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Human Geography

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


A subdiscipline concerned with the study of the spatial dimensions of politics. Although sharing many of the theories, methods, and interests as human geography in general, it has a particular interest in territory, the state, power, and boundaries (including borders), across a range of scales from the body to the planet. ‘Politics’ refers not simply to the formal organization of political life through government, elections, parties, etc., but all aspects of social life involving governance or where some degree of contentiousness or conflict may arise. Interpreted more broadly, therefore, political geography can encompass all those ideas about the relationships between geography and politics extending beyond academic contexts (see anti-politics).

Political geography has meant and studied different things in different contexts. In the late 19th century it was partly synonymous with human geography as a whole. Friedrich Ratzel is credited with the first use of the term in his book Politische Geographie, in which he aligned non-physical geography with the study of the state in space. Mackinder similarly distinguished political and physical geography. The work of geographers in France, Germany, Britain, and the USA in exploring the geographical foundations of state power is now more commonly classified as geopolitics. Anxious to distance themselves from the German school of geopolitik because of its close links to the Nazi regime, prominent US geographers such as Isaiah Bowman and Richard Hartshorne described their work as ‘political geography’. But, actual empirical research in the field dried up, perhaps because of the taint of geopolitics, and theoretical advance halted. The main exception was work on boundaries and boundary disputes, which was a preoccupation of French and German geographers before the Second World War and of interest to British geographers in the subsequent phase of decolonization. In terms of theory, a notable exception was the work of French geographer Jean Gottmann who, like Hartshorne, tried to understand the relations between the modern state, territory, and identity. His recognition of the significance of iconography and the state idea prefigured later contributions.

In the 1960s, political geography was reframed in terms of political studies from spatial perspectives, with elections, boundaries, and subnational administrative organization among its subject matter (see electoral geography; spatial science). A core problem for example, was the effect of international boundaries on spatial interaction. The impact of the cultural and political upheavals across the world in the late 1960s was twofold. On the one hand, impelled by radical geography and informed by Marxism, feminism, and socialism, swathes of human geography became politicized, i.e. were more attentive to conflict and difference and prepared to challenge the existing order. In one sense, most if not all, human geography could be described thereafter as political. The specific area of a self-described political geography itself enjoyed a revival. The former focus on the state gave way to an interest in the world scale; for example, in Peter Taylor’s development of the world-systems approach, as well as the urban scale, in the work of Kevin Cox, Ron Johnston, David Harvey, and others. Issues of class, and later race, gender, and sexuality came to the fore. In France, Yves Lacoste founded the journal Hérodote (1976) to introduce French geographers to some of the radical ideas of the country’s new generation of social and political theorists. The leading journal Political Geography Quarterly (later renamed Political Geography) was founded in 1982, marking the recovery of the field. Thereafter, political geography generated and responded to the same currents as human geography in general, including postmodernism, post-structuralism, and post-colonialism (see critical geopolitics). To the long-standing interests in the state, power and boundaries, modern courses and texts in the field include sexual politics, citizenship, social movements, civil society, globalization, and environment. Indeed, globalization has reopened older debates about the relations between territory, identity, and boundaries. Wars in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, and the related ‘war on terror’ have prompted a greater interest in violence, both state and non-state (see terrorism; war). Political ecology marks the overlap between political geography and a concern for nature, resources, and the environment. Given the significance of climate change, food security, and oil resources, political geographers have in some ways revived the preoccupations of their 19th-century predecessors for the physical environment, although without the trappings of environmental determinism.

Castree, N., Kitchin, R., & Rogers, A. (2013). "Political geography." 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, F's, and J'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 journal titles & articles

Our collection includes several journals which look at Political Geography. To find them, do the following subject search in the online catalog : "political geography periodicals." Cultural Geography is not a subject heading used in online catalogs. Use the subject search linked prior to see all of the journal titles in the collections. Below is a short list of some of the journal titles we have in our Library's collection. Or you can use the search box at the top of the page.