Political Geography is a transdisciplinary approach to study how political processes and conflicts shape society and spaces across different geographical scales. Political Geography draws on a rich theoretical and methodological portfolio from international relations, geopolitics, area studies, post-colonial studies, peace and conflict studies, cultural studies, political economy, human geography and political ecology, anthropology, and history.
Our empirical entry points are boundary- & border-making processes and conflicts pertaining to state- and non-state territorialities, sovereignties and identities. Thematically, we study these processes and conflicts in the context of state formation and nation building; land tenure and agricultural policies; nature conservation projects, resource and land conflicts; water infrastructures and governance; democracy, authoritarianism and militarization; trade and migration. Geographically we work in Switzerland, New Zealand, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia.
For BSc and MSc students we offer courses and excursions in qualitative methods, political geography, human geography, political ecology, water geography, urban geography, economic geography, social theory, global development and change.
Our research projects in Political Geography
Science, fiction and power: rethinking planetarity through post-Earth science fiction from China
This project researches science fiction (SF) from China with the aim to advance the concept of planetarity. Scholars are still struggling to grasp conceptually the scale of climate change. They frequently mobilise the concepts of globality and the Anthropocene to analyse these processes; underplaying, however, their diverse dimensions. As a corrective, this project furthers the concept of planetarity, which denotes the understanding of Earth as a geological and socio-ecological entity at the planetary scale. In so doing, this research corrects human- and Earth-centric assumptions, providing an alternative heuristics and integrating power into the analysis.
The project researches SF literature for advancing the concept of planetarity. SF is fiction that explores our relationship to Earth and the universe. It is a crucial mode of thinking at the planetary scale. Moreover, SF defamiliarises and decentres our understanding of Earth through a “post-Earth” perspective, i.e. unfamiliar representations of and fictional distance from Earth as we know it. SF proliferated in China during the last two decades. It takes shape within the fields of power and politics in China and the geopolitics of its genre by contesting the current hegemony of European and North American SF. The analysis of power relations of post-Earth SF from China will advance the concept of planetarity by rendering it receptive to power.
Funding for this project is provided by the Swiss National Science Foundation.
Image by Thomas Budach from Pixabay
Prof. Christine Bichsel
Dr. Lorenzo Andolfatto
Local Heritage, Moral Economy and Tourism within a World Heritage Cultural Property of Japan
This research project examines the articulations and social worlds of heritage along the post-listing phase of a World Heritage cultural property of Japan. By looking at the various elements composing the cultural property (churches, coastal and offshore villages, houses, graveyards, coastlines etc.) and the individuals and groups connected to them, I reveal engagements with and attachments to places, objects and practices and their underlying rationalities as the World Heritage label enters the stage. The links between the moral dimensions of economy and the political and economic regime of Japan will be illustrated by an outlook on the moral dimension of economic life in reference to tourism-related activities. This project continues my JSPS funded research unfolding at the University of Tokyo which examined the representations of the World Heritage nomination at the level of state and non-state institutions.
DAAD research fellowship, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle / Saale, 2020
Photo: © Raluca Mateoc, former Gorin Church
Dr. Raluca Mateoc
Relying on Arendt’s positive view of the political as a space of antagonism this project focuses on the contribution of geography classes to the transformation of antagonism in agonism. This happens when the opposition “we/them”, which is characteristic of antagonism, is overcome. The other is no more seen as an enemy, but as an adversary.
The research analyzes the role played by the use of controversial issues in geography classes in the formation of pupils’ critical thinking. It assumes that this latter allows pupils to apprehend the agonistic character of the Political and to become responsible citizens.
Marco Lupatini, PhD candidate
Water, infrastructure and political rule
This research explores recent developments in research on water, infrastructure and political rule. The relationship between modes of water governance and forms of political rule is a long-standing debate in the social sciences. Wittfogel’s (1957) postulated relationship between large-scale irrigation systems and the emergence of centralised bureaucracies, and possibly authoritarian rule, provided a critical impetus to this debate. While Wittfogel’s hypothesis of such a “hydraulic society” was met with much critique, his observation of a possible relationship between political organisation and water management has informed and is still informing much research in the field of water.
At the same time, new concepts which do not draw on Wittfogel’s work to explain this relationship have emerged and shape research on water. This research takes stock, but also compares and contrasts recent approaches including Political Economy, Political Ecology, Actor-Network Theory, Social Construction of Technology, Large Technical Systems and Anthropology of Infrastructure which address the nexus of water, infrastructure and political rule.
Bichsel, C., Mollinga, P., Moss, T. and J. Obertreis (guest editors). 2016. Special issue: Water, infrastructure and political rule. Water Alternatives 9(2). Link
Bichsel C. 2016. Water and the (infra-)structure of political rule: A synthesis. Water Alternatives 9(2): 356-372. Link
Prof. Christine Bichsel
Our team members in Political Geography
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