Critical geopolitics: looking at the world from a different angle

Posted by Dr Matt Benwell,

In my view one of the most enjoyable aspects of doing geographical research is the opportunity to explore an issue from another angle, from another vantage point. To listen to the perspectives of those that might not often be heard or broadcast when events unfold around the world. These voices may sometimes reinforce what we thought we already knew about an issue but also have the potential to surprise us and encourage further investigation and (self-) reflection.

My research has offered me the opportunity to do this in relation to understanding Argentine perspectives on the Falklands/Malvinas territorial dispute in the South West Atlantic. I have travelled to Argentina on a number of occasions to conduct interviews with young people, academics, politicians and veterans of the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas war.Image The one topic that most guidebooks tell you not to mention in Argentina is the war and the sovereignty question but I havve had extremely positive experiences learning about this geopolitical dispute from the other side of the Atlantic. Argentine citizens have been keen to share their views which have quite often surprised me and shattered my original assumptions.

And this ability to read geopolitical events critically, to look at world affairs from different angles, is no longer restricted to the privileged world of academic research. The internet has now made it easy to access the press of most nation-states around the world, not to mention the wonderful world of blogging and social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. It’s now possible to follow political leaders such Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez as well as prominent NGOs/pressure groups through their social networking accounts. The ways in which diverse citizenries are interpreting international news stories can be gauged by watching YouTube videos or reading comments underneath news stories receiving coverage. It seems that the practices of diplomats and politicians are increasingly blurred with those of ‘everyday’ online citizens situated in different parts of the world. These all provide fantastic resources to understand geopolitical events from a host of different geographical locations and positions within those societies. I encourage all of my Geography undergraduate students to engage with different sources from around the world as part of learning how to think more critically about what they read.

Engaging with such rich and diverse online resources strikes me as extremely valuable if we are to understand, for instance, how the UK is perceived around the world.  In recent months, Argentina has looked to embarrass the UK on the international stage for not entering into peaceful negotiations relating to the Falklands/Malvinas sovereignty question. The release of a controversial advert ahead of the Olympics, as well as various high-profile meetings at the UN have provided global exposure for Argentina’s sovereignty claim and its wish to enter into negotiations with the UK. These have shaped the ways in which the UK and its foreign policies are perceived by Argentines and people more widely in Latin America. Indeed, the majority of Latin American states are supportive of Argentina’s territorial claim and have more recently lambasted the UK for threatening to enter the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to extradite Julian Assange. In both cases, the UK has been perceived by Latin American states as acting in a ‘colonial and arrogant’ fashion.

Of course, the extent to which people agree or disagree with such perspectives will vary and I’ve regularly found that topics such as the Falklands/Malvinas question can stimulate passionate and engaging discussion amongst Geography undergraduates when teaching at Liverpool. However, I think the most valuable part of looking at the world from a different angle is that it allows us, together with students, to interrogate and sometimes challenge what we think we already know about a subject. This can result in much deeper understandings of geographical issues from the vantage point of different actors and it can occasionally turn our preconceptions about an issue upside down, which is what I find especially exciting about geographical research.

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