Political Geography

The term “Political Geography” has been used in academia since the eighteenth century, when it was understood as a set of information on the political organization of countries, new territories, and markets involved in the world or the national economy.

However, political geography as a particular discipline emerged much later, when representations about its content, categories and methods started to be formed because of the accumulation of geographical knowledge.

Definition of Political Geography

Geography is the science that deals with spatial variation of the distribution of physical and cultural environment, interaction among themselves, and their combined effect on human society as well as the global environment.

Political Geography as Relationship Between Nature and State.

The essential feature of political geography is to determine whether the life of political societies, in
part at least, is affected by the natural frame in which they develop. ( Camile Vallaux)

Political geography aims to determine how political organizations are influenced by and adjusted to physiographical conditions and how these factors affect international relations.( Weigert, H.W.1957)

Political Geography as the Study of Area and Space with Reference Political Activities.

Political Geography is concerned with the geography of political units (S.V.Volkenberg 1963)

Political geography is concerned with the description and analysis of politically organized areas.(Pearcy, G.E. and Alexander, L.M.)

Political geography is the study of variation of political phenomena from place to place in interconnection with variation in other features of the earth as home of man. ( Richard Hartshorne, 1960)

Political geography is the branch of human geography that deals with spatial variation of the distribution of various political phenomena over space: terrestrial, marine as well as atmospheric, inter-relationship among themselves, and the effect of these relations on political socio-economic, and environmental attributes of part or whole of the earth. ( Khan, N.)

Historical Development of Political Geography
Early Stage

The antecedents of Western politics can trace their roots back to Greek thinkers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. The studies were philosophy oriented. Plato wrote the Ruplic and Aristotle wrote the Politics.

Aristotle is known as the Father of Political Science/ Political Geography. He is famous for his statement “Man is a political animal”. He adopted a deterministic environmental approach to considering the requirements for boundaries, the capital city, and the ratio between territory size and population. (Ecumene)

Aristotle (383-322 B.C)

His model of the ideal state talks about the two components- Population and Nature of territory along side following:

  • The optimum size of population and area for the political viability of state and relationship between these elements and the changing technology.
  • Distributional characteristics of the resident population.
  • Locational and Morphological problems of capital city (including strategic and economic considerations)
  • Boundry Vs. frontier as the determinants of territorial expanse.
  • Problems related to spatial integration of state and
  • Notion of co-existence and interdependence within a larger system of the nation-state.
STRABO (63 B.C. to AD 24)

Greek Historian and Geographer

Geographic Laws of Roman empire

  • Discussed big state contrary to Aristotle’s city-state
  • A large size state requires strong central government and a single ruling head of state.

DARK AGE ( 5 th to 15 th Century AD )

Were between the 5th and 14th centuries, lasting about 10000 years where degradation of knowledge was there.

IBN KHALDUM ( 1342-1405)

Muqaddimah: Tribe and City, two important elements in the political hierarchy of Arabs

During 16th to 18th century ( Revival of Europen Studies)

JEAN BODIN (1530-1569)

Six Books of Commonwealth

National character of any state is determined by its Climate and Topography


Was a French judge, man of letters, historian, and political philosopher. He is the principal source of the theory of separation of power, which is implemented in many constitutions throughout the world.

His views on Political Geography is as follows:

  • Warm climates favor the growth of despotism and slavery whereas colder climate encourage democracy and freedom.
  • He proposed global model of political geography which upheld that freedom and democracy tend to increase with distance from equator.
  • Europe is the continent of moderate to small size free nations wherever ruling power in Asia were always despotic, and large empire of subjugated people were the general rule.
  • Asia and Africa will fall in 19th century in the same category as Asia and Europe would be single out as the continent of free nations by virtue of its geographical advantage.

Regarded as a pioneer of Political Geography

William Petty was an English economist, physician, scientist, and philosopher.

He is best remembered for his theories on economics and his methods of political arithmetic.

His idea deals with the state geographical sphere of influence – population, density, capital cities, and the principle of intensity and distance as factors controlling Man’s activities.

CLASSICAL PERIOD ( 18th to early 20th Century)
IMMANUEL KANT (1724-1804)

He was a German philosopher. He lectured on physical geography in the University of Konigsburg, Germany.

Kant is regarded as the father of political geography.

Immanuel Kant provided for political geography, founded entirely on physical geography.

Thus Kant’s ideas of political geography was deterministic.

Recognized Components / Branches of Geographical Knowledge as:

1-Mathematical Geography 2-Moral Geography 3-Political Geography 4- Commercial Geography 5-Theological Geography

KARL RITTER (1779-1859)

Founder of modern geography

Helped in the development of the geography tract

He was also a strong believer of deterministic influences of the nature.

He emphasized on Deterministic vision looking nature’s influence on human culture, stage of culture development varies as the physical environment changes from place to place.

Karl Ritter developed the “theory of organic culture”, wherein he explained that cultures are born, mature and eventually die.

Friedrich Ratzel

Social Darwinism and Ratzelian Political Geography

It should be emphasized that political geography was established as sub-discipline of geography with the publication of Fredrich Ratzel’s “Politische Geographie” in 1897.

He was a professor of geography for sometime in the University of Leipzig, Germany.

Ratzel is sometimes referred to as the father of modern political geography.

Ratzel as a founder of political geography is remembered today for his organic theory of the state and the state and the concept of ‘living space’ ( Lebensraum) in which vigorous societies could expand.

Ratzel’s model portrays the state as behaving like a biological organism; thus its growth and change are seen as natural and inevitable.

He wrote his famous book “Politische Geographie” which was published in 1897. The book was the first systematic work on the subject and is known to have rightly earned for him the title of the founder of modern political geographer.

He was essentially an anthropogeographer and made political geography a part of human geography.

In his book “Anthropogeographie”, published in 1882 and 1899, he made a thorough study about the earth and its people.

Ratzel also gave the theory of organic state, which was based on Ritter’s “theory of organic culture”. The organic state theory basically was a concept of state as a spatial organism, composed of a portion of humanity and a portion of the earth.

Ratzel was greatly influenced by the ideas of Darwin about natural selection, survival of the fittest, and the need of species for space. Thus, basing his work on the ideas of Ritter, Darwin, and also of his own, he compared the state to a living organism.

Ratzel’s six Laws of growth of State

  1. Space of state grows with culture
  2. The growth of the state enlarges following the manifestation of the spread of people and this manifestation must of necessity come before the state will grow.
  3. The state grows through the amalgamation and absorption of smaller units
  4. The frontier is a peripheral organ of the state and reflects, therefore, the strength, growth, and changes in the state.
  5. In growth, the state seeks to absorb the politically valuable area
  6. The general trend toward territorial annexation and amalgamation transmits the trend from state to state and intensifies the tendencies.

The works of Ratzel was not much appreciated in Germany. But this stance of the geographers completely changed after beginning of the World War I.

In Germany, Ratzel’s work found more appreciation by the statement, historians and political scientists than by geographers. But later, German geographers like Hettner, Supan and Schluter welcomed political geography with a new found attitude into the innermost circle of scientific geography.

It is important to note that most of the works of German geographers after World War I were concerned with the restoration of Germany.

However, there are two very important scholars who are worth mentioning for their contribution in political geography, or geopolitics, to be specific. Those two scholars are:

Rudolf Kjellen

He was the one who coined the term “geopolitics” for the first time. He also modified the concept of organic state by raising the level of consciousness of the state to that of a human being. He also added that it was capable of strong emotions.

Karl Haushofer

Haushofer served in the German army and rose to the rank of Major General during the First World War. At the end of the war, he appointed as a professor to teach political geography and military science at the University of Munich.

Two years after the death of Kjellen, in 1924 he founded the Institute of Geopolitics and started the publication of the “Journal of Geopolitics”. He was influenced by the ideas of Ratzel and Kjellen. It is said that his work influenced the Nazi leader, Hitler.

Pre world wars Phase (1897-1914)

Main Features

The imperial rivalry between Great Britain, USA, Germany, and other countries; colonialism; rapid industrialization and urbanization; the appearance of mass socialist parties; the creation of nation-states.

Main Social ideas

Social Darwinism; Organic theory of state “Primordialis” theories of nations and nationalism


The world as a whole, the state

Key Geographers

Friedrich Ratzel, Halford Mackinder, Andre Siegfried

WORLD WARS PHASE (1915-1949)

Main Features

World wars I and II and the consequent remaking of the world political map; creation of the USSR and the bipolar geopolitical world order.

Main Social Ideas

The organic theory of state; the theory of “natural”, Modification to Heartland Theory, and Haushofer’s conception of Geopoliik influenced the development of Adolf Hilter’s expansionist strategies along side Lebensraum concept Rimland Theory


The world as a whole, the state; both of these scales in their integrity

Key Geographers

Halford Mackinder, Isaiah Bowman, Jacques Ancel, Karl Haushofer, Spykman and others


Main Features

Rapid industrial growth and relative social stability in most developed countries; geopolitical rivalry between West and East; decolonization; growing signs of crisis and the appearance of challenges to the U.S

Main Social Ideas

The dominance of positivism and diffusion of new quantitative methods; the wide popularity of neo-Marxist theories, as well as of the ” ecological approach” in electoral studies.


The state; the world as the whole

Key Geographers

Richard Hartshone, Steven Jones, Jean Gottmann, and others

Since 1975

Main Features

Coming of the Post-industrial epoch; globalization of the economy and of social life as a whole; disintegration of the USSR and the socialist system

Main Social Ideas

The theories of all the scales long waves of economic and political development; the Structuralist Theory; the concept of postmodernism


All the scales and their interrelations

Key Geographers

John Agnew, Paul Claval, Kevin Cox, David Harvey, Michel Foucault, Ronald Johnston, Yves Lacoste, John O”Loughlin, Peter Taylor, and others.


By the early 1950-60’s, there began a trend towards shedding some of the environmental baggage of political geography and making the field more narrowly systematic in character.

Human geography, it brought the political dimension to the fore.

This was expressed in three distinctive ways,

  1. Economic and social geography include political variables in their analyses and interpretations;
  2. As geography become more politicized, radical geography was created firmly establishing Marxist geography;
  3. There was the rival of Political Geography coming as Humanistic Geography

First Jrban Conflicts become very common topic in human geography, this in turn become an important part of a new urban political geography.

The second growth was Electoral Geography, where the techniques of the quantitative revolution were, at last comprehensively applied in political geography.

Under Electoral Geography three areas of interest were identified.

  • The geography of voting;
  • Geographical influences in voting;
  • The geography of representation

But this research growth did not overcome the uncoordinated nature of political geography; it anything it enhanced the lack of coherence.

Since 1980s till today

Three groups of Political Geography geographers may be identified.

  1. The first group refers to the status quo i.e. research may of the topics of traditional political geography.
  2. The second group is that of the reformist group. It is in fact dissatisfied with current institutions and society and advocates limited change.
  3. Third are those political geographers who neither accept nor wish to reform the existing social and political order.

Finally, alternatively, “the world system analysis” has been adapted to political geography because geographical scale is itself political.

  • KRISHNANAND GEOECOLOGIST (University of Delhi)

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