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Title: Key Concepts in Political Geography
Author(s): Carolyn Gallagher, Carl T Dahlman, Mary Gilmartin, Alison Mountz with Peter Shirlow.
Date of Publication: 2009 Publisher: Sage
Pages:xiii + 377 ISBN: 978 1 4129 4672 8
Price: Format:Paperback
Target Readership Senior Secondary







Content: 1 - Statecraft; 2 - Modes of power; 3 - Modernity; 4 - Bounding space; 5 - Violence; 6 - Identity.

Review: One of the delights and also downsides of environmental science (and to a lesser extent applied ecology) is that to make any headway one needs to be aware of a wide range of topics. This has been commented on before - environmental science is not the weak alternative in education but the far more difficult one because of its inter-relatedness and complexity. To help, it is necessary to have guides to related topics to see which areas are of importance and how the topic is developing. Currently, Sage is publishing a range of these texts and the most relevant will be reviewed here.

By now, the global warming debate should be so firmly entrenched as a political issue that texts on political geography should be seen as essential rather than ephemeral. Not all texts are equal and so one outlining the fundamentals should be of use. This text attempts to do that for a very wide range of political topics. 28 contributions are divided into 6 sections, the first of which is statecraft - the collection and distribution of power in a given area. States are fundamental spatial units in political geography and their construction helps or inhibits a given line of thought. Even with increases in supranational forms of power like the European Union, nations are still important power blocs. To rule a state one needs sovereignty set in a system of governance and it is these four issues that this section discusses. Part two focusses on power. If we assume that one aim of a nation is to gain/maximise power over its people and other states then the distribution of power is an important issue. Within this section the four key elements - hegemony, territory, geopolitics and superpowers are analysed. It could be argued that this should really be two pairs with territory being a more localised version of geopolitics whilst the pursuit of power is the realm of hegemony and superpowers. Part three takes a more temporal turn with an examination of the ideas of modernity. Given the somewhat longer timespan of the last 500 years, this part looks at how states have grown their power bases and how this has, in turn, affected other nations. As such, this is an extension of the ideas in parts one and two. We started with the individual state and how it was constructed and then moved on to the way it can gather (or lose if on the other side!), power. Now we are looking at the growth of spatial power. A central argument here is that it's only modern states that have had the capacity and organisation to construct power extra-territorially. Colonialism is one such phenomenon but this has needed some part of the colonial nation to be present in the colony. In contrast ideology, also discussed here, is just the exchange of ideas. Two examples of ideology are given when contributors look at socialism and neoliberalism whilst political economy tries to give a more dispassionate view (although its more like capitalism) even if this is less well accepted today. Globalisation also gets a mention as does one of its key agents - migration. Part four turns to the construction of the limits (or bounds) of space. The basic idea here is that to have a nation (territory) it is essential to define its borders such that the territory is the space inside the borders. However, there are two issues with this that need to be discussed. Firstly, power is essentially aspatial and so its elements might be present at a range of scales. Alternatively, a border suggests a single state and this might not be the case (how do we classify the European Union?). Part five explores the realms of violence. As an ultimate political force, violence can have a devastating effect. Today, violence has become recast as 'conflict' whereby certain groups might attack other groups i.e. violence has moved partly out of the state and on to a more global setting. Eventually, conflict subsides and post-conflict situations develop. One particular variant of current interest is terrorism. It's difficult to define and to see what its aims are but its influence is considerable. Finally here we have the notion of anti-statism - the need to remove the current state and replace it with a more local form of power. Part six look at one of the most important aspects of political geography - identity. It argues that power is taken by a group with an identifiable identity (identifiable, that is, because there are others who don't have that characteristic). In this arena nationalism (a given ethnic/religious group in a given space) has more political resonance than state (a group of people - citizens) who have rights to stay within that area. These ideas deal with people how reside in an area. Post-colonialism on the other hand deals with the removal of some people from an area (colonists) and the implications both for those left behind and those who follow to the colonial nation (e.g. unrest between extremes of colonized nationals and their colonisers). All of this works only if we can construct an identity that can be seen by us and by others to be a specific signal (gender, of course, is a sub-set of this).

As can be seen above, this is a very densely packed text outlining the main 28 topics as seen as currently important. Each part starts with an excellent overview and each chapter is broken down into main text, key points and further reading. In addition, each chapter has one or more case studies to illustrate the main points discussed. As such it represents a key text is the delimitation and definition of political geography. It is important that we are familiar with this topic and its theses because we need to gain a better understanding of how power works (or doesn't). We cannot argue that no-one is listening about global warming if we don't understand how best to influence the power blocks that control access. Overall, a very good, brief overview of the topic.





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