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Critical Geopolitics – A Case Study

1 December 2011

Critical Geopolitics – A Case Study

A raised-relief globe, courtesy of Mr iMaax/flickr
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A raised-relief globe

In today's slideshow of ‘alternative geographies,’ we gently suggest that nothing about the geopolitical maps we use today is natural or inevitable. Our selection of maps make an entertaining case that they are indeed the product of human choices and that those choices can have policy-related consequences, for better as well as for worse.

Prepared by: ISN staff

A Critical Geopolitics Slideshow: "Alternate Geographies"


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Most maps today are nothing if not obsessed with pursuing neutrality and objectivity. They aim to represent the world as ‘naturalistically’ as possible. To practitioners of critical geopolitics, however, this quest for objectivity and neutrality is hopelessly quixotic, and possibly dangerous. Cartography is just another form of subjective representation among many. Not only are neutrality and objectivity impossible but insisting on them can hide moral and aesthetic commitments that can come back to haunt us, as yesterday’s lead ISN article illustrated. Indeed, our familiar political world maps which color-code the world into its territorial states seem somehow complicit in obfuscating the inevitable political, aesthetic and moral choices we have to make when representing world geography.

In today’s slideshow of ‘alternative geographies’ – e.g., maps – we gently aim to suggest that nothing about the geopolitical maps we use today is natural or inevitable. The maps we’ve selected make an entertaining case that they are indeed the product of explicit and implicit human choices and that those choices can have policy-related consequences, for better as well as for worse. (Was Kuwait, for example, a 19th Iraqi province, as Saddam Hussein once claimed?)

 In addressing these types of questions, Parag Khanna’s presentation below is a fine example of the refusal to use geography as an intellectual or (geo-)political straightjacket.


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Khanna suggests that if we want to understand Central Asia properly, then we should use the geographical metaphor of a Silk Road rather than the all-too-familiar Great Game. While the idea of a Great Game implies competition among great powers for influence over the region’s resources and populations, the idea of a silk road suggests the economic integration of the region through the development of a common infrastructure. By using explicit cartographic terms and new maps, Khanna urges us to pay more attention to the lines of infrastructure (highways, shipping lanes, and energy pipelines) that cross political borders than those that haphazardly construct them. In doing so, he also reminds us in a powerful way, as does today’s slide show, that geospatial representation has political, aesthetic and moral consequences that we ignore at our peril.


In case you have missed any of our previous content on competing views of geopolitics, you can catch up here on: Geospatial Politics, Geopolitical Approach Number One -- Current Justifications of Classical Geopolitics, Classical Geopolitics Today and Geopolitical Approach Number Two -- Critical Geopolitics

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Logo International Relations and Security Network (ISN)
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