Geographical Entities

What Are Geographical Entities

Geography organizes the way people interact with each other. Geographical entities form the stage on which geopolitics takes place

By using the phrase geographical entities, we mean that geography organizes the way people interact with each other. Geographical entities form the stage on which geopolitics takes place. The conflicts and forms of cooperation that we study in geopolitics make and keep these geographical entities as they are, and sometimes they change them. Interactions, whether peaceful of violent, between groups are understood within the contexts of specific geographical entities. These entities create the basis for exclusion and inclusion and allow us to begin to think about cooperation or conflict between people. 

Places and territorial spaces and other geographical entities matter; they are the “stage” upon which politics is played out. Just as a theater stage makes a play possible but also restricts what the actors on the stage can do, geographical entities are necessary for the practice of politics, or the use of power, but limit what can be done. The geographical entities we will explain are places, regions, territory, scale, and networks.

Places

Places are the settings of an individual’s experiences, or where they live their day-to-day lives.[1]  They can be places an individual works, studies, lives, or meets with friends.   On a broader scale, places can also include neighborhoods or cities.  Places are important in understanding the world because people’s daily experiences and attitudes reflect the places they come from.  What we do, what we are aware of, and what we think are all influenced by where we live.  We all have a sense of belonging tied to specific places.

Places can be used to understand bigger issues and motivations.  When using place to try and understand issues of this world, characteristics of a place (such as the industries located there, or the local strength of political organizations, etc.) are very important. We can use these characteristics to see how a place is organized to allow for political control or influence by particular groups. For example, in Germany, religious organizations influence life within regions.  All school and work holidays are based on a religious calendar set by the Catholic or Lutheran church, depending on which religion is more prevalent in each region.  This religious distinction is prevalent in the national holiday calendar, despite not every citizen sharing the same religious background.

It is important to view places not as separate, isolated units but to seek to understand the roles places play in relation to the rest of the world. We can understand places in global political changes by thinking about three things that combine to make places unique: location, locale, and identity.

Location is the role a place plays in the world, and often involves major industries or sources of employment in the area. Any specific place can have multiple functions and all of these things feed into its role as part of a global economy and a network of ideas within a region. For example, Logan, Utah functions as an agricultural center as well as the home of Utah State University, a major research institution. Ideas that come from Logan due to its functions range from spectacular ice cream flavors to major space innovations.

The institutions (clubs, societies, religious groups, etc.) that help organize people within a location are referred to as locale. These institutions form the basis for cooperation or conflict. For example, a new Army base stationed in an American town causes contention or cooperation depending on how the base functions and which institutions it interacts with. 

Identity is how people view the place in which they live, or their sense of attachment to their “home town.” For many people, attachment to a place gives a sense of comfort or belonging. For others, they may feel threatened or excluded in a place. Pieces of your identity and your world-view are formed within places, such as your nationality, social class, or racial perception.

Places are sites of experiences, interactions, and identities which all come together to make a geographical entity. When trying to understand geopolitics one of the most important geographic entities is countries. We cannot think about how a country will act or imagine the effects of conflict until we understand how a villager feels about their home. We have to know what their everyday looks like, how they feel about their town, and whether or not they feel like they belong. The degree to which people in different towns or regions in a country share a sense of national identity is important in understanding peace and conflict within and between countries.

[1] Colin Flint, Introduction to Geopolitics, 3rd edition, pp. 24-27

polish mosque

Regions

Geographical entities are sometimes “regionalized” or grouped into segments that, in theory, represent similar trends. [1] Creating regions requires imagining the world differently every time categories are regrouped. When we name regions of shared cultural characteristics, we call them formal regions. Europe is considered a formal region based on shared European traits. But the border of this formal region (who is European and who is not) has caused arguments. When a region is created for a specific purpose, such as to manage or govern it, it is called a functional region. Townships or neighborhoods within a larger city often fall into this catsegory. The European Union (EU) would be considered a functional region—its creation institutionalized Europe as a region. But by institutionalizing this relationship, certain states like Turkey have been excluded from the functional region even though they may have considered their own identity to within the formal region of Europe.

[1] Colin Flint, Introduction to Geopolitics, 3rd edition, pp. 33-34

satelite view of europe

Territory

When you think of a map of the world, you probably consider black lines around colored shapes which represent a country. [1] We often define territory by putting borders around space and calling everything within that space a single unit in a process known as territorialization.This effort towards inclusion relates to the geography of sovereignty, or the idea that because a country controls a certain space within borders, they have the right to control what happens in that area. The idea of sovereignty claims that citizens within a territory are subject to being ruled by that government.

Deterritorialization is when an established territorial entity (like a state) breaks up or is merged with another entity. This can happen if a state experiences invasion or civil war. Reterritorialization is a concept which considers the importance of territories other than states. For example, the creation of the EU reterritorialized Europe into a new division of territory and moved some government functions from countries to the EU. Some territories are not drawn on maps. For example, a neighborhood which is home to a Christian church may become predominantly Christian while a neighboring suburb which contains a mosque may become mostly Muslim. We would call these phenomena informal territories.

[1] Colin Flint, Introduction to Geopolitics, 3rd edition, p. 34

Duesseldorf Germany christmas fair

Scale

Scale defines the geographic extent of the political actions we are looking at. [1] Place is one geographic scale, defined as the setting of our everyday lives.  But place is just one scale in a hierarchy that stretches from the individual to the global.  This means that we can think of scale starting at the individual level and increasing slowly in size until it reaches a global level. For example, if we are looking at the general economy, we can start at the smallest scale of family economics, move to the local economy, then to national economic growth, reach the economic health of the European Union, and end with the global economy overall. It is important to note that scales at all levels are connected and political acts often take place at more than one scale. In the case of military power, the United States military has a much larger reach than the military of Germany.  The US military works on a global scale while the German military has a national scale.

[1] Colin Flint, Introduction to Geopolitics, 3rd edition, pp. 31-33

Military commanders meeting

 Networks

Networks are collections of nodes that are linked together. [1] Each node can perform a different task, but they all contribute to the overall action of the network. For example, a large company might have a headquarters, multiple branches, and production sites. Each of these nodes are connected by their network. These networks don’t necessarily stay within a single territory, but instead interact without regards to boundaries or regions. Some networks are welcomed by countries, like the trade connections or the movement of investment capital. But others, like drug or weapon smuggling networks, are threats to countries.

[1] Colin Flint, Introduction to Geopolitics, 3rd edition, pp. 35-36

Connected globe