Origin and Context of the Term Anti-Geopolitics

The term anti-geopolitics emerged in the English speaking literature in the mid 1990s. Although the term is briefly mentioned by O  Tuathail in 1996 (then spelt without hyphen as antigeopolitics), it was only in 1998 that it was conceptually developed in the first edition of the Geopolitics Reader, edited by O  Tuathail, Dalby and Routledge. Subsequently, Routledge has published slightly edited versions of this first elaboration. Various authors have since made reference to the term anti-geopolitics, yet mostly without engaging conceptually with it in any great detail. Anti-geopolitics should be regarded as a recent and historically contingent concept that can still be developed further. It must also be seen in the wider context of the evolution of geopolitical thought and practice.

As its prefix anti-suggests, it relates critically to dominant geopolitical thinking and discourse. As such, the notion of anti-geopolitics must be placed within the school of critical geopolitics that itself emerged in Anglo American geographical writing in the 1980s. This school of thought offers a radical critique at the ways in which geographies of global politics are constructed through discourses and representational practices of statecraft intellectuals. It sees itself as a way of dealing critically with the often silenced imperial and colonial heritage of the discipline of geography and the ways in which it has been conscripted into political service. Even though many practitioners of critical geopolitics mentioned below do not employ the term anti-geopolitics, it is important to understand the context and intellectual soil out of which this notion arose.

Lacoste, Herodote, and Critical Geopolitics

Geography and geographical reasoning are central to political power, military strategy, and warfare. As the French geographer Yves Lacoste memorably put it in a polemic publication in 1976 – seen by many as a revolutionary manifesto for geography – la geographie, c?a sert, d'abord, a` faire la guerre, the purpose of geography is above all warfare. What this provocative title and book intended to challenge was the commonplace assumption that academic geography was essentially about the production of objective, universal knowledge that would provide the citizenry with basic geographical facts, while the discipline's military logic was hidden or ignored. Breaking with this lopsided understanding, Lacoste (1985) argued that geography should rather be about knowing how to think about space in order to know how to organize and fight there (''savoir penser l'espace pour savoir s'y organiser, pour savoir y combattre'').

Lacoste was one of many radical voices based at the experimental University of Paris VIII at Vincennes that arose as a result of the student revolt of 1968 and encouraged critical, Marxist, and anarchist thinking. In the same year, 1976, he founded the radical geographical journal Herodote. The launch of this journal was to transform French geography away from the distinct Vidalian tradition of regional geography toward more critical perspectives on the role of geographical reasoning in policy circles and military strategy. Its first issues were thus dedicated to liberation struggles and revolutionary movements in the Third World. Although Lacoste did not use the term anti-geopolitics, these are the very realms of anti-geopolitical struggle, according to later enunciations by scholars from the Anglophone critical geopolitics school. There is then an important overlapping of concerns between the French radical geographical vision a` la Lacoste and Herodote on the one hand, and Anglophone critical geopolitics on the other, even though a mutual lack of engagement has to be deplored between these two radical geographical schools of thought.

Modern Geopolitical Discourse, the Cold War, and Popular Geopolitics

Anti-geopolitics in its broadest meaning has been suggested to embrace all kinds of resistances to the practices of geopolitics. As such it does not only concern itself with the material counter hegemonic struggles of anticolonial, anti-imperial, independence, and liberation movements. Since geopolitics deploys representations of the world that serve the interests of the ruling political and economic elite, anti-geopolitics pretends to challenge the very discourses and visualizations of these representations. The beginnings of modern geopolitical discourse can be traced back to encounters between Europeans and non Europeans since the fifteenth century. As Agnew and Corbridge argue, modern geopolitical discourse is characterized by its representation of others as backward and permanently disadvantaged. This discursive strategy fixes non Europeans in a constant state of inferiority and savagery, out of which they can only emerge by changing into something they are not and adapting European traits. Such a powerful discursive separation of the world into Europeans and non Europeans underlies much racist, xenophobic, and antisemitic thought until today.

Agnew later went on to suggest that the most distinguishing feature of the modern geopolitical imagination is a global visualization without which world politics would not be possible. During the Cold War, for example, Western geopolitical discourse divided the world into three broad categories: 'the East', which stood for Communism and totalitarianism, portrayed as an essentially negative (even evil) world view; 'the West' was equated with freedom, democracy, and a positive image; and 'the Third World', which lay somewhere in between as the space where the battle between 'East' and 'West' was played out. Such a simplification of the spatial organization of the world may appear almost too na??ve to be true. Yet, it constituted a powerful global visualization that oriented foreign policy and justified political, economic, and military interventions by 'the West' and 'the East' elsewhere. Moreover, these practices of dividing the world into a simplified pattern of easily understandable opposites were not restricted to political elites and their advisors. They were also reproduced in the geopolitical cultures of the everyday. A popular geopolitics emerged that reproduced such commonsense geopolitical reasoning in films, television, novels, newspapers, and journals.

The War on Terror and Moral Boundaries

Anti-geopolitics intends to provide an interrogation of such a global visualization and the ways in which these representational practices produce physical and moral boundaries that divide the world into 'us' and 'them'. Today such moral divisions can, maybe best, be seen in the discourses of the so called 'war on terror' that have revived in many ways the dichotomous discursive separation practices of the Cold War period. US President George W. Bush's announcement in September 2001 – 9 days after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center – that ''either you are with us or you are with the terrorists'' set the tone for the current geopolitical discursive practices of drawing physical and moral boundaries. Bush's geopolitical speech act forces the audience to take sides and face the consequences of doing so.

The global reach of the geopolitical terror discourse has led to significant discursive changes in the representation of political conflicts in other parts of the world, too. In South America, for example, Colombian President Uribe declared the country's largest guerrilla movement, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), to be narcoterrorists. This categorization has subsequently been used by the mainstream media at home and abroad to such an extent that it has become a commonplace assertion to link this rebel movement with illegal drug trafficking and terrorist activities. While some of these links undoubtedly do exist, this discursive shift has reduced a very complex political conflict in Colombia to one in which the State seemingly fights drug traffickers who use terrorist means. Gone in this geopolitical reasoning and representation are the historical roots and continued relations of social injustice and exploitation that lie at the heart of the political struggle in Colombia, one of Latin America's longest running conflicts. An antigeopolitical perspective would challenge the ideologically motivated narcoterrorist discourse employed by Colombia's government and expose the complexities underlying the political and social conflict in Colombia.