Geopolitics beyond the mainstream: how are violence and war normalized?

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War videogame

Coined by Rudolph Kjellén, geopolitics was associated with Nazism throughout most of the 20th century and was only rediscovered within IR scholarship from the 70s.  Renewed, geopolitics reemerged along with the rise of the Realist view of world politics, accepting the connection between geography and power as natural, the geographical writing of the world into bounded spaces as neutral, the state as the only actor, or the inevitability the Rise and Fall of Great Powers. In short, what is commonly understood as geopolitics appears as the field of formal, high politics that has nothing to do with ordinary people.

Against this approach, ‘critical geopolitics’ has gained ground in the past decades with authors such as Ó Tuathail and a focus on reexamining core concepts and definitions of the geo- and the -politics, in order to question classic, Realist assumptions. In this regard, critical scholars developed a typology of the geopolitical aiming at overcoming the formalist understanding of geopolitical thought: the practical, related to the state; the formal, related to groups of states, and the popular, related to artifacts of pop-culture such as video-games, movies or cartoons.

Efforts in popular geopolitics have researched the impact of geopolitical thinking on our most consumed cultural products, enquiring about how geopolitical reasoning has permeated them. Movies such as the James Bond saga have been said to produce liberal ideology in Cold War years but also, recent scholarship has focused on video games. Popular games like Call of Duty or Assasin’s Creed involve playing to -and enjoying- the logics of war and violence, helping in normalizing a geopolitical imaginary of conflict contexts, military interventions or the use of weapons. Within the popular effort, feminist geopolitics has gone further and underlined how this thinking doesn’t stop at pop-culture but is rather incorporated into the everyday of the lives of people across the world in items such as fashion or even food. 

Critical scholarship is clear: the impact of geopolitics in pop-culture is not neutral, as it helps in shaping our interpretations of the international, and of global politics. Thus, popular geopolitics becomes a key to overcome the formalist frame;  to a better understanding from where our cultural artifacts emerge, and, most importantly, to understand how violence or war are perpetually normalized into our lives.