The spaces we inhabit
Author: Klaus Dodds
Publisher: Oxford University Press
It’s a saying that everybody knows politics, and I would stretch this to include geopolitics as well. In a world dominated by digital environments, global flows and movement, geopolitics becomes this catchphrase that eases our mind, as we oversimplify the way we look at the world, its borders and the spaces we inhabit. That’s where Geopolitics. A very short introduction comes in and shatters our labels by nuancing every aspect of the „real” geopolitics:
„My preferred starting point is to think of the geographical as something that is made and remade. (…) Geography in this context is always in a state of becoming rather than something just ‘fixed’ like a mountain range (…). I see the geographical as inherently strategic – subject to both human intervention and invention but also capable of being enabled, frustrated, emboldened, and disrupted by earthly forces and processes such as weather, dirt, ice, rivers, and ocean currents. / The aim here is to show how geopolitics gets used, and with what consequences, especially in everyday life.” , says the author, Klaus Dodds, while mapping already a complex understanding of the world. As both the geography and the politics in geopolitics are not fixed in their meanings, Dodds sets out to present in a very easy and smart way the history of the concept, its relationships to spaces, identities and even popular culture or culture per se.
Geopolitics. A very short introduction is a great introductory read, written with care and humour, while addressing important issues concerning nation-states, regions, continents etc. and our conceptual images of them: labels like „Orient” and „Occident”, stereotypes that start wars, the narratives leaders create to justify invasions and colonialism and the popular culture (movies, books and more) created to support such narratives and worldviews.
It is also a study on protests, the oversimplified discourses we have on war, power, human rights, race etc., and how geopolitics affects the every day life, although it has this aura of abstract decisions and disconnection from the lived reality – something that doesn’t „concern us”, the regular people.
For instance, when talking about Hollywood and the geopolitics agenda, Dodds underlines a series of important questions that we should have in mind when consuming those movies (or popular culture as a whole): „So instead of looking at, say, a film about US forces operating in Iraq (e.g. The Hurt Locker) and asking whether it offers a realistic portrayal of the conflict, we ask different kinds of question. How does the action-thriller reinforce or unsettle particular framings of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq? Do these artistic interventions help to constitute public understandings of key actors and places, and are they all the more significant when watched and engaged by audiences that are not likely to have any experiences of the places cited? Finally, do popular cultural manifestations such as film, television, video games, books, and so on remind us that geopolitics is fundamentally performance based? Like the generic categories we associate with film and television, are there different kinds of geopolitics based on action-thrillers, dramas, horrors, disaster, romance, and fantasy? What difference would it have made if President Bush, rather than choosing to recreate a Reagan-era techno-thriller in May 2003, had chosen a rather different generic category and film such as a humanitarian drama or a legal-judicial pursuit of criminals rather than terrorists?
Of course, this is just a small example, but a powerful one, as it pinpoints how we operate with labels, prejudices and ready-made definitions of places we don’t know (like Iraq or China, for instance), and geopolitics deconstructs precisely those labels and prejudices, while using others to negotiate power and the right to conquer territories.
Dodds makes a great job in offering examples from political speeches to movies, from online movements to questions of identity and nation-states so as to really make you understand the volatile meanings behind each power struggle in the world.
Ergo, Geopolitics. A short introduction is a mandatory read if you want to see the world with more lenses, instead of just one (which is, usually, your own geopolitical label).