CfP: Spatial imaginations of geopolitical concepts

The panel will explore the question of which spatial imaginaries and geopolitical concepts significantly influenced the debate in the incipient processes of de- and reterritorialisation in the transitional phases of the 20th century (1914-18 – 1933-45 – 1989/90). On the one hand, the continuity of the reference to specific geopolitical concepts and spatial imaginaries will be considered, on the other hand, how the imaginaries already manifest future spatial ordering principles. 27.-29.4.2022 Leibniz-Institut für Länderkunde, Leipzig

The since February 2014 ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia is a battleground of Russian interests in Europe, but also a quest for power on a global scale. The Russian ambitions regularly triggers memories of Putin’s statements on the vanished Soviet great power position, which Putin would like to win back for Russia, seemingly resorting to the ultima ratio of war against the West and NATO. The complexity of the socio-economic, political, and military entanglements favours reducing this debate on Russian ambitions to woodcut explanations to enable the public to understand the situation. To find a foothold in the situation, the debate is oriented towards popular geopolitical constellations of the Cold War, in which the communist Soviet Union and the democratic US stood opposite each other as world powers, thus now replacing the ideological opposition of the Cold War with the struggle of democracy against authoritarianism.

The thesis is that in phases of global de- and reterritorialization, simple, geopolitical concepts are used to react to the over-complexity of global interdependence processes. H. J. Mackinder’s Heartland concept (1904, 1991, 1943), which identifies geographical, climatic, topographical factors, as well as the stage of industrialisation as potentials of possible global hegemony – from which measures of containment are necessarily derived, since the future hegemon is certainly aware of these potentials and will inevitably play them out – is one of the most significant concepts in interpreting international relations in crises of the process of globalization in the 20th century. During the three major caesuras of the 20th century (1914-1918, 1939-1945, 1989/90) and their aftermath, it became apparent to what extent simplistic geopolitical concepts were resorted to in phases of reordering, especially from a European and US perspective, which either assumed the danger that a large continental area could become the origin of a reordering of the world – think of the US involvement in the Second World War and the containment policy after the Second World War – or saw precisely in this the basis for the emergence of a new world order – German geopolitics, e. g. German foreign policy in Eastern Europe 1939-45. In Russia, Alexander Dugin made Mackinder and German geopolitics popular once again in the 1990s, which shows the flexibility and adaptability, but also of the (dis)continuity of recourse to certain geopolitical concepts and spatial imaginations associated with them. It would be worth asking which geopolitical concepts are instrumentalised in phases of the reorganisation of spaces. Are these always the same concepts? Which spatial imaginaries (e.g. “Großraum”, Central Europe, Heartland) are associated with the concept? Can patterns be identified as to what qualities these spaces possess? Is this recurse on geopolitical concepts only a debate going on in western Europe and the US? With the answers to these questions, points of reference can be given for the intellectual preliminary work of imagining spaces, which possibly merges into already known spatial-political forms of organisation (Nation state, Empire).

Papers on the intellectual performance of imagining spaces or on the manifestation of spatial structures in relation to spatial imaginings with a focus on the connection to geopolitical concepts would be very welcome in the session.


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