Skip to Main Content

Human Geography

This guide highlights the resources for Human Geography, the study of human settlements in their places.

A short definition for Geopolitics

The study of the geographical factors in world politics and inter-state relations. The term is also used more generally to describe regional strategic relations, as in ‘the geopolitics of the South China Sea’. In the present day it covers much the same ground as International Relations, although with greater emphasis on geographical factors such as location, resources, and accessibility. Within this broad definition, there are many variants and the differences between them are significant. In part, these stem from the chequered history of the term ‘geopolitics’, which fell from favour across much of the Anglo-American world after the 1940s.

Its original or ‘traditional’ form arose towards the end of the 19th century. This ‘imperial geopolitics’ can be thought of as the application of Social Darwinism to the state. Combining ideas of permanent national rivalry, the need for state expansion, environmental determinism, and racist ideas about civilizations, this geopolitics was consciously directed towards informing and aiding statecraft among the European imperial powers, as well as the USA. Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan (1846–1914) for example, warned the US government about the need to restore naval power in order to secure US trade interests. His ideas on sea power were adapted by Halford Mackinder, whose Heartland concept is regarded as the exemplar of this style of reasoning. Inspired by Friedrich Raztel and the Swedish geographer Rudolph Kjellén (1864–1922)—who coined the term ‘geopolitics’—a school of geopolitik formed in Germany in the 1920s. Because of its close links with the subsequent Nazi regime, American and other geographers repudiated the term ‘geopolitics’, dismissing it as a pseudo-science of racism and crude environmental determinism. Although geographers such as Isaiah Bowman also addressed strategic relations at the world scale they generally described their work as political geography. A recognizable version of geopolitik did, however, thrive among military academies and military dictatorships in South America well into the 1970s. Those scholars who continued to develop and adapt Mackinder’s ideas to the Cold War situation, notably Nicholas Spykman and later Saul Cohen, emphasized spatial themes rather than environmental or racial ones (see geostrategic region). But within academic geography in general, geopolitics had become a dirty word.

The return of geopolitics was more prominent outside departments of geography and took a clear conservative hue. US foreign policy officials and the intellectuals who sought to influence it, recycled and updated many of the ideas of imperial geopolitics from the 1970s onwards (see Clash of Civilizations; Pax Americana). Among geographers, there were two main responses. On the one hand, some argued for a restored geopolitics stripped of its imperial trappings and more attentive to the changing relations between geopolitical and geoeconomic relations in an era of globalization. In particular, this line of research recognized non-state political actors, including social movements and terrorist networks, and new issues such as global environmental change and the global media. A related but distinct response was the formation of critical geopolitics, which drew more on post-structuralist concepts of discourse and representation to interrogate the texts (e.g. speeches, newsreel, policy documents) of politicians and state-centred foreign policy. There are also a number of other strands in current geopolitics. Jennifer Hyndman outlined a ‘feminist geopolitics’, informed by feminist geographical ideas and focused beyond the scale of the state to consider the politics of social justice, harm, sexual violence, and the public/private divide (see fear). ‘Popular geopolitics’ examines how political geographical ideas circulate through film, television, cartoons, and magazines. ‘Anti-geopolitics’ describes the challenges to state-centred geopolitics from within civil society, including dissidents, social movements, and allied forms of resistance. Its aim is to oppose the idea that the interests of the state and its political allies are the same as the interests of communities. Gerry Kearns uses the term ‘progressive geopolitics’ to refer to the ideas and practices in opposition to conservative geopolitics. It has more faith in international law and cosmopolitan ideals as ways of regulating the relations between states and people so as to avoid conflict.

Castree, N., Kitchin, R., & Rogers, A. (2013). "Geopolitics." In A Dictionary of Human Geography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 21 Jan. 2022

In the Library's collections

To find items about political geography or geopolitics, you can physically browse the shelves in the call number range JC 319 through JC 323 on Berry Level 4 . Other books will be found in the D's, E's, and F's.

When you search the online catalog, use the subject headings "political geography" or "geopolitics." Either subject heading will get you started. Don't forget about the related subject headings.

Introductory reading(s)

Selected book titles

Finding scholarly articles and journal title(s)

Our collection includes several journals which look at Geopolitics. Below is a short list of some of the journal titles we have in our Library's collection. You can use of the article indexes listed below to begin your search or you can use the search box at the top of the page.