GY802 Key Concepts In Geography: week 2

Reaction paper for the second week’s reading. I cannot provide links to all referred publications, many are behind paywalls and limited access resources.

Geography and empire: a continuing love story

The Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO) is based in Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. The fort is over 170 years old and is intimately associated with the colonial expansion of Europeans into the west of north America in the first half of the 19th century. The fort has a total area of 23 square kilometers and has over 1,000 buildings within its bounds. By its own description, FMSO “conducts unclassified research of foreign perspectives of defense and security issues that are understudied or unconsidered but that are important for understanding the environments in which the U.S. military operates.” It makes hundreds of papers available to the public through its website including a 2001 paper called IT Requirements for “Policekeeping” written by Timothy L. Thomas. In the paper, Thomas shows the ways in which information technology can be used to compel “compliance by simulating actions and consequences”. At the Dayton Peace Accord talks, to resolve the Balkan conflict in the 1990s one participant is recorded as stating how:

Digitized map information (points, lines and areas in vector form), names data, elevation data, scanned map images and imagery could be pulled into the PowerScene terrain visualization systems and presented to negotiators as still screen shots, fly-through videos, or dynamic fly-throughs under joystick control… [it] also supported dynamic annotation and visual assists such as flooding, slope computations and intervisibility exploration.

Additionally, Thomas states that “digital mapping allows policekeepers to intimidate negotiators by showing detail, displaying the instantaneous ability to change the format from peacekeeping to war, providing absolute consistency and offering flexibility and responsiveness of support.” This use of a geographic information systems to influence negotiations as well as provide intimidation potential for ‘policekeepers’ points to some of themes in this week’s reading. Hudson’s paper refers explicitly to the militarism of the last decades of the 19th century and its influence on the development of geography as a discipline in Britain. The reader is left in little doubt that imperialism made European geography what it is today. In particular, specialization among early geographers meant that they were in great demand “by the new imperialism”. Hudson’s lack of clarity about who this is exactly does not hinder the force of his argument.

“For mission success, it is crucial to have reliable and correlated geographic data produced for all these systems as quickly as possible.”

“[Battlespace Terrain Reasoning and Awarenss]’s primary objective is to empower commanders, soldiers, and systems with actionable information that allows them to understand and incorporate the effects and impacts of terrain and weather on their functional responsibilities and processes.”

From ESRI’s GIS in the Defense and Intelligence Communities Volume 2.

MacKinder’s ‘brute force realism’ lives on. Kearns charts the terms under which MacKinder felt geography should be developed. It was masculinist, based on underdeveloped social Darwinism and placed emphasis on a “fidelity to duty at risk of life and limb [that] was celebrated as patriotic virtue” (192).

There are more than a few echoes of Mackinder’s politics in Bush the Younger’s War on Terror, facilitated as it was at the time by British universities and the LSE. The tailoring of the educational systems within states to the imperatives of domination should come as no surprise though.  From a close reading of Lacoste’s account of US Air Force dike bombing strategies in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s to the accounts by Bunge on Detroit’s working class housing projects, a strong geographic sense is at the centre of municipal and military domination of internal and external threats. To the present day, one of the main providers of GIS technologies, ESRI, is engaged with the US military and others in a continuing hegemonic struggle with people. ESRI provides specific technologies to the US defense and military. Those who express surprise and outrage at the actions of Dobson and his Mexican indigenous mapping project (funded by the FMSO) must take account of the deep engagement of the discipline as a whole in processes of domestic and foreign domination. Naturally, Dobson will defend his actions of getting a photograph taken at the Buffalo Soldier statue with General Patraeus at Fort Leavenworth. It is entirely consistent with the brief provided by his funders – the FMSO. Bryan’s “rhetorical technique” is condemned by Dobson in his reply to his critics because, for the latter, geography also includes the work and demands of the US military. Building on what Maddrell refers to her in her paper, geography is called into existence through geographers becoming “disciplinary  ‘strategists’ at some stage” (152) during a career.

In his paper Secure Borders, Safe Haven, Domopolitics, Walter Williams proposes an analytic he calls domopolitics. This is “an analytic which captures certain significant features and tendencies within the political meaning and governance of security today” (241). It implies a “reconfiguring of the relations between citizenship, state, and territory.” Domopolitics sets up a tension between a strengthening of discourses of citizenship and social trust in communities at home while simultaneously portraying the chaos of outsiders’ lives elsewhere. Additionally the domopolitical seeks “to domesticate the forces which threaten the sanctity of home” (242). ESRI’s extension of its technologies to US federal spending stimuli and to regular budgetary measures is an aspect of the domopolitcal. The grittiness of politics is ‘militarized’ through the use of technologies such as that provided by ESRI to the US federal government. MacKinder’s politics and the geography that flows from it is embedded within the development of ESRI and other companies. To ignore the embedded nature of this does not bring a full critique of MacKinder to the forefront. The militarization is the technique of internal and external domination within which the development of geography has taken place. And this, for me, remains a weakness of Kearns’s analysis. He concludes his critique of MacKinder with the statement that “the world is not only to be apprehended through force” (201) but is this not a statement of what ought to be rather than what is?