hotly debated. It was obviously a negative factor for the image of political geography, so much so that it has often been blamed for the subsequent decline of the sub-discipline. Once again this position has now been revised so that political geography\'s fortunes are seen to be based on much broader criteria than any one particular episode in its history (Claval, 1984).

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, political geography retreated into the safer realm of study at the scale of the individual state. Although publicly overshadowed by the more spectacular geostrategic studies, state-scale analyses had always been a major component of political geography, the most notable pre-Second-World-War example of this genre being Derwent Whittlesey\'s The earth and the state of 1939. By the early 1950s we see a quickening of the trend towards shedding some of the environmental baggage of political geography and making the sub-discipline more narrowly systematic in character. Important papers of the period (e.g. Hartshorne, 1950) attempted to provide a new rigorous framework for analysing the geography of political areas and the modern state in particular. Basically, these amounted to a theory of the geographical integration of states as a balance between centrifugal and centripetal forces. It was from this point, until about 1970, just after Brian Berry\'s (1969) oft-quoted remark about political geography being \'a moribund backwater\', that the sub-discipline seemed to lose its way. As a \'logical\' division of human geography it continued to be widely taught in universities but there was a dearth of research to back up the teaching. Just as human geography as a whole was going through a major and exciting expansion phase usually referred to as the quantitative revolution, political geography was failing to attract its share of the latest \'new\' geographers. It seemed to many to be stodgy and old-fashioned. Textbooks consisted of the geography of different bits of politics — boundaries, capital cities, territory, administrative areas, elections, geostrategy, etc. — but with no particular coordination of these parts. In shedding its environmental basis, traditional political geography would seem to have lost its coherence (Cox, 1979). This was the real cause of the post-war demise of political geography (Claval, 1984).

Although political geography was in the doldrums in the 1960s this was certainly not true of its related social science, political science. Hence the most obvious solution to political geography\'s problems seemed to be to follow the example of human geography\'s other sub-disciplines and borrow heavily from the theories of the relevant social science. This approach was adopted in the most ambitious textbooks of the period (e.g. Kasperson and Minghi, 1969) but without the expected success. Quite simply, political science was not able to furnish any location theory equivalent to that available in economics and sociology. Furthermore, political geography\'s continued emphasis at the scale of the state was out of step with the intra-state and largely urban concerns of the new human geography (Claval, 1984). Systems theory became widely advocated but rarely applied in a constructive manner (Burnett and Taylor, 1981, p. 46) and in the end the sub-discipline\'s revival came about more because of external influences than through the efforts of the political geographers themselves.

The momentous political events of the late 1960s in Europe and USA — anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, city riots and student rebellions — had a profound effect on all social science. In human geography it brought the political dimension to the fore. This was expressed in three distinctive ways. First, economic and social geography included political considerations in their analyses and interpretations. Second, as geography became more politicized radical geography was created, firmly establishing a Marxist geography. Third, there was the revival of political geography. The first two trends are important for understanding modern political geography because very often they covered subjects which were also dealt with in political geography itself, producing, as it were, \'Political Geographers\' and \'political Geographers\'. The distinctions between the sub-disciplines of human geography were becoming extremely fuzzy in the wake of the criticism of positivism in geography.

Initially two main research areas came to dominate the growing political geography of the 1970s. First, urban conflicts became a very common topic in human geography generally and, in political geography, location of \'goods\' and \'bads\' with their respective externalities became an important part of a new urban political geography (Cox, 1973). This has developed into a welfare geography approach to political geography (Cox, 1979). The second growth was electoral geography where the techniques of the quantitative revolution were, at last, comprehensively applied in political geography (Taylor and Johnston, 1979). But this research growth did not overcome the uncoordinated nature of political geography; if anything it enhanced the lack of coherence. The general reaction was to order political geography information into three separate scales for teaching and research: international/global, national, and intranational/ urban. This framework became almost ubiquitous among political geographers of all persuasions.

There has been a remarkable resurgence in political geography since about 1980, reflected in the establishment of the journal Political Geography Quarterly in 1982, which has subsequently outgrown its quarterly title (it is now just Political Geography). Reynolds and Knight (1989, p. 582) have identified another \'new\' political geography in which \'there is now a concern for social theory and a readiness to examine afresh such central concepts as state, society, nationalism, place and space\'. In addition, in the 1990s, political geographers have even problematized the political (Taylor, 1991) and \'political geography\' itself (Painter, 1995).

Today political geography is a vibrant sub-discipline making important contributions both to understanding contemporary affairs and to the development of geography as a whole. The former is represented by recent studies of new multi-ethnic conflicts and federalism (Smith, 1995) and political geographic analyses of the restructuring of the US state in the wake of globalization (Staeheli, Kodras and Flint, 1997). Globalization is related more broadly to questions of sovereignty and environmentalism and these and other contemporary issues are tackled by political geographers (Demko and Wood, 1994; Agnew and Corbridge, 1995). Political geographers have contributed to debates on the influence of globalization at other scales. In particular, contributors to Cox (1979) emphasize the geographical scale implications of globalization with reference to local politics. Also Taylor (1994, 1995) has investigated the changing nature of the territorial state with specific reference to the conundrum of how you identify the demise of the state when the institution is always changing; his solution is to concentrate on the changing balances between interstateness and trans-state processes. Generally, political geography is moving away from its state-centred heritage towards concern for broader frameworks such as governance.

In terms of contributions to geography, Agnew (1997) illustrates how contemporary political geography equates with the general development of geography by illustrating the spatial analysis, the political economy and the postmodernism/post-structuralism theoretical viewpoints. The latter two are most notably represented by world-systems analysis in political geography, which is based on a critical treatment of scale (Taylor and Flint, 1999), and critical geopolitics (O\'Tuathail, 1996) respectively. However, the sub-discipline has still yet to meet the challenge of feminist geography whose concerns for power in place and space from a gender perspective have only appeared intermittently in contemporary political geography. The study of place/space tensions may be one way of integrating feminist geographical concerns into political geography (Taylor, 1999). (PJT)

References Agnew, J., ed., 1997: Political geography: a reader. London: Arnold. Agnew, J. and Corbridge, S. 1995: Mastering space. London: Routledge. Berry, B.J.L. 1969: Review of Russett, B.M. International regions and the international system. Geographical Review 59: 450-1. Bowman, I. 1921: The new world: problems in political geography. New York: World Books. Burnett, A.D. and Taylor, P.J., eds, 1981: Political studies from spatial perspectives. Chichester: John Wiley. Claval, P. 1984: The coherence of political geography: perspectives on its past evolution and its future relevance. In P.J. Taylor and J.W. House, eds, Political geography: recent advances and future directions. London: Croom Helm, 8-24. Cox, K.R. 1973: Conflict, power and politics in the city: a geographic view. New York: McGraw-Hill. Cox, K.R. 1979: Location and public problems. A political geography of the contemporary world. Chicago: Maaroufa. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Cox, K.R. 1997: Spaces of globalization: reasserting the power of the local. New York: Guilford. Dear, M.J. 1988: The postmodern challenge: reconstructing human geography. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 13: 262-74. Demko, G.J. and Wood, W.B., eds, 1994: Reordering the world: geopolitical perspectives on the 21st century. Boulder: Westview. Hartshorne, R. 1950: The functional approach to political geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 40: 95-130. Kasperson, R.E. and Minghi, J.V., eds, 1969: The structure of political geography. Chicago: Aldine. Mackinder, H.J. 1904: The geographical pivot of history. Geographical Journal 23: 421-42. O\'Tuathail, G. 1996: Critical geopolitics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Painter, J. 1995: Geography, politics and \'political geography\'. London: Arnold. Ratzel, F. 1897: Politische Geographie. Munich: Oldenburg; Reynolds, D.R. and Knight, D.B. 1989: Political geography. In G.L. Gaile and C.J. Willmott, eds, Geography in America. Columbus: Merrill. Smith, G., ed., 1995: Federalism: the multiethnic challenge. London: Longman; Staeheli, L.A., Kodras, J.E. and Flint, C., eds, 1997: State devolution in America. Thousand Oaks: Sage. Taylor, P.J. 1991: Political geography within world-systems analysis. Review 14: 387-402. Taylor, P.J. 1994: The state as container: territoriality in the modern world-system. Progress in Human Geography 18: 151-62. Taylor, P.J. 1995: Beyond containers: internationality, interstateness, interterritoriality. Progress in Human Geography 19: 1-15. Taylor, P.J. 1999: Places, spaces and Macy\'s: place-space tensions in the political geography of modernities. Progress in Human Geography 23: 1-26. Taylor, P.J. and Johnston, R.J., eds, 1979: Geography of elections. London: Penguin. Taylor, P.J. and Flint, C. 1999: Political geography, world-economy, nation-state and locality, 4th edn. London: Longman. Whittlesey, D. 1939: The earth and the state. A study of political geography. New York: Holt.

Suggested Reading Agnew (1997). Muir, R. 1997: Political geography: a new introduction. London: Macmillan. Painter (1995). Taylor and Flint (1999).



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