Political geography studies the ways geographic space is organized within and by political processes. It is focused on the spatial expression of political behavior. Boundaries on land and on the oceans, the role of capital cities, power relationships among nation-states, administrative systems, conflicts over resources, voter behavior, and even matters involving outer space have politico-geographical relations. From the disciplinary perspective, political geography can be defined as either geography or political science.
Political geography is the study of relationships among humans, their environment, and their political institutions. The functions of political geography are not confined to just one state, they embrace the whole globe. The subject is dynamic and looks for the effects of change and the rate of such change. Political geography considers different cultural meanings for similar geographic and political functions.
It explores attitudes, frames of reference, habits, and beliefs – all the rationale of political and cultural action – for their agreement or disagreement with the environment. Political geography is functional and studies the degree of unity reached by man's political institutions and the environment. The political geographer is concerned with the heterogeneity and homogeneity in action within and without the political unit, attempting to analyze the centrifugal and centripetal forces acting and interacting at different rates.
Charles-Louis Montesquieu (1689-1755) formulated many of the key concepts of political geography as the study of the spatial dimension of politics and political institutions. Subsequently, political geography continued with its study of the impact of climate and environmental factors on politics, along with the political significance of borders and other territorial features of states.
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, geography had a very strong political focus. Many of the early geographers were explicitly concerned with the relations between geography and politics. Leading figures in this field included Russian explorer Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921), English geographer Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947) and American educator Isaiah Bowman (1878-1950).
Through the 20th century, political geography became an ossified branch of a subject which was often taught but rarely researched and became tied to outdated theories. The field was also partially discredited by the Nazi infatuation with Geopolitik. Political geography was then bypassed by the surge of the new geography of the 1950s and 1960s.
Another social science, political science, took over the explicit analysis of politics. Overall, political geography was largely ignored by its discipline. By the 1970s, things began to change. Social sciences reflected the end of the post-war economic boom by focusing on power, conflict and the inequitable distribution of resources and life chances. The change occurred in many disciplines, for example the resurgence of Marxist economies and the growth of radical sociology. It was also seen in the emergence of interdisciplinary approaches that did not accept the artificial demarcation of knowledge suggested by traditional academic disciplines.
These changes also affected human geography. As a radical geography emerged and a critical awareness developed among geographers, they started asking important questions such as "Who gets what?" and "Why does who get what?" These developments resulted in a new political geography, which re-examined the old topics and also included new areas of inquiry.
This renaissance in political geography saw a growth in the study of sub-national political units, such as regions and cities, the consequences of globalization, and the emergence of new nation states. As a result of this rekindled interest in the field, there were a growing number of textbooks devoted to the subject. Several journals were established, including Political Geography Quarterly in 1982 and Environment and Planning C: Government and Policy in 1983.
Three broad areas of interest of this new political geography include international order, the nation state and social movements. The first area includes the North-South dimension of world order and the East-West split. The area of the nation state studies the state as a key unit of analysis, which binds the understanding of the world order with an analysis of events at the local level. The political geography of social movements includes the politics of location and the politics of place.
The strands that link spatial structures, political processes and economic systems need to be analyzed in order to reach a full understanding of society. The traditional subject matter of geography, the relationships between people and nature, people and space, people and places, and political considerations cannot be separated. The general subject matter of political geography is the explicit focus on these considerations.