Political Geography 45 (2015) 91–92

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Political Geography
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/polgeo

Guest Editorial

Geopolitical material: Assemblages of geopower and the constitution of
the geopolitical stage

In the 21st Century, the foreign and defence policies of states partake in the same restricted economies,” reinforcing the idea
continue to be stretched to embrace an ever-greater number of nat- that the material world does little more than provide the stage
ural phenomena ranging from bacteria and viruses, to the environ- for political dramas to unfold (Yusoff, Grosz, Clark, Soldanha, &
ment, biodiversity and the global climate. Expert knowledges of Nash, 2012: p. 976). While the economy of critical geopolitics is
these phenomena have been used by classical/realist geopolitics starting to be opened up to allow nonhumans to participate in these
to substantiate their claims of natural determinism and the dramas not just as features, but as actants, the stage itself, and the
enduring power of geographical features – the “earth” – over global “earth” from which it is comprised, remains under-theorised.
politics (for a recent example see Kaplan, 2012). Critical geopolitics To begin to address this, critical geopolitics could turn towards
has sought to problematize these ‘classical’ inscriptions of global the concept of ‘geopower’ as elaborated by Elizabeth Grosz
space by reconceptualising geopolitics as a “discursive practice by (Yusoff et al., 2012). Grosz’s use of the term ‘geopower’ differs
which intellectuals of statecraft spatialise international politics markedly from that of Gearóid Ó Tuathail (1996), however both
and represent it as a ‘world’ characterised by particular types of pla- lead to a similar concern for ‘geo-politics’: the hidden unnamed
ces, peoples and dramas” (Ó Tuathail & Agnew, 1992: p. 192). The practices that make ‘geopolitics’ possible. For Grosz, geopower re-
study of discourse, informed by poststructuralism, has subse- fers to forces contained in matter that precede, enable, facilitate,
quently been central to the body of work which has followed under provoke and restrict ‘life’. Life, in its excess, creates new conditions
the name of ‘critical geopolitics’, although more recently this has for the intermingling of the forces of matter and life which produce
been expanded to attend not just to texts and images, but also per- new combinations and new modes of organisation that ultimately
formances and practices (Müller, 2008; Power & Campbell, 2010). transform life itself (Grosz, 2005, 2008). Matter, nature, and the
One impact has been to draw greater attention to how geopolitical earth are therefore productive of (not a limit to) life by providing
praxis constructs assemblages comprised not just of human actors, the condition or field from which life emerges (Grosz, 2005). As
but of multiple elements (living and non-living) drawn from a wide this earth continues to change, it provokes and incites new forms
variety of sites in both space and time. of life by “generating problems, questions and events that must
Assemblage thinking has emerged as part of a broader interest be addressed and negotiated, symbolised or left unrepresented”
in the social sciences for a “general reconstitution of the social (Grosz, 2005, p. 51).
that seeks to blur divisions of social-material, near-far and struc- Geopolitical discourses simultaneously capitalise upon and
ture-agency” (Anderson & McFarlane, 2011: p. 124). As it has been bracket out forces of matter in seeking to establish the geopolitical
deployed by social and cultural geographers, assemblage thinking stage on which global politics plays out. We might conceive of the
(along with Actor-Network Theory, although in crucially different coming together of matter and life as an assemblage of geopower
ways, Greenhough 2011) has brought attention to a myriad of which facilitates further encounters between various forms of life
ways in which nonhuman actors or actants are embroiled not and forms of matter. Such assemblages are an attempt to contain
only in the inscription of space, but in the physical constitution of life and matter – “to slow them, to put them in service of life’s pro-
space (Anderson, Kearnes, McFarlane, & Swanton, 2012). Although visional interests” (Grosz, 2005, p. 42) – enough that a territory can
a relative latecomer to assemblage theory (compared to social be created from the “whirling chaos of forces that constitute the
and cultural geographers) critical geopolitics (and political geogra- cosmological order” in which a provisional ordering of life and
phy more broadly) is now engaging with the former of these con- earth can occur and be capitalised upon (Grosz, 2008, p. 46).
cerns (as evidenced in the pages of this journal). However, The geopolitical stage is far from a permanent reality waiting to
concern for the latter – that is, the ways in which nonhumans be discovered or contested. As an assemblage of geopower, the
are entangled with the physical constitution of space – still seems constitution of the geopolitical stage both provokes and facilitates
largely undeveloped. the emergence of geopolitical discourses, while at the same time
The conflation of things with the spaces they constitute ob- retaining an immaterial capacity to intermingle with these dis-
scures the capacity of nonhumans (along with humans) to both courses in ways which can reconstitute the geopolitical stage itself.
facilitate and contest inscriptions of space from within those spaces. Vital materialists, broadly speaking, might consider this a form of
This has significant consequences for how geopolitics, both in its vitality; a liveliness, a capacity to surprise, or an excess inherent
classical/realist and its critical formulations, is conceived. As Clark in all things which when seen can radically change the order of
notes, both approaches to geopolitics rely on “investments in con- things (Bennett, 2010). However, such an account can be criticised
tested terrains and struggles over scarce resources [which] often for implying that things are only seen to be lively in the vicinity of a

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2013.05.001

geopower) alter the seen to be lively.e. Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. The potential for these assemblages of geopower to Egham. Müller. specif- assemblages of geopower (and thus (de)stabilise how we stage ically to consider the kinds of labour and provocations (human and geopolitics) through the forces they contribute. B. (2011). 2013) to the fore of geopolitical analysis. (2011). polar bears. all depend on Arctic earth being shaped Bennett. resource frontier. Have you heard the one power are taken to include ice. see Elden. Moreover. D. this shaping is itself dependent on the intermingling of (human and Borgerson. N.. New York: Random House.. Secure the volume: vertical geopolitics and the depth of power. 43(2). J.. now being held responsible for geopolitical intrigue in the region. and nonhumans) involved in assembling them. K. A. Grosz. To presuppose the existence of these reasoning in American foreign policy. indigenous peoples and more. (2013). can no longer be constituted in the same way and the possibilities Greenhough.08. 171–189. E. military theatre. from classical/realist geopolitics has been to describe this as the attention is brought to how the on-going constitution of the geopo- ‘opening up of the Arctic’ – geographical features (resources. K. (2010).. What neither side is addressing is the role of the Arctic-as-stage References in resisting. Critical geopolitics. nonhuman) material and life that constitutes what comes to be Clark. the pos- routes. M. may allow us to also be more attentive to seemingly inert materials Taking geopower seriously brings the geopolitical stage (in all its that. Geopolitics and discourse: practical geopolitical life at the expense of others. Environment and Planning A. thinking in terms of assemblages of geopower discourses. Ingram. the Arctic-as-stage litical Geography. 41(2). as well as implicated in. 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Columbia University Press. minerals. for life in. performances and practices. E. 190–204. Surrey TW20 0EX. changed. 25 March http:// fam. (2012). not when it appears benign. continental shelves) which were once literally frozen are sibilities of life and geopolitical discourse. holding that the way in which the Arctic My thanks to Philip Steinberg. S. (1996). Grosz.. C. Reconsidering the concept of discourse for the field of critical This is because there is a politics associated with how these stages – geopolitics: towards discourse as language and practice. B.. Discourses which posit the Arctic as a 124–127. M. Inhuman nature: Sociable life on a dynamic planet.ac. nonhuman) that are involved in assembling these stages before we resist and shape. art: Deleuze and the framing of the earth. when making their pronouncements Kaplan. N. art: deleuze and the framing of the earth. Chaos. Press. 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New York: contingency of the geopolitical stage. global life and (geo)politics. organised.92 Guest Editorial / Political Geography 45 (2015) 91–92 seeing subject (Anderson & Wylie. & Dodds. 29(5). and the labour and provoca. R. provoking and facilitating the emergence of different kinds of geopolitical assemblages of the Arctic – or specifically Anderson.. 43(2). denying the possibil. perform. (2012). threatening to tip the balance of power between states one way or Acknowledgements another (Borgerson. Ingram. Elden. Peter stage is invested with meaning is bound up with “the assembly Adey. 243– stages hides both the labour and the provocations (by humans 246. territory. Geopoliticians and foreign policy elites need to be mindful of the Grosz. about the disappearing ice? Recasting Arctic geopolitics. mapped and shaped in order to facilitate certain kinds of Ó Tuathail. reinforce. & Agnew. Duncan Depledge pends foremost on what kind of stage is being assembled. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota tuted. can both strengthen and weaken volume. and the (geo)politics of the Arctic change. indigenous homeland. 2009). 2012 the National Snow and Ice Data Cen. Political Geography. Political Geography. B.. So far. J. the provocation melting sea ice has provided to rethink Arctic/ Anderson. Ó Tuathail. Dittmer. M. (2009). sity Press. Nigel Clark. B. & Wylie. E. 202). particularly over the longue durée. nature. on which geopolitical acts are assumed be carried out – are consti. London: Duke Univer- into a particular kind of stage on which life can play out. & Campbell. for melting sea ice to E-mail address: duncan. Stuart Elden and an anonymous reviewer for their feedback and networking of multiple elements from a wide variety of sites” and support. (2005).uk provoke life and matter to further intermingle and recombine in ways which might reinforce or disrupt geopolitical discourses – is also hidden from view (Grosz. which brings the Arctic into being as a specific kind of stage for spe- cific kinds of action (Dittmer. Time travels: Feminism.