Geography Rising?

Most people don’t consider geography a controversial field, but that perception may change in the wake of the Iraq war and the ensuing shift toward pragmatism and realism in international affairs. Robert Kaplan argues that, “of all the unsavory truths in which realism is rooted, the bluntest, most uncomfortable, and most deterministic of all is geography.” Kaplan’s article outlines the conclusions of geography scholars, past and present, and discusses the future of Eurasia’s conflict-prone “shatter zones.” [%comments]

wasima Wali

geography and globalization go hand in hand...

Jim McCusker

The thing that confuses me about Geography as a separate academic area above, say, 8th grade, is this: how is it separate from cultural studies and geopolitics, and maybe cartography? It seems that there can't be much active research into the spatial extents of physical locations. What would be an advancement? Fractal borders (besides coastlines)?

Tom Woolf

Geography can mean a lot (understatement intended).

What natural resources are available? Is there a strategic location involved? How about something as "simple" as water?

Even locally it can make a difference.... I live in a townhouse community, and for years was blissfully ignorant of some of the trouble the community was having with mildew, deck wood rot, animal infestations, etc. The trees behind my unit are set off from the building by 30-40 feet because the creek behind it bends away from it. However, other units one building over have trees much closer, blocking much of the light during the rainy season. Their decks get mildew and rot that I do not get. Plus, the critters (squirrels mostly) have a much easier route to those units and frequently "visit" the attics.

If it can make that much of a difference locally, imagine what happens globally.... Or, just read the paper. ;-)



Per the article, I think Americans are constitutionally uncomfortable with realism, because we have rarely been faced with terrible choices that other countries have contended with, and thus have not become a very pragmatic nation. Or instead, perhaps it is because of our measure of faith.
The issue of our geography is a perfect example of our lack of realism: we have had all the benefits of our Geography for hundreds of years, and are only now coming up against hard truths, most notably that we are importing most of our energy. This is taking some time to sink in.
Another example is the Iraq war: we already had the example of Vietnam, which formed a perfect argument against the invasion, but many of the players had taken the wrong lessons from that war, and never studied this history. Folks who had were flabbergasted by the whole thing.
We must become pragmatic in the face of realism, now, or face the consequences of watching our society face the triple threat of oil depletion, global warming, and global flattening with a shocked & uncomprehending expression on our collective faces.



indeed- krugman just won a nobel for his insights on geography as a determinant of trade patterns


@Jim: As a geographer (U of C trained, at that), geography covers many different areas. It's suffered in that there's been some encroachment on its turf, so to speak—economists and NEG, urban planners and urban development, etc. But geography as a discipline covers all these things in the human sphere—as well as trade patterns, migration, historical geography, and other things. Furthermore, there's physical geography, which touches on climate change, remote sensing, human-land interactions, and more. Throw in GIS (cartographic design seems to be falling by the wayside, alas) and you get the current status of geography as a discipline today.


This is a common misconception, one that has plagued geography for years and was responsible for the death of many geography departments. Geography is not a separate academic area, instead it is the original interdisciplinary field. So many important questions resist compartmentalization into narrow academic boxes and can only be answered by simultanously bringing techniques and knowledge from multiple disciplines.
Other cross-breed disciplines are flourishing today, from bioinformatics to evolutionary psychology. Because spatial relationships matter to so many widely divergent disciplines, from politics to religion, economics, ecology, climate, geology, etc., it is those overlapping spatial relationships that provide the most practical common ground for bringing the various disciplines together and uniting them into more comprehensive theories and models. That common ground and uniting of disciplines through spatial relationships is geography, whether the disciplines joined are ecology and economics or geology and politics.
Kaplan's main point is that when ethnic, religious, cultural, resource and physical boundaries aren't aligned, tremendous instability can result, and it may be foolhardy to assume that an ideology, whether "freedom and democracy" or "jihad and Islam" can trump hard geographic realities. Geography is definitely ignored at great peril.



and discusses the future of Eurasia's conflict-prone “shatter zones.”

"Shatter" is one of the less flattering comparatives.


On what basis do you claim that "Most people don't consider geography a controversial field"?