Mind the gap: bridging feminist and political geography through geopolitics (2022)

Table of Contents
Political Geography Abstract Introduction Section snippets Querying geopolitics From theory to practice Concluding remarks on a nascent project Acknowledgements References (65) Political Geography Political Geography Political Geography Political Geography Political Geography Political Geography Quarterly Geopolitics: re-visioning world politics Introduction: between woman and nation Borderlands: the new mestiza Worlding geography: geography as situated knowledge Critical geopolitics: discourse, difference, and dissent Environment and Planning D: Society and Space Gender and critical geopolitics: reading security discourse in the new world order Environment and Planning D: Society and Space The environment as geopolitical threat: reading Robert Kaplan’s “Coming Anarchy” Ecumene A feminist geopolitics? Space and Polity Human rights horizons: the pursuit of justice in a globalizing world Introduction: transnational feminist practices and questions of postmodernity Situated knowledges Border crossings Antipode Managing displacement: refugees and the politics of humanitarianism Towards a feminist geopolitics The Canadian Geographer The politics of location The coming anarchy: how scarcity, crime, overpopulation, and disease are rapidly destroying the social fabric of our planet Atlantic Monthly Jadranka Cigelj and Nusreta Sivac: efforts to bring the rapists of Bosnian women to justice Ms. Unnatural discourse. ‘Race’ and gender in geography Gender, Place and Culture Feminism, gender relations and geopolitics: problematic closures and opening strategies Globalization: theory and practice The Spivak reader: selected works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak Power-geometry and a progressive sense of place Cited by (375) Recommended articles (6) Videos

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Political Geography

Volume 23, Issue 3,

March 2004

, Pages 307-322


The intersections and conversations between feminist geography and political geography have been surprisingly few. Feminist geographers’ forays into geopolitics and international relations within political geography have been relatively rare compared to their presence and influence in social, cultural, and economic geography. Likewise, only a few political geographers concerned with IR and geopolitics have engaged with scholarship in feminist geography. In an attempt to traverse this gap, the notion of a feminist geopolitics is elaborated; it aims to bridge scholarship in feminist and political geography by creating a theoretical and political space in which geopolitics becomes a more gendered and racialized project, one that is epistemologically situated and embodied in its conception of security. Building upon scholarship in critical geopolitics, feminist international relations, and transnational feminist studies, a theoretical framework for feminist geopolitics is sketched in the first part of the paper. Feminist geopolitics represents more accountable and embodied political responses to international relations at multiple scales. Its application to pressing issues of security and mobility is illustrated in the second half of the article.


Geographers who find themselves at the crossroads of feminist and political geography have lamented the paucity of scholarship that links the two (Kofman and Peake, 1990, Staeheli, 1999). Despite on-going work to advance a thoroughly feminist political geography (Staeheli, Kofman, & Peake, 2004), the intersections between these two sub-disciplines are relative few, particularly in relation to geopolitics. I aim to strengthen these connections in this paper by making the case for a feminist geopolitics, one comprised of an embodied view from which to analyze visceral conceptions of violence, security, and mobility. While the state remains a vital subject of interrogation in relation to security, it obscures fear and violence at other scales, beyond its purview.

Feminist geography has undergone several transformations since its inception in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A largely Anglo-North American socialist feminist geography has not proven analytically powerful enough to incorporate social relations produced through differences beyond those of gender and class. A cultural turn in feminist geography has shifted more attention to spatialized processes of racialization and racism, highlighting the ways in which space and social relations are mutually constituted (Kobayashi & Peake, 1994). The rise of postcolonial feminisms, and what have been referred to as “feminist geographies of difference,” mark a cultural turn in geography since the late 1980s (Pratt, 2000). Given the dearth of feminist geographical analysis on international relations (IR), the case for a political turn in feminist geography has been made (Hyndman, 2001). Feminist geography is already inherently political in that it advocates change where social, economic, or political relations, including those of gender, are inequitable, violent, or exploitative. This political turn, however, aims to synthesize the small “p” political of feminist geography with the larger “P” political of political geography.

The main focus of this paper is not to develop further the “political” within feminist geography, but to establish common terrain between elements of feminist and political geography and generate grounds for applying feminist geopolitics as an analytical approach. I focus on feminist geopolitics at multiple scales, but without assuming that scale is pre-given or discrete as spatial units of analysis. The article provides a theoretical framework and concrete illustrations of what a feminist geopolitics might look like and how it can be done. A feminist geopolitics attends to unprecedented transnational economic integration, political transformation, and social dislocation (Dowler & Sharp, 2001). In what follows, feminist geopolitics aims to forge more accountable and material conceptions and scales of security.

Two tasks are central to the articulation of feminist geopolitics. First, I outline a theoretical framework that builds upon three diverse, extant literatures: critical geopolitics, feminist perspectives on international relations, and transnational feminist studies. Following Simon Dalby, I take critical geopolitics to be a recent radical school of geopolitics that refers not to a new theory of geography and politics, but is “broadly understood as the critical and poststructuralist intellectual practices of unraveling and deconstructing geographical and related disguises, dissimulations, and rationalizations of power” (Dalby, 1994: p. 595; see also Ó Tuathail, 1998). As Dalby (2003: p. 4) cautions, “recent debates under the rubric of critical geopolitics are always in danger of becoming discussions of social science method rather than engagements with politics, discussions of the relative merits of various theorists rather than critiques of the geopolitical reasoning in vogue in world politics.” I contend that the synthesis of critical geopolitics with feminist politics galvanizes this political engagement and strengthens the project of critically assessing dominant geopolitical discourses.

Feminist geopolitics aims to extend the work of arguably disembodied critical geopolitical analysis by (re)situating knowledge production as a partial view from somewhere (Haraway, 1991, Sparke, 2000).

There is no way to ‘be’ simultaneously in all, or wholly in any, of the privileged (subjugated) positions structured by gender, race, nation, and class… an optics is a politics of positioning (Haraway, 1991: p. 193).

Situating knowledge is the key practice grounding the imagery of vision, particularly cartographies of geopolitical alliance and enmity. Feminist geopolitics then includes embodied epistemologies and the security, or protection, of people. Embodied vision, that is to say ontologically committed, partial perspectives, may have the potential to subvert dominant geopolitical narratives, actions that might have concrete effects on the lives of people who are players in such events. Feminist geopolitics is distinguished from critical geopolitics by adding a potentially reconstructive political dimension to the crucial but at times unsatisfactory deconstructionist political impulses. In the second part of the paper, I sketch several ways in which feminist geopolitics has been brought to bear on conventional discourses of geopolitics and international relations.

The term “feminist” is employed in a broad and inclusive sense to describe analyses and political interventions that address the asymmetrical and often violent relationships among people based on real or perceived social and cultural differences. Just as there are several schools of thought within political geography, there are many feminisms, and this paper does not attempt to fix the term “feminist” in any singular manner. Gender remains a central concern of feminist politics and thought, but its primacy over other positionings is not fixed across time and place. Asymmetrical gender relations that position women as subordinate to men exist across space and time, but it would be ethnocentric, if not racist, to assume that gender is always and everywhere the primary basis of oppression, persecution, or exclusion (Anzaldua, 1987, Mohanty, 1991). Relations of class, race, caste, sexuality, religion, nationality, ethnicity, and other axes of affiliation are potentially exclusionary, discriminatory, and even violent. And while disparities based on these differences are in themselves important, it is the prevailing power relations and discursive practices that position groups of people in hierarchical relations to others based on such differences that remain critical to this feminist analysis. Building on critiques from both political geography and political science, feminist geopolitics decentres but does not dismiss state security, the conventional subject of geopolitics, and contests the militarization of states and societies (Falk, 2000). It attempts to develop a politics of security at the scale of the (civilian) body.

A feminist geopolitical imagination aims to remap realist geopolitics by interrogating scale as pre-given and discrete from other levels of analysis. The invocation of scale is critical in structuring political action (Staeheli, 1994), yet it is historically produced, variegated, and contested (Swyngedouw, 2000). Rethinking scale entails more than deconstructing dominant geopolitical narratives; it involves engaging relationally with processes that are made powerful by the existence of borders, or that appear to exist beyond borders. International borders can serve to naturalize difference, refuse political alliances, and obscure commonalities between discrete spaces and linked oppression. Spivak’s (1990) work urges us to connect local contingencies with the operation of power across borders that construct and reify difference. Studying mobility across such borders represents one tool for problematizing scale and foregrounding power relations that include, but exceed, the borders of nation-states. The analytical and political valence of deploying feminist geopolitics in relation to mobility, violence, and security is explored in the second half of the paper. By analyzing state power at a multiplicity of scales and focusing on embodied epistemologies and subjects, geographers can begin to forge a bridge between political and feminist geography.

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Section snippets

Querying geopolitics

Taylor (2000) has referred to geopolitics as the least problematized aspect of geographical knowledge, tacitly underwritten by Cold War strategy and “real world” political concerns (Agnew, 2003). The emergence of “critical geopolitics” in political geography and political science coincides with the end of the bipolar division of superpowers and their allies. Influenced by poststructuralism and responding to the realist approaches of international relations in conventional geopolitical

From theory to practice

Two interrelated analytical practices provide entry points for research related to feminist geopolitics. First, by redefining scales to employ analyses both finer and coarser than that of the nation-state and global economy, different epistemologies are produced and subjects analyzed. This approach imputes a new understanding of transnational as not only relations that traverse political borders, but as scales of analysis both coarser and finer than the nation-state. Second, by employing the

Concluding remarks on a nascent project

This paper has argued for a analytics of feminist geopolitics that is accountable to the care of bodies, one that shifts scales to include the security of state but in relation to the security and well-being of people who live in and across its borders. From the disembodied space of neo-realist geopolitics, and critical geopolitics, to the historically and geographically situated condition of peripheral subjects, a feminist geopolitics promulgates a multi-scalar approach to analyzing power


I would like to thank the editors of this special issue and of the journal as well as three anonymous referees for their comments on this manuscript. Many others asked difficult questions and offered suggestions to improve it. I am especially indebted to Matt Sparke, Vicky Lawson, Eleonore Kofman, and Lynn Staeheli who all provided feedback on the paper. I am also grateful to the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for its support of this research program. All errors and

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