GEOG 128
Geography of International Affairs

Geopolitics, Power & Geography

Geopolitics, as the struggle over the control of spaces and places, focuses on power, or the ability to achieve particular goals in the face of opposition or alternatives. - (Flint, 2016, p. 45)

Flint reviews three forms of power important to the understanding of historic and contemporary geopolitical thinking: material, relational, and ideological power. In 19th and early 20th century geopolitical practices, power was seen as the relative power of countries in foreign affairs. In the 19th century, power was based on the size of a country, whereas in the 20th century, the study of geopolitical power became more academic as scholars created numerous indices of power focused on country-specific capabilities such as industrial strength, size, education level of the citizenry, as well as military capabilities. Power was based on a country’s material power or capacity to wage war.

Towards the latter half of the 20th century, discussions of power became more nuanced, sophisticated, and critical of seeing power as a thing that can be possessed. Rather, a relational sense of power came to greater prominence. As such, the “strong” power of one state was understood in relation to the “weak” position of another within a political network (i.e., the United Nations Security Council). In sum, geopolitical social relations create a framework that enables some actors to “force, cajole, or convince another actor to do what is wanted, or for that ‘acted-upon’ actor to resist, to varying degrees” (Flint, 2016, p.46).

Lastly, ideological power is “the ability or need not to force others to do what you want, but to make them follow your agenda willingly without considering alternatives” (Flint, 2016, p. 46). This analysis stems from Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s writing which observed that a ruling class rarely has to exert force to control the working class. Instead, the normative structure which frames our everyday lives incentivizes the working class to behave in a certain “acceptable” or “normal” way while marginalizing and belittling alternative behaviors or structures as “radical”, “abnormal”, or “unnatural.”

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