Gender in a Political and Patriarchal World

Joanne P Sharp. Handbook of Cultural Geography. Editor: Kay Anderson, Mona Domosh, Steve Pile, Nigel Thrift. Sage Publication. 2003.

The last decade has witnessed a convergence between political and cultural geography. The effect of the ‘cultural turn’ on political geography has generated a turn toward non-traditional geographical knowledges and a concern with the everyday as a valid space of political analysis. The development of ‘critical geopolitics’ has been of particular significance in these changes. This has facilitated the breaking down of boundaries within the discipline of political geography—‘a geopolitical perspective on the field of geopolitics’ (Ashley, 1987: 407), as one commentator put it—to examine those relationships that were previously taken for granted.

Less territorial but no less spatialized divisions have also been examined so that the political geographies of gender relations have begun to emerge as important areas of study. Both the themes and the values of feminist geography can be seen in critical geopolitics, although not necessarily with reference to their feminist heritage. This chapter will consider the direction and strengths of the cultural turn on political geography. It will examine the extent to which feminist issues have emerged strongly as a result of these changes and look to the future research directions that might emerge.

A Critical Geopolitics of Political Geography

One of the most significant impacts of the convergence between cultural and political geography has come in ‘critical geopolitics.’ A conventional geopolitics is an approach to the practice and analysis of statecraft and international relations more generally which considers geography and spatial relations to play a significant role in the constitution of international politics (Smith, 1994: 228). The spaces analysed by geopoliticians were those of the state, region and globe and provided the backdrop to the playing out of global politics. Various laws could be created, whether of the relationship of distance to political threat or the effect of particular environments on the construction of particular political cultures. Those who made geopolitics were the statesmen and leaders of powerful countries and their advisers.

More recent engagements with the political world have a close link to some of the main characteristics of the cultural turn. One aspect in particular which dominates is the recognition of the power of language and discourse in the construction of the world around us. ‘All language,’ states Eagleton, ‘is ineradicably metaphorical, working by tropes and figures; it is a mistake to believe that any language is literally literal’ (1983: 145). For critical geopolitics, this attention to language is key and explains the ways in which global space and geography have been constructed and interpreted as being of importance to political process.

Critical geopolitics seeks to broaden our understanding of the relationships between geography and politics via a number of engagements. The first is a rethinking of the meaning of space itself. Rather than the common-sense understanding of space as a simple container or backdrop to international politics, a more culturally and historically specific understanding is offered. This critique of the dominant modernist Cartesian conceptualization of space as an empty framework sees space as power. Rather than an unchanging backdrop, space has a history and has changed as it is written and rewritten by various powers. Ó Tuathail (1996b) insists on considering the writing of geopolitics as based upon ‘geo-graphing’—earth-writing—to emphasize the creativity inherent in the process of using geographical reasoning in the practical service of power (Ó Tuathail and Agnew, 1992).

Linked to this then is a questioning of the language of geopolitics, or ‘geopolitical discourse.’ Cultural geography has taught that language is not a transparent form of communication somehow simply describing what is there. ‘Geography’ is not an order of facts and relationships ‘out there’ in the world awaiting description, but is instead created by key individuals and institutions and then imposed upon the world. There is always a choice of words and metaphors. The types of term used—the conceptual links made—affect the meaning of what is being described. There is, as a consequence, a politics of language.

Finally critical geopolitics has uncovered the previous overemphasis on the state as the main, or only, actor in international politics. Clearly other powers are involved both at the substate level, such as ethnic, regional and place-based groups, and at the suprastate level, such as transnational corporations and international organizations including the UN and NATO. The state-centred realist approach makes the state seem uncomplicated, unified and ordered—and safe (a point to which I will return). A more critical political geography offers an engagement with the practices of geo-graphing at a number of scales.

Critical geopolitical approaches seek to examine how it is that international politics is imagined spatially or geographically and in so doing to uncover the politics involved in writing the geography of global space. It therefore challenges the links between spaces and identities that are commonly accepted, and which act as the basis of much theoretical and practical work requiring an examination of the practices that maintain the boundary of inside and outside. This means that in the current world order, most often critical geopolitics offers ‘counter narratives of the nation’ (Ó Tuathail and Dalby, 1998). The nation is perhaps the most prevalent form of identity despite, perhaps because of, the internationalization of global politics and society.

Nationalist rhetoric is of an a priori identity, a people with long and natural links to territory achieving the rule that is naturally theirs. Most theorists are of the opinion that this is not the case but instead that the imagining of nations is orchestrated as an ongoing process of boundary-making which separates the members of the nation from those outside. For Benedict Anderson (1991), the community is imagined into existence. He argues that although any member of a nation cannot know all other members of the nation, he or she feels part of a distinct community sharing history and certain characteristics. A clear sense of boundedness is part of this imaginary in that those who lie outside the nation are different. Nations are written into the world not only as independent entities but in relation to the international. There is a clear sense of ‘our space’ and ‘their space,’ us and them, inside and outside. Rather than being the product of the expression of some ‘natural’ identity tied to the territory of nation, then, it is possible to see nations imagined against what the nation is not, the outside. By defining the space of outside (other nations, the international) as ‘other than us,’ a coherent sense of identity is created (see Campbell, 1992; Dalby, 1990b).

The clearest example of this process can be seen in the political culture of national identity in the USA during the Cold War. It has been noted that if all nations are imagined, then the USA is the imagined community par excellence (Campbell, 1992). More than in any other nation, American national identity has been organized around the impetus to articulate danger, the specification of difference and the figuration of otherness (1992: 251). This led to the production of a Cold War moral geopolitical model of good and evil in which, for example, the territory reduced to the signification of ‘communist’ could be variously depicted as threatening, perverse and inhuman in distinction to the ‘democratic’ or ‘free’ space of safety, progress and civilization (see Campbell, 1992; Dalby, 1990b; Sharp, 2000b). Here the ‘imagined community’ of American citizens had a common goal, one required of them because of their historical role and manifest destiny. America was to triumph over communism just as it had triumphed over the wilderness in its original imaginings of the frontier: a clearly inscribed battleground over which American national citizens could triumph, as could the values seen as identifying the American national character. The USSR offered a mirroring conceptual space to that occupied by America: into this space was projected negative characteristics against which a positive image of American character could be reflected. This is central to the stories Americans tell themselves about themselves from the scripts of westerns and war films, through the speeches of elite political figures, to the narratives of school textbooks. Hollywood films constructed the USSR as a threat—these scripts were often quoted by political figures (Reagan quoted Rambo, Quail looked to Tom Clancy for inspiration)—and textbooks reproduced the notion of America’s manifest destiny as ‘land of the free.’ These different social locations converge in the everyday constructions of national identity.

Here then was the creation of a particular geopolitical model. A particular image of the USSR was created which had direct consequences for the nature of US identity and what was expected of its citizens. Like the orient to Said’s (1978) occident, then, this international representation told us more about how those who created the representations imagined America than it did the material realities of the Soviet Union. Into this alternate space was projected all that America refused to see in itself. The boundaries between inside and outside were ‘the result of domesticating the self through the transfer of differences within society to the inscription of differences between society’ (Campbell, 1990: 273). As a result, then, the creation of a clearly defined space of difference is also ‘about stifling domestic dissent; the presence of external threats provides the justification for limiting political activity within the bounds of the state’ (Dalby, 1991: 172). The practices of security are inherent in the production of a coherent sense of national identity (Dalby, 1990a). There is an inherent link then between the scales of international and national in that the images of threats and dangers outside the nation offer a reason for national unity to resist them and, in their negative image, project a positive alternative to which the national citizens should aspire.

This suggests then that fairly mundane, everyday actions and identities might be significant to the construction and reconstruction of the nation. Feminist theorist Judith Butler (1990) offers inspiration here. She considers the ways in which gendered identities are reproduced through the repetition of mundane activities rather than there being any essentialist biological definition of gender, or any stable identity established through social construction. It is the deed and not the doer that is of significance. The notion of a coherent and independent identity—the subject—is the effect of constant performance. On the whole, she argues, repetition works to reinforce the norm of heterosexuality. It is only through the constant repetition of heterosexualized actions that the illusion of a heterosexual norm can emerge. Minor practices—advertising images, soap opera storylines, pictures of families on office desks—unselfconsciously reproduce heterosexuality as the norm, which queer politics resists. From a mass of possible sexual performances emerges a conceptual map on which clear and distinct lines can be drawn dividing ‘straight’ from ‘gay,’ ‘normal’ from ‘deviant.’

This has direct implications for the notion of border formation and political identity in political geography and related fields, in that it would appear that we are interested in ‘the constitution of political community, not something that takes place within it’ (Mouffe, quoted in Yuval-Davis, 1997: 73). Following Butler, the boundary of one nation-state and the next is not the innocent marker of the spatial extents of different cultural groupings but is instead integral to the construction of the identities it nominally illustrates. International relations, then, is not so much about protecting an identity which already exists, but about constantly creating and recreating identities. Through the repeated insistence that those outside the national boundary—those who occupy other spaces—are different or other, national identity can be reproduced as a coherent and universal form. National identity, rather than something that is retrieved from the past or protected from modernity, is in fact the effect of the modern practice of national rituals of reading national newspapers, singing national songs, waving flags at sports events and so on. It is the unthinking reproduction of these ideas that ensures the maintenance of distinct national identities (Billig, 1995).

This more cultural approach to national identity illustrates that the incredible power of national identity stems from its mundaneness, or banality. Shotter and Billig suggest that it is not the spectacular or conscious acts which underpin national identity but the minor events. They argue that the enunciation of the definite article in certain terms and phrases heard each day assumes the nation’s boundaries:

It points to the homeland: but while we, the readers or listeners, understand the pointing, we do not follow it with our consciousness—it is a ‘seen but unnoticed’ feature of our everyday discourses. (Shotter and Billig, quoted in Thrift, 2000: 384)

This challenge to the public-private divide suggests a broadening of the possibilities of what politics is and where it occurs. This has been used to define the political away from the other events of daily life which, in contrast, are assumed to be apolitical. Much of the political map is thus hidden from analysis that focuses on the formal acts of political citizenship or on the pronouncements of political leaders. Theorists influenced by Gramsci (1971) highlight the power of culture and have stressed the importance of the civic sphere in the maintenance of state power. For Gramsci (1971: 245), it is here that a complex set of cultural dominances forms the norms regulating social behaviour, the creation of hegemonic values. Hegemony is constructed not only through political ideologies but more immediately through the detailed scripting of some of the most ordinary and mundane aspects of everyday life (Holub, 1992: 104). The political significance of these cultural characteristics challenges the binary of public/political, private/apolitical.

Once we accept the importance of everyday geographical imaginations for the construction of political identity, and the operation of politics more generally, the cultural context of elite discourses must be understood. It is here that ‘meta-cultural’ values are reproduced. These inherited values stand as ‘common sense’ in relationship to the rest of the world, and point to the importance of the cultural norms established through which both political elites and their constituents are socialized. In the introduction to his influential cultural analysis of the figure of ‘John Wayne,’ Gary Wills says he was often asked:

Why him ? When I began this project 3 years ago, that was the question most often asked when anyone learned of it. I had received no such queries when I said I was writing about Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan. They, after all, held political office, formed political policy, and depended upon a political electorate. People cast votes for them. They just bought tickets for John Wayne’s movies. Yet it is a very narrow definition of politics that would deny John Wayne political importance. The proof of that is Richard Nixon’s appeal to Wayne’s movie Chisum when he wanted to explain his own views on law and order. Nixon had policies, but beneath those positions were the values Wayne exemplified. (1997: 29)

Nixon could claim to regaining law and order in American society by reference to Wayne’s performance in Chisum without having to explain the importance of this cultural reference. Instead he could assume the existence of a set of stories about America which his audience had learned through popular culture. Various media exemplify these foundational myths and stories. Wills’ study refers to the genre of Western films and stories, most prominently the figure of Wayne. The values that the films extol and which Wayne personifies are so powerful and work so perniciously because dominant forms of political theorizing, in the academy but also in wider American political culture, assume that these are ‘just’ movies and work only in the realm of entertainment. As stories, they are seen as apolitical entertainment. Yet, the values that Wayne epitomized have celebrated, reinforced, strengthened and in many ways made possible the decisions and actions of statesmen and women. So, Nixon can refer to Chisum and the values of the Western, and a majority of the populace will know his reference (however subconsciously or tenuously), and understand its origin in relation to an imagined geography of America. The real values underlying the most significant political pronouncement then are found circulating not in the realm of public discourse but in the sphere of the private of leisure and recreation.

This turning toward the everyday has significant implications for attempts to retheorize the nation and international from a feminist perspective.

The Geopolitics of the Public-Private Divide

Taking seriously the mundane acts of national identification suggests that they have great importance for the politics of the everyday, of the private, in addition to the more obvious politics of the public space of state and international politics. The public-private dichotomy produces the sense of a political and non-political sphere but also assigns gendered characteristics to each. The historic separation of spheres of public and private have had profound implications for the creation of gender roles and identities.

As feminist theorists have pointed out, from the traditions of Greek and Roman political thought onwards in the west there has been a conceptual and actual (spatial) division between public and private realms. The public is the conceptual and actual space of transcendence, of action, of production, of wages, of politics, of men; whereas on the contrary, the private is the location of the family, of recreation, of unpaid labour, of women. The construction of public sphere, space and subjects in political thought is dependent upon a private other. Therefore, rather than being separate spheres, this suggests that the identities of the public and private spheres might be intertwined.

With this challenge to the public-private binary in mind, we can return to the nation. The rhetoric of national identity has suggested that all members of a nation are equal. Thus the populist appeal of this form of identity: no-one can be more or less national. This rhetoric of a horizontal national bond produces a sense of the nation moving through time, encompassing the entire citizenship. But, just as the national community is imagined, so are the citizens who occupy it. The politics of public-private ensure that there are in fact differences in the access people have to the nation. Anderson argues that ‘No more arresting emblems of the modern culture of nationalism exist than cenotaphs and tombs of Unknown Soldiers’ (1991: 9). The power of this particular image is that it could be any member of the fraternity of the imagined community lying in the tomb. However, until recently in many nations, this was not the case and even today in many nations it is unimaginable that women are in the tomb (Sharp, 1996).

For Anderson, the power of nationalism lies in the horizontal fraternity of national citizens. This fraternity emerges from the fact that any man could be the unknown soldier who has laid down his life for his country, providing the ultimate sacrifice. In the national imaginary, women are mothers of the nation or vulnerable citizens to be protected. Women are not equal to the nation -each standing for it in the way that men can as warrior citizens. Women are symbolic of the nation (McClintock, 1993). Many nations are figuratively female (for example, Britannia, Marianne, Mother Russia). In the national imaginary women are mothers of the nation (its biological origin) or vulnerable citizens to be protected by the bond of male citizens.

While men are heroic in their defence of the nation, women are heroic in their reproduction of it and nurturing of its future. The public-private divide ensures different roles for male and female citizens (Yuval-Davis, 1997). But this division is also played out at a larger scale. It is the fear of foreign violation of women as symbols of nation that is key. The division of the international (the sphere of unregulated anarchy) and the state (the protected and safe space of home) parallels the division between public and private. The private is supposedly the safe sphere. The public is dangerous: it is here that women are out of place and even perceived as partially culpable if attacked. As feminist geographers like Pain (1991) and Valentine (1989) have suggested, if, despite this image, it is in the private space of the home that women face the greatest danger, then it is possible that this is also the case for the nation. Dalby suggests that:

Just as some feminists challenge the ideology of the family in suggesting that private spaces are ‘safe’ because of the presence of a male protector, whereas public spaces are dangerous to women … it is a simple extension of these arguments to argue that states do not really protect all their (domestic) citizens while providing protection from the perils of the anarchy beyond the bounds of the state. (1994: 531)

Certainly women seeking to adopt the role of protector in military service is an issue that seems central to many debates on national strength. Liberal feminism argues that keeping women from their right and responsibility to risk their lives for their country reduces them to second-class citizens. This is integral to the liberal feminist argument ‘that sees women’s differences used to keep women out of public power; seeks their equal admission to the state and an end to the male monopoly on legitimate violence’ (Pettman, 1996: 147).

As theorists like Anderson see this as linked to ultimate citizenship, liberal feminists might be right in arguing that its attainment by women would move towards equality. However this would be to accept a culture of masculinism. Second- and third-wave feminists have argued that it is not sufficient merely to succeed within masculinist culture—to succeed only in some ways by adopting masculinist traits themselves. Instead they argue for a more thorough challenge to the nature of the values underlying society. Enloe (1989: 44) has suggested that nationalism is an inherently masculinist form of identity, based around ‘anger at being emasculated’ at some point in history. Similarly, Newsinger (1993: 126) asks whether violence—‘the ability both to inflict and to take it—is portrayed as an essential part of what being a man involves’ in certain national cultures. This offers the possibility that this form of political identification has its roots in masculinist culture so that it cannot accommodate a feminist challenge. Research has suggested that women deployed in traditionally masculinized jobs have generated hostility and concern about the morale of men ‘who had been recruited partly with the promise that joining the military would confirm their manliness’ (Enloe, 1993: 214).

Women in the military are often seen to challenge masculinist pride and identity. Dowler’s (1998) research into the role of women in the IRA has highlighted the difficulties that this militarized form of national identity has with the inclusion of women’s violence and struggle. As a result women and their actions and sacrifices are often not recognized in the reproduction of national images. Dowler’s interviews with women from the IRA demonstrate attempts to rein in women to the public sphere to perform their role in the struggle. One woman told her:

The people here definitely view us differently than they do the men. For instance there is always a big party for a man when he gets out of prison. A hero’s return. I didn’t have such a welcome home. It was as if, ‘thank Jesus that’s over, now I can get my dinner on the table.’ They also look at us differently than other women. First off if we were in prison we weren’t having wee ones [children] which is what we were supposed to be doing. I think if my husband could have got me pregnant in jail he would have because that was what he was supposed to be doing. A lot of men think I’m wild because I did my whack [time in prison], because women aren’t supposed to be doing the same thing that the men are in this war. (1998: 167–8)

There is here a clear sense of what women and men can and should do, and these are separate. When women transgress these boundaries the response is an attempt to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. This is not an unusual response. Various commentators discussing diverse national movements including India and countries of formerly Soviet eastern Europe highlight the perceived importance of preserving or recovering ‘traditional’ (meaning patriarchal) gender relations in an attempt to regenerate national character (see Chatterjee, 1993; Molyneux, 1991; Todorova, 1993). Dowler (1998) also uncovered alternative forms of resistance and conflict enacted by women in the IRA but again this was not recognized as a legitimate form of political action in the nationalist struggle. For example, although not actually jailed themselves, some interviewees explained that their long years visiting first husbands then sons in prison, and coping alone with raising a family, might as well have been a prison sentence for women like themselves who could never escape these responsibilities (1998: 165).

In other cases it could be argued that the integration of women and women’s concerns into the military might start to work changes into this institution and the nature of masculinity. Pettman wonders whether, with changes to the nature of modern war, different forms of masculinity might be required: in addition to the ‘brute force of the footsoldier’ the military might now also require ‘the rational planning of the military strategists and commanders, the intellectual and scientific masculinism of defence researchers’ (1996: 95). This points to the existence of more than one version of masculinity: on the one hand the phallic, erect and strong embodiment of the son, on the other the objective and calculating brains of the father (see Nast, 1998: 193). It is interesting to note however that although it is increasingly acceptable that women play an active role in the military, the reverse process is not so clear: there is little evidence of men taking on the feminized roles of nurturers and carers of national populations.

On the other hand, many feminists have drawn power from a pacifist stance which rejects militarized and divisive national borders. This approach would avoid national boundaries, loyalties and practices altogether and seek alternative forms of community relations and governance.

Challenging Boundaries

Many postmodern theorists have argued that the world is becoming ever smaller, that the globe is deterritorializing, becoming ever more connected and more fluid. Borders and boundaries are dissolving, according to this narrative. At first glance this might seem to be conducive to a feminist political geography that resists the inherited patriarchal images of international and national politics. Continental feminists, most prominently Luce Irigaray, have argued that femininity is constructed as ‘that which disrupts the security of the boundaries separating spaces and must therefore be controlled by a masculine force’ (Deutsche, 1996: 301). A major project of which masculinity is the effect is the ability to re-establish and reinforce such boundaries. In his influential work, Theweleit (1987) suggests that masculinity has a great deal to do with purification of both borders and peoples so that control and bounding are inherently entwined with hegemonic projects of masculinity. Nast argues that this has a sexed dimension:

In the context of trans nationalism and the emergence of megastates and/or supranational organizations, we have all kinds of contemporary, ‘unconsciously’ registered anxieties over the heterosexualized pure and solidly bordered body of the nation being penetrated, threatened, overcome, and/or dissolved by a plethora of frightening foreign microbes and dangers. National hysterias have emerged over various kinds of ‘transgressive’ movements: from illegal immigrants in the USA, to (carriers of) AIDS globally, to legal but now economically redundant foreign workers in western Europe; all transgressors are denigratorily racialized through constructions of associational (for example, metonymic and metaphoric) links with disease, death, floods and filth. (1998: 195)

This can be seen in recent anti-immigration legislation in the USA and ‘fortress Europe,’ in anxiety about the breakdown of family values in Britain and the US, and in the rise of reactionary forms of national identity in eastern Europe, amongst other examples. In the UK this can be seen particularly clearly in debates over the scrapping of Section 28, the bill that prevented the ‘promotion’ of homosexual values in schools. This led, in Scotland, to a referendum funded privately by millionaire businessman Brian Souter about whether or not homosexuality could be discussed in schools as a normal form of human relationship. This provoked highly charged debates in the tabloid press about the threat of certain groups who, they claimed, sought to destroy family values and social cohesion.

If it is indeed a masculinist urge to contain and bound, it might be argued that a feminist political geography would necessarily embrace fluidity and borderlessness. Some feminists have abandoned territorial identity and all that it entails and instead looked to global communities of oppressed. Robin Morgan’s ‘global sisterhood’ was one such attempt to look at the commonality which was the ‘result of a common condition which, despite variations in degree, is experienced by all human beings who are born female’ (1984: 4).

However, the global sisterhood has been critiqued by Third World feminists who argued that this image ignores all of the differences, inconsistencies and histories which make up the notion of womanhood in different places. For Mohanty this automatic alliance erases the agency of women in particular historical struggles, and requires that ‘the categories of race and class have to become invisible for gender to become visible’ (1997: 83). For Third World feminists like Mohanty, the global sisterhood image silences the histories of colonialism, imperialism and racism from which western feminists still benefit. Second World—perhaps now more appropriately termed ‘post-communist’—feminists have similarly critiqued western feminism for its liberal, middle-class assumptions.

Responding to Virginia Woolf s claim that ‘as a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world,’ Adrienne Rich explains how this feminist dream of universal sisterhood is unobtainable. She insists that:

As a woman I have a country; as a woman I cannot divest myself of that country merely by condemning its government or by saying three times ‘As a woman my country is the whole world.’ Tribal loyalties aside, and even if nation-states are now just pretexts used by multinational conglomerates to serve their interests, I need to understand how a place on the map is also a place in history within which as a woman, a Jew, a lesbian, a feminist I am created and trying to create. (1986: 212)

In these ‘notes towards a politics of location,’ Rich insists that womanhood is constructed specifically in different locations, as a result of many geographies—and historical geographies—playing out local and global relationships, of colonialism, trade, exploration, struggle and so on. Rich’s opportunities, experiences, expectations and actions are both constrained and made possible by her multiple positionings within different power ‘containers,’ perhaps most significantly the nation-state within which she is a citizen.

So an innocent view of movement and fluidity is problematic. For a select few there is a dissolving of boundaries and a shortening of distance as the world apparently shrinks. For many others, however, daily life becomes more fixed and travel more of a challenge. For the poor and the marginal, borders become more difficult to traverse, not less. In her work on the progressive sense of place and power geometries, Massey (1991) critiques the easy image of global shrinkage offered by some theorists. Although clearly technology is facilitating easy information connections and movement for some, for many others places are actually becoming more remote as the world ‘shrinks.’ People without resources—money and knowledge—find it less easy to link and move. Rather than embrace an unbordered and accessible global space, Massey (1993) sees the existence of ‘power geometries’ which act to constrain and facilitate the movement of different groups of people. This is not to suggest that the world remains bounded by all-powerful divisions. Massey (1991) calls this an ‘extroverted sense of place’ which can be imagined to form around networks of relations and connections rather than being enacted by boundaries and through exclusions. This requires us to think of gender as something formulated through localized networks, which are nevertheless inherently linked into global processes.

Much place-based politics is organized around demonstrating and protecting the borders of places, defending them from infringements to their ‘authentic’ tradition, landscape and identity. Place is seen as bounded. Place—or territory—based identity is usually organized around constructing a sense of otherness or difference against which the place can be defined. Definitions of who belongs in a country revolve around establishing heritage or genealogy, drawing a border to keep out those who do not belong.

Massey (1991) suggests that this is not necessarily how place should be understood. It can be shown that in actuality the clear difference between inside and outside, self and other, does not exist in real life: reality does not possess the hard lines of a map. Massey is encouraging us to acknowledge the extra-local similarities and linkages that make up a place, in addition to the differences. However, given the existence and increasing prevalence of the ‘feminization of poverty,’ women are more likely to be trapped by globalizing processes. Borders cannot simply be wished away.

And not all feminists would want them to be. Anzaldúa (1987) argues for the importance of place and identity in resistance to dominant global powers. She offers a problematized celebration of identity based on impurity, mixing and diversity rather than singularity—recognition of the importance of the historically specific border between Mexico and the US. Anzaldúa’s is an ambivalent geography which recognizes the constructedness of identity but also the reality of historically constructed divisions such as national borders. The boundary is a lived reality: not just a mark on the map but inscribed over and over again on her own body. What is of particular interest in the context of the cultural influences on understandings of national and international politics is Anzaldúa’s style of writing. She does not write in standard academic prose but offers a series of interventions on questions of identity, territory and borders. She alternates her writing between English, Spanish and Chicana, sometimes translating, sometimes not. There is then a political geography to Anzaldúa’s texts, sometimes allowing a monolingual reader into her community, at other times excluding the reader:

To live in the Borderlands means you
are neither hispana india negra espanola
ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed
caught in the crossfire between camps
while carrying all five races on your back
not knowing which side to turn to, run from …
In the borderlands
you are the battleground
where enemies are kin to each other;
you are at home, a stranger,
the border disputes have been settled
the volley of shots have shattered the truce
you are wounded, lost in action
dead, fighting back. (1987: 194)

Embodying the International

The work of Anzaldúa and other feminists implicitly warns of the danger of going too far down the line of ironic postmodern distanced analysis. Just as with the work it seeks to challenge, the textual critiques of critical geopolitics can privilege the words and texts of elites, so perpetuating the silencing of those who are seen as outside of this.

On a practical level, this makes it all too easy for those outside these critical circles to ignore the critique and carry on regardless. As Demeritt (1996) observes for human geographers’ critiques of scientific and objective forms of knowledge more generally, concentrating on this level of complex discourse makes it too easy for critiques to be ignored. Similarly, Peck (1999) has illustrated the difficulties of getting ‘deep’ or critical academic work taken seriously by policy-and decision-makers who are looking for more straightforward answers. The cultural turn has led many geographers to think carefully about the voices of those being represented in their texts. Perhaps it is now time to think more carefully about the ears of our audiences.

Of equal importance, there is a danger in going too far along the poststructural path as it can erase agency. Perhaps by moving too far into the realm of the cultural, the political, has been undervalued: by labelling all as political, perhaps a sense of what might comprise more important issues has become lost. Similarly by shifting attention from the actor to the action some of the important historical contexts for struggle have been hidden. Although critical geopolitics might offer very eloquent deconstructions of dominant political discourse, there is often little sense of alternative possibilities. As Paasi (2000: 284) suggests, there is a need to move from text and metaphor which had dominated radical political geography.

Just as the formal actors of international politics have been disembodied, offering a ‘spectator’ theory of knowledge (George, 1996: 42), undifferentiated by the marks of gender, race, class, sexuality or physical ability, in some ways so do their critics. Women and others omitted from this tradition have not generally been included on the pages of the international texts. Thus they remain invisible to critical geopoliticians for whom resistance is a textual intervention, a subversion of a sign or displacement of meaning. Ó Tuathail’s (1996b) influential Critical Geopolitics offers an intellectual history of geopolitical practitioners and critical geopoliticians as a history of ‘big men’ (in order): Mackinder, Ratzel, Mahan, Kjellen, Hausehoffer, Spykman, Wittfogel, Bowman, Lacoste, Ashley and Dalby. A few women are allowed into the footnotes, but the central narrative is one of the exploits and thoughts of men. The history of struggles for space and representation are reduced to a male genealogy when discussing not just the masculinist history of geopolitical strategies of elite practitioners, but also the interventions of ‘critical geopoliticians’ (Sharp, 2000a).

This illustrates a need to move to what Ó Tuathail (1996a) in another guise has called an ‘anti-geopolitical eye,’ an embodied and situated geographical vision which avoids the God trick that is both everywhere and nowhere. This position takes responsibility for its representation from somewhere. The knowledge produced by an anti-geopolitical eye emphasizes moral proximity and anger: it is not distanced and dispassionate, even-handed or ironic. Ó Tuathail (1996b) offers Maggie O’Kane’s impassioned reports of the war in Bosnia as a situated, moral and subjective alternative to the distanced all-seeing eye of the traditional geopolitician. Her reports emphasized the agency and acts of people, and the materiality of violence, rather than the active or abstract lessons of history and rules of geopolitics.

Like that of Thrift (2000), then, this position argues for the need to think of bodies as sites of performance in their own right rather than simply simple surfaces for discursive inscription. Discourses do not simply write themselves directly onto the surface of bodies as if those bodies offered blank surfaces of equal topography. Instead these concepts and ways of being are taken up and used by people who make meaning of them in the different global contexts in which they operate. This will bring women and other marginalized figures back into the sight of critical geopolitics. Although women’s bodies are inherently caught up in international relations, this is often at mundane or everyday levels, and so they are not written into the texts of political discourse. Women’s places in international politics tend to be not as decision-makers but as international labourers and migrants, as images in international advertising, and as ‘victims’ to be protected by international peacekeepers. However, this does not mean that women have no role in the recreation of international orders, simply that their agency is hidden from the traditional gaze of geopolitics. As Enloe argues in her attempt to make feminist sense of international politics, ‘if we employ only the conventional, ungendered compass to chart international politics, we are likely to end up mapping a landscape peopled only by men, mostly elite men’ (1989: 1).

This is not to suggest that to understand the nation and international it is necessary to abandon discourse; instead, it is necessary to see it in a broader way that is less dominated by representation alone and more attuned to actual practices. Political geographies can be regarded as emerging from the textualized practices and discourses that actually draw people in as subjects. Women, caught up in different forms of international traffic, are especially vulnerable to racialization and eroticization of their bodies and labour. National security defines women’s bodies as requiring protection, but this is often defined from a masculinist position. Women’s bodies become quite literally a part of making ‘the international’ (Pettman, 1991; 1996); for example, in the recent conflict in Kosovo, NATO went to war to protect some of the most patriarchal kinship structures in Europe.

A culturally informed but nevertheless still resolutely political take on nation and international relations could consider the practices and institutional locales of international relations and nations. This would involve continued engagement with the discourses and narratives which structure these geographies (it is important to deconstruct common sense, to stop it from working without thought), but would also go further to see how these discourses actually work in everyday life and how they make subjects of people.

Thus, for example, an understanding of how the media work to incorporate people as subjects would require examination of the representational content of the media texts but also the ‘content of the form,’ the ways in which people are drawn into the media’s representation of the world to become complicit with it—how they become active political citizens. Certain media institutions, such as the Reader s Digest (Sharp, 2000b), actively constitute the reader’s identity as an American citizen through the form of address of its articles in addition to the actual topics being discussed. This structures a sense of what all ‘good’ American citizens must know: ‘What is being planned for you?’ ‘Are we worthy of our destiny?’ (Sharp, 2000b). This ties the individual reader into the narratives and identities of international and national politics in exactly the ways theorized by Billig and Shotter mentioned earlier. In addition to the representations of the world, here there is also a sense of how the readers are supposed to make sense of these global geographies: how they are to incorporate them into their daily lives in the constant reproduction of self as a national citizen. Of course there is still the question of the extent to which people will follow these ‘instructions.’

Sparke (1998) works the relationship between representation and practices through the layers of his analysis of the construction of the political subject, Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma bomber. McVeigh, Sparke argues, was the subject of American discourses of inside-outside, of the safety and value of American culture and identity, and of the threats from those others beyond the boundary who sought the destruction of America. McVeigh was interpolated into these discursive practices as a consumer of American culture throughout his life but also most extremely in his experience in the military in the Gulf War. He was in fact awarded a medal for his actions in the conflict and so regarded himself as a patriot. On his return to the US, McVeigh apparently developed a sense that America had lost its way. He was a loner, feeling marginalized by the dominant society which, he thought, was unable to see the rot that had set in. Reconstructed through the narratives of warrior masculinity articulated in Rambo films, this subjectivity merely reinforced his sense of patriotism. With the representations of American global geography that he had experienced there was little difference between turning the people working for the federal government into minions of an evil state apparatus and turning the people of Iraq into minions of an evil state apparatus (1998: 202).

Sparke shows how the Gulf representations have played out—in a very specific way—in this person’s biography. Analysis of the discourses significant to this story might suggest that the danger would always lie outside the boundaries of the US. However Sparke’s almost ethnographic account of the production of geopolitical images and their actual impact on people’s daily lives shows how these have been remade in this case to provide rather different results. A broadening of methodology from textual analysis to what might be considered an anthropology of international relations offers exciting possibilities for future understandings of the complex local embodied geographies that reconstruct the nation and the geography of international relations.


In her ‘notes towards a politics of location,’ Rich (1986) beautifully articulates a problem that faces feminist theorists approaching global geographies: how to engage with the various exploitations and oppressions of women around the globe and at various regional and local scales, without producing an insipid image of global sisterhood which ignores all of the differences, inconsistencies and histories which make up the notion of womanhood in different places.

A feminist take on the patriarchal world cannot be a simple and naive abandonment of borders. These are accepted as social constructs but this in no way reduces their power over the individuals and communities that need to negotiate them on a daily basis. Lives are constructed and reconstructed around political and patriarchal boundaries through discourses which apparently operate at the global and national scales. Attempts to understand the complex relations between the international and the everyday demonstrate the importance of ensuring that the smallest, mundane daily practices of everyday life are not silenced from reconstructions of the international. At the same time the impacts of the movement of global geopolitical discourses on individual bodies need to be examined. For instance, the recent protests against the impacts on communities around the world of World Trade Organization decisions are testament to an emerging politics which recognizes and challenges the complex processes linking bodies and nations, communities and globe.

Methodologically there needs to be a movement beyond the text to draw in other actions and practices, to look at the relations between discourse and practice, to see how the discourses work in a material sense and how they become embodied in expected and unexpected ways when actually used by different people and different communities in the pursuit of their lives around the globe. It is this drawing together of the global in the local, and the complex embodiment of geopolitical discourses, that offer one possibility for the production of new political geographical imaginations.