GEOG 571
Intelligence Analysis, Cultural Geography, and Homeland Security

1.9 Why Study Cultural Geography


There are countless ways a person can approach their profession, and every academic discipline will bring its own perspective to bear on the issues that are the focus of that profession. Cultural geography is no different. The aim of our discipline, and of this course, is to help you develop a critical spatial perspective that enables you to understand, analyze, and evaluate the many complicated cultural factors at play in issues of human security and intelligence analysis. For human security and intelligence analysis alike, it is crucial to understand the ways that places are made, experienced, perceived, and impacted by various actors. Yet places are inherently cultural constructions; accordingly, cultural geography is uniquely attuned to these issues. Lesson 2 of this course will delve deeper into the significance of cultural geography and its relationship to both human security and intelligence analysis.

Course Design

graphic showing weekly topics described in text below.
Figure 1.8: Course Roadmap
Credit: Leanne Sulewski
© Penn State University is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

This week we provided you with the foundations of cultural geography, and lenses or tools that cultural geographers use to frame our understanding of the world: space, place, and scale. These are concepts we will revisit throughout the course.

In the remainder of this course, we continue to build a foundation in cultural (and political) geography relative to issues of intelligence analysis and homeland security. The lecture notes you read here will provide the conceptual and theoretical footing, and assigned articles and other media will give you case studies that use these concepts or that give you data that you can analyze using the concepts. It is important that you read the lecture notes fully; we recommend that you take some notes to help you process the lecture notes and understand the concepts. (And if you’re ever stuck, reach out to us with questions!)

Here is what you can expect to learn about over the rest of this term: In lesson 2 we address some of the ethical aspects of applying human geographic concepts to intelligence operations. One assignment during this lesson is a team debate in which you argue either for or against incorporating human geographic concepts in intelligence.

In lessons 3 through 5, we turn toward a key component of cultural geography: identity. Lesson 3 provides a conceptual introduction to identity at the scale of the individual, and a person’s identity relative to space and place. Lesson 4 addresses the importance of borders and boundaries at the international scale, how we identify places as belonging to particular states, and how borders and identity are related to conflict. Lesson 5 extends and combines the content of lessons 3 and 4 with a hard look at nationalism, separatism, and terrorism.

With lesson 6 we turn our attention to the physical world around us, in the form of cultural landscapes. Here we consider what the actual landscape can tell us about the people who inhabit it, and how we can read issues of human security on the landscape.

In lessons 7 and 8 we consider mobility and migration. Lesson 7 introduces these concepts and discusses their spatiality, while lesson 8 focuses more specifically on the experiences of refugees and asylum seekers and the challenges of human security that arise from the displacement of people due to conflict.

Finally, in lessons 9 and 10 we take a look at two concepts that effectively combine everything else we have laid out: home and peace. Lesson 9 introduces and critiques the concept of home at the scale of individual experience, while lesson 10 scales home upward to homeland and asks you to consider the endgame of human security and intelligence: the desire for peace in one’s homeland—not just as the absence of conflict, but as something more.

To get the most out of this course, we recommend (again!) that you read the lecture notes carefully and take notes as you do. Notice how throughout the course we rely on the previous weeks to inform our understanding of the weeks going forward. Concepts like space, place, scale, and identity recur throughout the course as ways of informing our understanding. We expect that you will apply these concepts in assignments throughout the course.

Finally, remember that the assigned readings and other media are meant to be understood within the context of the lecture notes. During most lessons you will have discussions with your classmates; your posts should use the concepts introduced in the lecture notes to analyze the assigned readings/media, and should engage with your classmates’ ideas and interpretations in a meaningful way, though we also encourage you to bring in any relevant experiences of your own that dovetail with the discussion.