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Definitions of Geopolitics  

Igor Kovac

International relations literature and the foreign policy community offer and use multiple definitions of geopolitics. More often than not, both camps use the term even without providing or hinting at its conceptualization. This causes muddy thinking and misunderstandings among scholars, as well as misunderstandings between scholars and policymakers. It is unrealistic to expect that at some point, the scholarship will agree on a single common definition, nor is this something worth aiming for. Instead, raising awareness about ontological differences when defining geopolitics, as each definition leads to different (foreign) policy implications, makes more sense for academia and policymakers. Being cognizant of ontological diversity propels clarity of academic writing and informs policymaking. Thus, a conceptual analysis of the term geopolitics is needed to facilitate greater transparency when using the term. Probably the best place to start such an analysis is with the etymology of geopolitics, since no one objects to that: two ancient Greek words: gê (earth) and politikós (statesman). Gê personifies objectivity and determinism, while politikós represents subjectivity and interpretivism. Some definitions of geopolitics stress the first set of characteristics, while others emphasize the second. Moreover, two ontological continua—material–ideational and praxis–science—can be formed from this etymology that form an ontological matrix of geopolitics. Using this matrix, nine different types of definitions of geopolitics can be identified: classical geopolitics; geopolitics as strategic geography; cognitive geopolitics; global geopolitics; critical geopolitics; geopolitics as philosophy of statesmen; anti-geopolitics; geopolitics as logos, pathos, and ethos; and geopolitics as nexus. Each of them carries its unique ontological take on geopolitics, as well as lays particular foundations for policymakers. Such a typology excels other endeavors of classifying geopolitics, since they suffer from one or more vices: they are not systemic, they lack clear classification criteria, they cannot encapsulate all definitions of geopolitics, and their classroom and policy utility are mediocre. Finally, the functionality of the ontological matrix of geopolitics for didactical purposes and for bridging the gap between academia and policymaking is apparent. Namely, making students understand that meta-theoretical issues matter is much easier if visualization is possible. Depicting and explaining ontological positions on the geopolitical matrix is instrumental as similarities and differences become illustrative. Being exposed to the geopolitical matrix equips the people committed to the process of bridging the gap between academia and practice with a new and helpful tool.