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Eras Of Political Geography

Updated on June 27, 2019
Hadia Malik profile image

I am doing my Bachelors in Peace and Conflict Studies from National Defense University Islamabad


What is Political Geography?

Political Geography is a subject that merges two very diverse fields; Politics and Geography. Politics refers to the actions relating to the governance of a country especially between parties having power. It is said to be who gets what, when and where (Harold Laswell). On the other hand geography literally translates as the study of the earth (Geo= Earth, Graphy= study). In this subject, geography is depicted in a way that it illumines politics while politics is depicted in a way it sheds light on geography.

Political Geography focuses on the following factors:

  1. 1. State: a nation or territory that is organized as one unit under a government or authority. It is a community of people permanently occupying a definite amount of territory while enjoying freedom from external control. The word “state” was derived from “status” by Machiavelli.
  2. 2. Territory: a land under the jurisdiction of a ruler. It can be used to describe ay region or area for example if a salesman has a territory in the Midwest, his territory is there.
  3. 3. Sovereignty: the absolute, supreme authority.
  4. 4. Population: all the citizens living in a particular place

Politics emerges from the concept of nations and states. The interaction of states over a piece of land is political geography. State and nations are different:

  • The state has territory, population, government and sovereignty. It is a non-living entity
  • The nation is a homogenous society, a living entity

A single state can have numerous nations living within it.

Nationalism is crucial for the political independence of a particular nation of people. Nationalism is the identification with one’s own nation and support for its interest, especially to the exclusion or detriment of interests of other nations.

Eras of Political Geography

Political geography is divided into three main eras:

Era of Ascendancy

This era began in the 19th century and lasted until the Second World War. It was introduced by a German philosopher, Fredrick Ratzel, who had great influence over the government. He saw how Germany was landlocked which was not very beneficial for its development as well as the fact that it was getting overpopulated. He mentioned two new concepts:

  • Darwinism: survival of the fittest
  • Neo-Lamarckism: adaptability

He was the one who suggested that Germany needed to gain territory to stay powerful. He used the word “Lebensraum” which means living space. He believed that the state was a living entity which needed to grow like an animal. He also introduced the seven laws of spatial growth (of how states grow).

After Ratzel, Rodul Kjellen, a Swedish conservative classified states based on the linear system. In 1899 he coined the term “Geopolitics”. Both Ratzel and Kjellen examined the dynamics of state and power.

Sir Hatford Mackinder was a professor at Oxford. He was also known as the father of modern political geography. He focused on a global strategy for the balance of power. Along with Mackinder, Alfred Mahame contributed to this field. He talked about military power being dependent on the sea-power. He along with Mackinder divided the history into 3 eras.

  • Pre-Columbian Era: (land power)
  • Columbian Era: (sea power)
  • Post-Columbian Era (Land power, states, continental power)

Mackinder then ordered the world into three main regions:

  • Outer crescent: (across America, Africa and oceans)
  • Inner crescent: (Europe, Southern Asia)
  • Pivot Area: (Eurasian land mass)

He claimed whoever controls the pivot area controls the world.

Era of Marginalization

Richard Hartshorne used a functional approach to political geography. In functional approach political geographers are concerned with issues of ethnic populations in a state, the match between boundaries and physical geographical features as well as the state’s local government areas.

He depoliticized political geography and changed it to just geography. He argued that geography shouldn’t be used to describe political issues rather should be used to analyze the internal dynamics and external functions of the state.

Internal dynamics of a state include communications and ethnic differences. It also includes the force that holds the entire state together: the nation as well as the governing authority of the state. The external function includes the territorial, economic, diplomatic and strategic matters of one state with other states.

Era of Revival

In the 1970s the political geographers reintroduced politics in political geography. The state was now considered a political-economic entity. Immanuel Wallenstein introduced the world system. This was used by Peter Tyler in order to make people understand the significant difference in political, economic, social, variability between territory and centre world approach. They divider the world into three regions:

  1. Centre (rich countries, developed countries, 1st world countries)
  2. Semi-periphery (middle-class countries, developing countries, 2nd world countries)
  3. Periphery (poor countries, underdeveloped countries, 3rd world countries)

They said, despite its power the centre cannot live without the periphery region.

© 2019 Hadia Malik


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