Critical Geopolitics


Critical Geopolitics (Download as PDF)

ULİ 533


MA International Relations

Fall Term 2014

Lecturer: Dr. Murat Yeşiltaş

Classroom: Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Kahire Meeting Room

Class meets: Wednesday 14:00-16:00

Each nation has the geopolitics it deserves

Hans Weigert (1942), Generals and geographers: the twilight of geopolitics


Writing beyond determinism and Darwinism”

  1. Toal


About the Seminar

Welcome to the exciting world of Critical Geopolitics! Here we will deconstruct, re-read and

critique much of what has been taken for granted in the world of global politics. Originally coined by the Swedish political scientist Rudolf Kjellén in 1899 to express the territorial basis of the modern state, the concept of ‘geopolitics’ has been on a rollercoaster of emotions, betrayal and reinvention ever since. Associated with Hitler’s policies of spatial expansionism in Nazi Germany, geopolitics was condemned by some as ‘an intellectual poison’ and ‘pseudo science’ in the 1950s, only to be rehabilitated as term in the Cold War context of the 1970s by security intellectuals and foreign policy advisors in the US, such as Henry Kissinger. Geopolitics has traditionally been used to refer to the study of the geographical representations, rhetoric and practices that underpin world politics. Classically associated with issues related to nation-states, territoriality, sovereignty, international boundary disputes, and the practice of warfare between states, the term now includes such phenomena as global security and global terror. Importantly, geopolitics has historically been tied to the way dominant and powerful sovereign nation-states represent the world spatially with a view to their foreign policy agenda.

The “critical” in critical geopolitics relates to two (linked) aims. Firstly, it seeks to “open up” Geopolitics, as a discipline and a concept. It does this partly by considering the popular and formal aspects of geopolitics alongside practical geopolitics. Further, it focuses on the power relations and dynamics through which particular understandings are (re)constructed. Secondly, critical geopolitics engages critically with “classical” geopolitical themes. The articulation of “alternative” narratives on geopolitical issues, however, may or may not be consistent with a poststructuralist methodology.


The seminar is broadly structured in three parts. We will first approach some of the conceptual issues of what critical geography actually is. This will include quite recent and exciting engagements with notions of classical and critical geopolitics. In Part II, we will turn towards an examination of critical approaches to geopolitics (CAG) by focusing on leading scholars in the discipline. Finally, we will turn towards different geopolitical tradition and cultures including Europe and Turkey.


Throughout the seminar, students are encouraged to relate the conceptual themes addressed to their own research interests and agenda. It will become apparent that critical geopolitics provides not only a conceptual and theoretical critique of traditional geopolitics, but also an innovative methodology of enquiry in the social sciences that can be applied to a wide spectrum of concrete research situations.


We have some basic questions that we discuss throughout the semester such as:

  • What is the “geopolitical imagination”? What is the relationship between the kind of geopolitical imagination found in politician’s speeches and academic or “expert” approaches to geopolitical analysis?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of thinking about the world in geopolitical terms?
  • Are we entering a new age of geopolitics? Is it more justified to speak about geopolitics now than immediately after the end of the Cold War?
  • Why does critical geopolitics contend that geopolitical thinking seems based on objective facts, but in reality is always highly politicized?



Seminar Requirements


In this seminar emphasis is placed on thorough reading and a critical engagement with literature pertaining to the field of critical geopolitics. This means that there will be little formal lecturing on my part. Instead, students will take an active role in the seminar, analyzing, critiquing and debating the weekly readings. The seminar sessions thereby constitute an important training in the development of an articulated capacity of critical thinking that is the cornerstone of academic knowledge construction. The final course grade will be determined as follows:


Seminar Participation 20%

Weekly written analysis of assigned readings 20 %

Final critical paper 60 %


Learning Method


The course is structured around a series of weekly two-hour seminars. The seminars are designed to provide students with the opportunity to explore particular issues in depth and to engage in discussion in a small group context. This format relies on active engagement with the material presented in the core readings and requires students to have read and thought about this material before the seminar. Equally importantly, students will also be expected to engage in continuous independent study, employing the reading list below as a starting point to deepen their knowledge of the subject. There is a vast amount of material available on the topics covered in this course, and the reading list provides only an indicative selection. If you want to deepen your knowledge of a topic and cannot find appropriate material on the reading list, please do not hesitate to contact your course tutors.

Seminar Participation


Seminar participation constitutes a significant part of the seminar grade. It will be assessed not just by the number of interventions of each student during class, but also by the quality of the contribution to the discussion. Students are thus highly encouraged to be well prepared to talk at length about assigned readings. Depending on the number of students, we will have individual or small group presentations on the week’s respective reading. These presentations will form part of the participation assessment. Unexcused absences from class will have a negative impact on seminar participation assessment


Weekly written analysis of assigned readings


Each week students will prepare a short analysis of the assigned readings (around 750 words), to be handed in during the session in which the reading is discussed. This should be a summary giving the gist of the reading, clearly outlining the author’s principal argument and the theoretical perspective employed. It should also include a commentary on your part, in which you may agree or disagree with the arguments brought forward.


Final critical paper


This paper – of around 4,000 words in length – will be a synthesis of the seminar that should establish links between the different readings. You won’t have to refer to every text discussed in class, but may instead focus on those texts that are most relevant to your own scholarly activities. Moreover, this paper should include a separate section, in which you relate the course readings to your own research interests and agenda. You may feel inspired by certain methodological approaches that we will discuss, or particular perspectives covered during the course, such as feminist or popular geopolitics. You may be drawn to particular empirical case studies that you are interested in developing in your own research. In sum, in the final paper you should critically outline the relevance of the seminar’s reading to your future research agendas. This might be quite tentative for some of you at the early stages of your studies, but it is a fundamentally important exercise to spell out these possible connections.


Academic Honesty and Plagiarism

I hold academic integrity in high esteem. All students should be aware of the University rules regarding academic honesty and plagiarism. Cheating of any kind will not be tolerated. Any student caught cheating on any assignment, regardless of the relative weight in the overall grade, will receive an FF in the course, will be reported to the Department Committee. If you are unsure as to what constitutes academic honesty and plagiarism, please read a short information on the following link


Journals about political geography and critical geopolitics


You are strongly encouraged to make use of the wide selection of electronic journals available through the library. The library subscribes to many, but not all, of these journals:


Political Geography                         Geopolitics


Week Schedule


Week 1 General Introduction: Content, Structure and Aims of the Course

No reading

Week 2 Introduction to Political Geography

  • Guntram H. Herb, “The Politics of Political Geography” in The SAGE Handbook of Political Geography, SAGE Publication, 2010, pp. 21-40. (Open Source, available on the following link
  • Agnew, John A., “Introduction”, pp. 1-13 and “Three ages of geopolitics”, 85-
  1. Geopolitics: re-visioning world politics, 2nd ed., Routledge, 2003,

Week 3 From Political Geography to Critical Geopolitics


  • John Agnew, Making Political Geography. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; Second Edition edition, 2012.


Week 4 Classical and neo-classical Geopolitics

  • Gerry Kearns, “Imperial Geopolitics,” in John Agnew, Katharyne Mitchell and Gerard Toal, A Companion to Political Geography, Blackwell Publishing, 2006, pp. 173-187.
  • Wolfgang Natter, “Geopolitics in Germany, 1919-45”, in John Agnew, Katharyne Mitchell and Gerard Toal, A Companion to Political Geography, Blackwell Publishing, 2006, pp.187-204.
  • Klous Doods, “ Cold War Geopolitics”, in John Agnew, Katharyne Mitchell and Gerard Toal, A Companion to Political Geography, Blackwell Publishing, 2006, pp. 204-219.
  • Lesslie W. Heplle (1986) “The Revival of Geopolitics”, Political Geography, Quarterly, Vol: 5, No: 4, October, ss. 21-26.

Week 5 Classical Geopolitics: Mackinderian Geopolitics

  • Gerry Kearns, Geopolitics and Empire: The Legacy of Halford Mackinder (Oxford), 2011.


Week 5 Critical Geopolitics

  1. Ó Tuathail (1999) Understanding Critical Geopolitics: Geopolitics and Risk Society in Geography, Geopolitics and Strategy, eds. Geoffrey Sloan and Colin Gray. London: Frank Cass, 1999.
  • S Dalby, G. Ó Tuathail (1994) The Critical Geopolitics Constellation: Problematizing Fusions of Geographical Knowledge and Power. Co-editors introduction to the special issue on Critical Geopolitics, Political Geography. 15, 451-456.4.
  • John Agnew, “The Origin of Critical Geopolitics”, The ASGATHE Research Companion to Critical Geopolitics, Asgathe, 2012, pp.19-33.
  • Ó Tuathail, G. ve S. Dalby. (1998) “Introduction: Rethinking Geopolitics,” Rethinking Geopolitics içinde, der. G. O’Tuathail ve S. Dalby, s.1-8. Londra: Routledge.


Week 6 Critical Approaches to Geopolitics (CAG1): Gearóid Ó Tuathail and Post-structuralism

  • Gerard Ó Tuathail (2003) Geopolitical Structures and Cultures: Towards Conceptual Clarity in the Study of Critical Geopolitics.In Geopolitical Perspectives on World Politics, by Lasha Tchantouridze, Bison Paper 4, Winnipeg: Centre for Defence and Security Studies, November 2003. (Open Source, available on the following link (Optional)
  • Gearóid Ó Tuathail, Critical Geopolitics: The Politics of Writing Global Space Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996


Week 7 CAG2: John Agnew and S. Corbridge and Political Economy

  • Agnew, J. and Corbridge, S. (1995) Mastering Space: Hegemony, Territory, and International Political Economy. London, Routledge.


Week 8 Exam Week

No Reading


Week 9 CAG3: Simon Dalby and Discourse of Politics

  • Simon Dalby, Creating Second World War: The Discourse of Politics, The Guilford Press, 1990
  • Hepple, L. W. (1992) “Metaphor, geopolitical discourse and the military in South America” Writing Worlds: Discourse, text and the metaphor in the representations of landscape içinde der. T. J. Barnes and J. S. Duncan, London: Routledge, ss. 136e154.


Week 10 Postcolonial and Feminist Geopolitics

  • Derek Gregory, The Colonial Present: Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq (Blackwell, 2004)
  • Jennifer Hydman, “Towards a feminist geopolitics”, The Canadian Geographer, Volume 45,Issue 2, pages 210–222, June 2008
  • Lorraine Dowler & Joanne Sharp, “A Feminist Geopolitics? Space and Polity, 5:3, 165-176,


Week 11 Popular Geopolitics

  • Jason Dittmer, Popular Culture and Geopolitics: Popular Culture, Geopolitics, and Identity (Human Geography in the New Millennium), 2011.
  • Michael J. Shapiro, Cinematic Geopolitics, Routledge, 2008.


Week 12 Geopolitical Tradition: Europe

  • David Atkinson and Klaus Dodds, Geopolitical Traditions: Critical Histories of a Century of Geopolitical Thought: Critical Histories of a Century of Political Thought, Routledge, 2000.
  • Stefano Guzzini, The Return of Geopolitics in Europe?: Social Mechanisms and Foreign Policy Identity Crisis, Cambridge University Press, 2012.


Week 13 Geopolitical Tradition: Turkey

  • Ahmet Davutoğlu, Stratejik Derinlik: Türkiye’nin Uluslararası Konumu, Küre Yayınları, 2001.
  • Pınar Bilgin, ““Only Strong States Can Survive in Turkey’s Geography: The uses of“geopolitical truths”in Turkey”, Political Geography, Volume 26, Issue 7, September 2007, Pages 740–756
  • Lerna Yanık, “Constructing Turkish “Exceptionalism”: Discourses of Liminality and Hybridity in Turkish Foreign Policy”, Political Geography, 30, Sayı: 2, 2011, ss. 80-89.
  • Murat Yeşiltaş, “The Evolution of Geopolitical Vision of Turkish Foreign Policy”, Turkish Studies, Vol 14, December, 2013.
  • Murat Yeşiltaş, Sezgi Durgun ve Pınar Bilgin, Türkiye Dünyanın Neresinde? Hayali Coğrafyalar Çarpışan Anlatılar, Koç Üniversitesi Yayınları, 2014.