Geography Geographies of Peace
Sara Koopman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 11 January 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0148


Peace is all too often understood to be a universal across time and space, as simply not war. It is also, ironically, widely used to justify violence and oppression. Peace for some people means pacification through military victory. The notion of peace is so contested that other terms are often used instead. Peace is understood not only in relation to war, but in relationship to the (also contested) concepts of justice, development, security, and human rights—all of which have rich literatures in geography (see, for example, the Oxford Bibliographies in Geography article by Alex Jeffrey on Geography of Justice). Yet, even if peace is defined only as a lack of direct political violence, peace is never clearly distinct from war. It is widely argued that, in effect, war is inside peace, shaping everyday political life, institutions, and socio-spatial order. But the norms of armed conflict have also changed. War no longer has a clear beginning or end in time or space, and the lines between civilian and combatant are increasingly blurred. Peace then is not a static endpoint to achieve in time or space. Peace happens inside war, not only in peace zone enclaves but in everyday peacebuilding by all sorts of actors. Whether made in the midst of armed conflict or not, peace is always a precarious socio-spatial process that must be engaged in each day. Peace is always shaped by the spaces in which it is made, as it too shapes those spaces. Peace means different things to different groups and in different times, spaces, places, and scales. Peace can be created at individual, family, community, national, and other scales, and using the term can foster seeing these scales as intertwined. Peace is a located and spatial process—and as such is necessarily plural. As such, geographers are particularly well placed to research it and to draw lines that connect the pieces of differently situated peaces. Nevertheless, there has not been much engagement by scholars of peace studies with the work of geographers, and the work by geographers focused explicitly on peace has been much less than work on war, despite repeated calls over the years for a shift or expansion in focus (see Calls to Action). There has, however, been a small boom both in conference sessions and the literature in the 2010s.

General Overviews

Mamadouh 2005 is a must-read for those interested in how geography has studied and engaged with peace over time and how this has been shaped by different international conjunctures, in particular by the nuclear arms race. The author’s review of early work would be useful for those teaching the history of political geography to graduate students (or quite-advanced undergraduates). Mamadouh 2005 pairs well with Loyd 2012, since the latter focuses on the more-recent literature. If one wants to start with a more succinct but recent overview of the field, McConnell, et al. 2014 has a subsection titled “A brief genealogy of peace in geography,” which manages to cover the highlights in just five pages. Megoran, et al. 2016 is a much more thorough recent overview. It is part of a handbook with chapters detailing work on peace in various disciplines, as well as from various regional perspectives. It is written for nongeographers, but as such it provides context that would also make it quite useful for graduate teaching. If time permits reading only one of these pieces, read this one. Megoran 2013 is useful for those specifically focusing on geopolitics. It is quite accessible and could be used for teaching critical geopolitics to undergraduates.

  • Loyd, Jenna M. “Geographies of Peace and Antiviolence.” Geography Compass 6.8 (2012): 477–489.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-8198.2012.00502.x

    Finds a consensus in recent literature: that peace must be understood as a process and that defining peace is a question of defining violence. Offers a wealth of resources by turning in particular to feminist methods for both researching differentiated forms of violence and organizing against it.

  • Mamadouh, Virginie. “Geography and War, Geographers and Peace.” In The Geography of War and Peace: From Death Camps to Diplomats. Edited by Colin Flint, 26–60. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    Divides the literature at the first use of a nuclear bomb, in 1945, and compares the position of academic geography in relation to war and peace in each period. Looks at how peace has been conceived and studied, and the way geography has been applied and implicated in these processes.

  • Megoran, Nick. “Violence and Peace.” In The Ashgate Research Companion to Critical Geopolitics. Edited by Klaus Dodds, Merje Kuus, and Joanne Sharp, 189–212. Ashgate Research Companion. Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013.

    Focuses on geopolitics as a subdiscipline of political geography. Looks at the ways that classical geopolitics has understood and used the concepts of peace and violence, and then how critical geopolitics and various forms of it (feminist, anti, alter, progressive, pacific) have done so.

  • Megoran, Nick, Fiona McConnell, and Philippa Williams. “Geography and Peace.” In The Palgrave Handbook of Disciplinary and Regional Approaches to Peace. Edited by Oliver P. Richmond, Sandra Pogodda, and Jasmin Ramović, 123–138. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-1-137-40761-0_10

    Thorough overview from early to recent work in geography as it relates to peace. Makes connections between shifts in the literature and the global context (World War II, nuclear arms race, War on Terror). Also looks at how the professional practices of geographers have (and have not) contributed to peace.

  • McConnell, Fiona, Nick Megoran, and Philippa Williams. “Introduction: Geographical Approaches to Peace.” In The Geographies of Peace: New Approaches to Boundaries, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution. Edited by Fiona McConnell, Nick Megoran, and Philippa Williams, 1–28. London: I. B. Tauris, 2014.

    Reviews how peace has been studied in other disciplines and then offers “A brief genealogy of peace in geography” (pp. 7–11). Includes work that does not use the term “peace” per se but speaks to the concept in various ways, and breaks these into useful categories.

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