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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.

Article

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.