Geography Political Geography
by
Jason Dittmer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0022

Introduction

Political geography is a subdiscipline of human geography that has an evolving relationship with the other subdisciplines, especially cultural, urban, and environmental geography. Historically, political geography has largely concerned itself with the spatialities of the state, whether internal or external. In addition, early political geography often attempted to derive insights from the natural world, often leaving it open to accusations of environmental determinism. Later, political geography would follow the rest of the discipline in abandoning environmental determinism for quantitative, Marxist, and cultural turns but would generally do so several years after the other parts of the discipline. Nevertheless, each of these turns remains embedded within the contemporary literature of the subdiscipline. For instance, the quantitative revolution can be witnessed in the ongoing (if limited) agenda of electoral geography, whereas economic structuralism continues to feature strongly within political geography, in its world-systems theory, regulation theory, and political ecology variants. The cultural turn can be found throughout the subdiscipline, with its post-structuralist sensibilities dominant in studies of identity, geopolitics, and beyond. Yet, it is not just theoretical orientations that have changed since the 1990s; the entire focus of political geography has been called into question as well, as the cultural turn and the rise of feminism as a major influence on the subdiscipline have highlighted the distinction between “Politics” and “politics.” Politics (with a capital P) can be understood to be the realm of the state and formal political processes. Political geography has traditionally studied Politics in this sense. However, the realization that politics suffuses all spheres of life has not only opened up political geography to new topics and scales of analysis, this move has also blurred the boundaries, in largely productive ways, with neighboring subdisciplines, such as cultural, urban, and environmental geography. In short, political geography has become more diverse, more diffuse, and more central to the geographic endeavor than ever.

General Overviews

The textbook market for political geography has varied a great deal since the 1980s, with numerous books entering the market but really only one consistent presence: Political Geography (Flint and Taylor 2011). Two other textbooks seem to be established as well: Painter and Jeffrey 2009 and Jones, et al. 2012. Interestingly, all three are written by British authors, although not necessarily for British audiences. Furthermore, a miniboom in reference texts for human geography has delivered three authoritative texts meant to summarize the subdiscipline. Gallaher, et al. 2009 is intended for student audiences, whereas Agnew, et al. 2003 and Cox, et al. 2008 are aimed at advanced graduate students at a minimum.

  • Agnew, John, Katharyne Mitchell, and Gerard Toal, eds. A Companion to Political Geography. Blackwell Companions to Geography 3. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470998946E-mail Citation »

    This survey of the state of the subdiscipline is composed of chapters by many leading figures in the field. Chapters tend to be organized by both topic and perspective.

  • Cox, Kevin, Murray Low, and Jenny Robinson, eds. The SAGE Handbook of Political Geography. Los Angeles and London: SAGE, 2008.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book resembles Agnew, et al. 2003 in its scope, ambition, and prestigious contributors. However, the updated topics under discussion show just how fast political geography evolved in the early 2000s.

  • Flint, Colin, and Peter Taylor. Political Geography: World-Economy, Nation-State and Locality. 6th ed. Harlow, UK, and New York: Prentice Hall, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is the sixth edition of a venerable classic. Flint and Taylor maintain the original emphasis (dating back several decades) of this textbook on the world-systems approach to political geography. Where other literatures are drawn on, they are made to fit into the paradigm of the textbook.

  • Gallaher, Carolyn, Carl Dahlman, Mary Gilmartin, Alison Mountz, and Peter Shirlow. Key Concepts in Political Geography. Key Concepts in Human Geography. London and Los Angeles: SAGE, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    This book is not organized as a textbook but is clearly aimed at undergraduate students. The book organizes the material by concept, although why these particular concepts are chosen remains opaque. Very useful for students because of rich examples.

  • Jones, Rhys, Michael Woods, and Martin Jones. An Introduction to Political Geography: Space, Place and Politics. London and New York: Routledge, 2012.

    E-mail Citation »

    This text incorporates a broader array of theoretical influences than does Flint and Taylor 2011 and engages with a range of topics not found in either that text or Painter and Jeffrey 2009, including place consumption, landscape, and regulation.

  • Painter, Joe, and Alex Jeffrey. Political Geography: An Introduction to Space and Power. 2d ed. Los Angeles and London: SAGE, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    This textbook is fairly discourse-centric, focusing on the state, including the international system, elections, redistribution, citizenship, and regionalism. As such, this is a slim volume and is relatively narrow in scope in comparison with Flint and Taylor 2011 and Jones, et al. 2012.

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