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Geographic Perspectives on World-Systems Theory  

Colin Flint

World-systems theory is a multidisciplinary, macro-scale approach to world history and social change which emphasizes the world-system as the primary (but not exclusive) unit of social analysis. “World-system” refers to the inter-regional and transnational division of labor, which divides the world into core countries, semi-periphery countries, and the periphery countries. Though intrinsically geographical, world-systems perspectives did not receive geographers’ attention until the 1980s, mostly in economic and political geography. Nevertheless, geographers have made important contributions in shaping world-systems perspectives through theoretical development and critique, particularly in the understanding of urban processes, states, and geopolitics. The world-systems theory can be considered as a sub-discipline of the study of political geography. Although sharing many of the theories, methods, and interests as human geography, political geography has a particular interest in territory, the state, power, and boundaries (including borders), across a range of scales from the body to the planet. Political geography has extended the scope of traditional political science approaches by acknowledging that the exercise of power is not restricted to states and bureaucracies, but is part of everyday life. This has resulted in the concerns of political geography increasingly overlapping with those of other sub-disciplines such as economic geography, and, particularly, with those of social and cultural geography in relation to the study of the politics of place.


Geography and International Studies: The Foundations  

Ron Johnston

The discipline of geography is built around four key concepts—environment, place, space, and scale—that form a matrix for exploring and appreciating many aspects of contemporary society. The environment is the ultimate source of human sustenance; people have created places to realize that potential; and a spatial structure—nodes, routes, surfaces and bounded territories—has been erected within which human interactions are organised. The relationships between human societies and their environments—now very much changed from their pre-human “natural” state—involve competition for and conflicts over resources, of increasing intensity. Resolution of all but the smallest scale of those conflicts requires a body that is independent of the actors involved and can ensure that agreements are reached and then implemented. Such a body is the state, a territorially bounded apparatus that, through the operation of territoriality strategies, can ensure conflict resolution among its citizenry and thereby resolve environmental problems. Many of those problems—the most severe being global climate change resulting from anthropomorphically induced global warming—are not contained, and cannot be contained, within an individual state’s territory, however. Tackling them requires inter-state co-operation, at a global scale, but the absence of a super-national body with the power to require actions by individual states is a major constraint to problem resolution.


The Role of Geographic Education in International Studies  

Fred Shelley

Geography has been a formal academic discipline in the United States since the early twentieth century. During the first six or so decades of this period, geographic education was dominated by the legacies of environmental determinism and orientalism. These concepts were representative of a Eurocentric worldview that showed contempt for non-Western cultures and economies, treating “natives” of non-Western cultures as backward, ignorant, and lazy. Presentation of material about non-Western areas of the world in geography textbooks and publications has been characterized by assumptions of Western cultural superiority. The late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries saw geographic education undergo considerable transition, as geographers pay more and more attention to perspectives like dependency theory and world system theory. Renewed interest in geographic education coincided with the revival of geography as an intellectual pursuit and recognition of the importance of place in the world economy and in international relations, along with the explosive growth of information made possible by television, the internet, and other technologies. More importantly, the orientalist biases that have historically characterized geographic education in the United States and other Western countries have gradually disappeared. It has been argued that improved geographic education will help overcome geographic illiteracy and promote public awareness of international relations, but such awareness must be intertwined with the changing role of educational institutions in managing information, and to recognition of the changing relationships between education and information.


Advances in Feminist Geography  

Nicole Laliberte, Kate Driscoll Derickson, and Lorraine Dowler

Geography and international studies are both deeply rooted in masculinist, imperialist, and patriarchal ways of viewing the world. However, over the past 20 years, the increase in the number of women within these fields has planted the seeds for the introduction of feminist intervention. Feminist geography is primarily concerned with the real experiences of individuals and groups in their own localities. It can be viewed as the study of "situated knowledges derived from the lives and experiences of women in different social and geographic locations." Feminist geographers consistently seek out techniques which are in line with their feminist philosophies. Although much of the work will be categorized as qualitative, such as ethnographic fieldwork, feminist geographers recognize the need for feminist approaches in quantitative analysis, and techniques alone do not render the project feminist. Rather, feminists in geography argue that all types of data collection must recognize the power relationship between the researcher and the researched. Feminist geography also operates at the local scale and crosses to the global. This is illustrated by geographers who not only study the daily lives of women in a refugee camp but also construct theoretical arguments focused on global forces such as climate change or war in relation to the international migration of women.


Geographies of Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing, and War Crimes  

Carl T. Dahlman

Extreme political violence, i.e., genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes, can be examined within three explanatory frameworks important to geographical thought: nature and society; spatial identities; and geopolitics. Extreme violence is often closely associated with humanity’s failure to overcome human nature. These are fundamentally geographical concerns in the sense that they relate to geography’s central interest in humans and their environment. Scholarly works abound with Hobbesian images, often presenting primitive violence as a pervasive social condition in the absence of an effective ruler. The literature on state failure presumes the same contradiction between nature and the social-political order, but in reverse: without a conventional sovereign, social conflict emerges over basic resources. These theories suggest that the causes of extreme political violence can be identified at the intersection of nature and society, where human behavior cannot be extricated from its biological and environmental condition. Identity is understood primarily as cultural difference. Identities are an important element in any explanation of extreme political violence given that it stems from conflict between sociopolitical groups that are defined by some degree of cultural difference. Classical geopolitical analysis of extreme political violence has retained environmental and biological factors as ultimate causes. They assume that scarcity of resources and population growth drive culture, territorialism, and conflict. In contrast, contemporary and critical approaches focus on the language and action of politics, such as statecraft, diplomacy, and popular mobilization.


Geographical Perspectives on Development Studies  

Lise Nelson

The history of development studies as a field of academic inquiry can be traced most directly back to the Cold War era when public funding for “development studies” went hand in hand with international development as a state project, particularly in the United States. Economists, sociologists, and planners began to take the development of the “Third World” as an object of analysis, partially in response to new funding opportunities and a discursive context legitimating it as a field of study. By the 1960s, geographers began to take (so-called) “Third World” modernization and development as an object of research. Geographers’ engagement with development as intervention, and eventually the exploration of uneven global development as part of the “ebb and flow of capitalism,” can be divided into three waves. The first wave, visible in the early 1960s, took the quantitative spatial models dominant at the time in geography, such as those concerning urbanization patterns, transportation linkages, regional development, and population movement, and began to apply them to “Third World” contexts. This second wave, linked to the turn toward Marxist theory by a new generation of geographers in the 1960s, explored the uneven geography of wealth and power produced by capitalism and launched a powerful critique of development intervention as imperialism. The third wave of debates emerged in the late 1980s–early 1990s and is associated with poststructural and postcolonial critiques gaining traction at the time in geography and related disciplines.


The Rise of Linear Borders  

Kerry Goettlich

Since roughly the late 19th century, international borders have generally been characterized by linearity, or the appearance as a series of one-dimensional points, connected by straight lines. Prior to this, various kinds of frontiers existed globally, some of them being more linear than others, but most included some kind of formal ambiguity. International relations (IR) often takes for granted the historical process which brought about the global linearization of borders, culminating in the late 19th century and still ongoing in ocean spaces and in outer space. But because cross-border relations are the main substance of inquiry in IR, many theories and areas of study in IR contain some perspective on that process, at least implicitly.


Geography, Territory, and Conflict  

Steven V. Miller, Jaroslav Tir, and John A. Vasquez

Traditional, structural theories of international relations may have eschewed the importance of geography and territory to understanding international conflict, but the past 50 years of quantitative scholarship have returned geography and territory to the fore of the discipline. The importance of geography and territory to the study of international conflict first emerged in the discipline of political geography and the early foundations of peace science. Subsequent empirical analyses demonstrated a robust connection between geography, particularly disputed territory, and all phases of inter-state conflict. Explanations for this robust relationship emerged concurrent to the empirical findings. The theoretical arguments are eclectic and focus on territoriality as human instinct, the tangible and intangible value of territory, and whether conflict over territory conforms well to implications from the bargaining framework. Though traditionally the domain of inter-state conflict scholars, civil conflict scholarship has greatly informed this research program on geography, territory, and conflict by expanding and enriching its theoretical arguments and empirical implications. The future of territorial conflict scholarship should focus on reconciling different theoretical arguments about the emergence of peace after World War II, wrestling with the future of territorial conflict as more territorial disputes are settled, providing richer data on territorial claims, and exploring the implications of global climate change for future conflict over scarce and changing waterways and maritime/river boundaries.


Money and Borders  

Mariana Santos and David Bassens

Money and finance are often thought of as forming a uniform, frictionless global space. While events in the last decades have certainly shown how monetary and financial practices and events have consequences that span the globe, this global reach of money and finance is far from evenly distributed. Rather, money flows and lumps unevenly across space, with the financial system connecting some places better than others, producing effects that are geoeconomic, sociocultural, and material in nature. One productive way of opening the black box of “global finance” is by exploring money’s manifold entailments with space and borders. Borders is here meant writ large. It means, of course, the geopolitical borders of the sovereign state and jurisdictional territory, showing how global finance is rooted in the contemporary architecture of states and international relations. But it also means attending to how lines in this cartographical space of geopolitical borders are rearranged, stretched, and inflected through cross-border networks of actors, notably financial institutions, concentrated in key places of international finance. This article seeks to bring to the broader academic debate on money and borders a reading whereby the “plumbing and wiring” of international finance is seen as entailed with practices of “b/ordering” that “dissolve” borderlands and connect space as much as they produce margins, edges, and fringes. Thinking money and finance in terms of borders and frontiers help us understand how money and financial markets (notably, credit–debt relations) materialize differently on either side of financial inclusion and exclusion lines, with implications for the bodies that inhabit them.


Classical Geopolitics Revisited  

Klaus Dodds and Chih Yuan Woon

An exploration of the genesis of classical geopolitics lies in a conviction that location and resources are pivotal to the exercise of political power over territory. The term geopolitics was first coined in the late 1890s by the Swedish writer Rudolf Kjellén. Classical geopolitics, the term used to describe the earliest writings, was for Kjellén an intellectual field that recognised that it was “[a] science which conceives of the state as a geographical organism or as a phenomenon in space.” Later authors thought that geopolitics was more than a science. It was a way of understanding designed to signal a rather hard-nosed or realist approach to international politics. What made it reliable was its ability to generate law-like statements about the importance of the facts of physical geography, such as the distribution of landmass, the extent of the oceans, and the importance of particular, strategically located regions, in determining patterns of global political power. This article reviews in some detail the core features of this field—and interrogates a series of core ideas and principles at play. It also notes some other pertinent characteristics, such as the case that most classical geopolitical writers were committed nationalists and imperialists, under the intellectual influence of social Darwinism. The global map for these authors was fundamentally divided between the imperial great powers and the colonized world, now referred to as the Global South. Finally, these authors were convinced that they were offering a “god's eye view” of the world to fellow citizens and policy makers, uncorrupted by ideology or prejudice. The fate of classical geopolitics is uneven in the English-speaking world, in particular with a formal decline in the post-1945 period, signs of revival in the 1970s and 1980s, decline in the 1990s, and now re-emergence in a new era characterized by nationalism, nativism, populism. Animated concerns about borders and population composition and size provide fertile ground for old ideas to re-emerge about the needs of nation-states to secure their territories and peoples from others. The reader is introduced to a newer field critical geopolitics. It calls into question some of those core principles of classical geopolitics and emphasizes more the deliberate framing of space, the rejection of a hard separation between the domestic and the foreign, and it eschews the idea of the nation-state as a “living organism,” operating in a territorial container. It also draws attention to popular geopolitics, and the manner in which ideas about geography and cognate disciplines are produced and circulated through public cultures. Classical and critical geopolitics share a common concern—geography matters—but where they differ is how, where, and why geography matters.


Intersecting Geographies of Institutions and Sovereignty  

Alexander B. Murphy

The concept of sovereignty developed along with the modern state system. Its institutionalization greatly influenced interactions among political-territorial entities and largely coopted the modern geographical imagination. An international system based on sovereign principles has never been realized, of course, and accelerating globalization, increased mobility, and a revolution in the technology of communication are challenging sovereignty’s functional and perceptual significance in unprecedented ways. Nonetheless, sovereignty’s de jure and conceptual impact remain strong, as evident in everything from nationalism’s continuing hold on the human imagination to the way that projects ostensibly set up to transcend the norms of the modern state system (e.g., European unification) remain closely bound to sovereign territorial ideas and understandings.


Spatiality and World Politics  

Duncan Weaver

Space has always animated world politics, but three spatial orientations are striking. First, the Westphalian orientation deems space a sovereign power container. Second, the scalar takes recourse to the local, regional, national, and global spaces in which world politics is played out. Third, the relational deems space a (re)produced, sociohistorically contingent phenomenon that changes according to the humans occupying it and the thought, power, and resources flowing through it. Under this latter orientation, space is lived, lived in and lived through. Whilst relationality, to a degree, calls into question the received wisdoms of International Relations (IR), the fixity of sovereignty and territory remain. The orientations coexist concomitantly, reflecting the “many worlds” humankind occupies.


Using Geography to Rethink the State  

James D. Sidaway and Carl Grundy-Warr

The state can be viewed as a form of community. Forms of human community and their attendant territorialities have been characterized by extreme variation, both historically and geographically. A profound territorial link exists between the state and the nation, with the former claiming to be a sovereign expression of the nation. A common feature of states is that they all have territorial boundaries. Moreover, the state can be interpreted as a territorial–bureaucratic expression of nationalism, found in many public rituals such as coronations and remembrance days, military parades, national holidays, swearing in of governments, and state funerals. One of the most contentious issues among states, potential states, and nations revolves around sovereignty. Challenges to sovereignty and the historical and geographical complexity of nations may be seen in terms of political landscapes as “sovereigntyscapes.” Related to the question of sovereignty are the so-called “shadow powers and networks” that transcend territorial boundaries. In the field of political geography, in tandem with significant strands of International Relations and Political Science, state power is recognized as a key, albeit not the only form, of territorial politics. The state’s relationship with the ideas of nation and citizen give rise to a host of particularisms, similarities, and contradictions that require theoretically informed yet thoroughly grounded research in divergent contexts.


The Geography of Resource Wars  

Philippe Le Billon

“Resource wars” refer to the linkages between armed conflict and access to natural resources.Geographically, these wars are frequently represented through world maps of “strategic resources,” combining the physical scarcity and non-substitutability of resources with their uneven spatial distribution and relative geopolitical location to pinpoint “hot-spots.” Yet perspectives on the links between war and resources are much broader than the continuation of resource policies through the use of military force. Similarly, the geographical dimensions of, and geographical perspectives on, these links are more diverse than maps of “strategic” materials. Classical geopolitical perspectives have most frequently linked the concept of resource war to interstate conflicts over the supply of strategic resources, giving way to a narrow and militaristic notion of “resource security.” To explain potential relations between resources and wars, political economy perspectives have articulated three main arguments about resources: an institutional weakening effect increasing vulnerability to conflict, a motivational effect increasing the risk of armed conflict, and an opportunity effect associated with resources financing belligerents. The other set of perspectives originates from political science and development economics studies, and is based on the assumption that the significance of resources in wars is largely rooted in questions of resource scarcity, abundance, or dependence.


Critical Geopolitics  

Merje Kuus

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.


The Geography of Diplomacy  

Herman van der Wusten and Virginie Mamadouh

The fields of geography and diplomacy have traditionally been closely intertwined. Diplomacy is conventionally the conduct of statecraft in the nonviolent manifestations of external relations by a specific institution. These nonviolent manifestations can be variously merged with the use of armed force. The political order of the system of states—statecraft emanates from its separate entities—is deeply permeated by geography, notably by the application of territorial control. The art of diplomacy is inextricably linked to spatial perceptions, aims at place-based assets, and plays out in a given geographical context. As the system of states has evolved by incremental increase, functional cooperation, fragmentations and mergers, and internal centralization and decentralization of separate states, the diplomatic institution has had to adapt. As more and more non-state parties commit themselves to transboundary relations or find themselves so implicated, diplomatic practice becomes more widely required, the core of the diplomatic institution still settled in the apparatus of states. This article is consecutively concerned with different aspects of the overlap of geography and diplomacy. In the introduction the ways in which academic geographers have over time shed light on this common ground is briefly reviewed. The next section provides an inventory of the mappings of the diplomatic web to get a sense of its general cartography, followed by descriptions of the diplomatic niche, the places where diplomacy is practiced. In the diplomatic worldview and the geographic frame, the geographic notions that are relevant to the diplomatic institution are followed according to reasoning and travel practice. Finally, shifts in the practice, contents, and functions of diplomacy are dealt with over time, based on the major geographical forces that affect the system of states in and beyond which diplomacy operates.