A Critical Realist Reading of Critical Geopolitics

Document Type : Original Article


1 PhD Candidate in Political Geography, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran

2 Professor Political Geography, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran

3 Assistant Political Geography, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran

4 ,Professor Political Geography, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran.


Extended abstract
In spite of presenting some new insights and relevant critiques on traditional geopolitics, it seems that critical geopolitics is reductionist and consequently is not capable of explanation of current geopolitical situation at the global scale. Roots of this reductionism should be explored in philosophical foundations of critical geopolitics. Considering some of its main arguments and concepts, including positionality, situated-ness, and partiality, critical geopolitics is a poststructuralist and postmodern approach. According to the critical geopolitics, geopolitical practices, forces and processes are indeed reduced to constellations of rival ideas and discourses.
This research aims at critically and systematically excavate and evaluate the deficiencies of critical geopolitics. In doing so, there is need to develop an alternative critical theoretical framework which can provide bases for a systematic critique. Accordingly, we aim at employ Bhaskarian critical realism as a theoretical alternative. It seems that having a stratified ontology, makes these two different but mutually reinforcing approaches appropriate bases to critically understand geopolitics as a multilayered reality. Accordingly, the main goal of the research is to highlight and explain the implicit and explicit ontological, epistemological and methodological foundations of critical geopolitics.
Results and discussion
It can be argued that critical geopolitics lacks an independent philosophical foundation and therefore has a non-original philosophical base. To put it more precisely, ontology of critical geopolitics is anthropocentric. Hence, it is an idealist, subjectivist and constructivist approach that reduces reality to discourse, and knowledge to discursive interpretation. In critical realist terms, it can be argued that critical geopolitics lacks a stratified ontology and cannot explain non-discursive and structural layers of reality, and more importantly, their interactions. This flat ontology which is associated with an interpretative/constructivist epistemology and a hermeneutic methodology, can easily lead to voluntarism in political sphere – something that is evident in emphasis of critical geopolitics on situated-ness and standpoint of subjects. By overemphasizing on the role and importance of the subject in power relations, although fruitfully challenges the naïve structuralism and mere positivism, critical geopolitics cannot conceptualize the objectivity of power and geopolitical reality beyond the individual human actors and agents.
To conclude, critical geopolitics cannot understand and recognize the relative independence of subjective and objective layers of geopolitical reality. One of the consequences of such an approach is that theory and theorization will be reduced to a mere narrating and describing of mere the empirical level. Hence, there is no possibility to understand and explain different and interrelated layers of geopolitical reality. The whole problem will be reduced to rival geopolitical discourses without considering the link of these discourses to their objective and material bases. Therefore, critical geopolitics arbitrarily limits its analysis to just a part of reality and prevents the possibility of a critical encounter with reality in advance. Such an approach is fruitless and has retrogressive results on the political level. Undoubtedly if we cannot grasp the whole aspects of the problem, as it really is, at the theoretical level, there will be no precise guidance for democratic and emancipatory action..


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Volume 18, Issue 65
April 2022
Pages 1-43
  • Receive Date: 10 June 2020
  • Revise Date: 31 July 2020
  • Accept Date: 20 August 2020
  • First Publish Date: 21 March 2022