This is the abstract for my keynote to the Regimes of Calculation and Global Governance workshop at Balsillie School of International Affairs in September. It develops from the ‘Earth‘ paper I gave in Tel Aviv recently, and is also linked to the ‘Terricide‘ paper I’ll be giving at the RGS-IBG conference in August.
Recently Geographers and others have begun to rethink the nature of ‘geopolitics’. Unhappy with the way that geopolitics has effectively become a synonym for global politics, they are beginning to re-think the ‘geo’ element of the word, as the earth, land or world. English is an unusual language in that we have three sources for words relating to this concept – from the Germanic, the Latin, and the Greek. These words can be found in a range of terms, from earth itself to terrestrial and terrain, to geography, geology, geometry and geopolitics. But in several of these terms, we are losing the physical, material resonances and replacing it with other ideas. So geopolitics is being re-conceived as global politics; geometry is a branch of mathematics, abstract and detached; geography is no longer earth-writing but a loose spatial sensibility to work that could equally have been done in International Relations, in Sociology, in Cultural Studies. Perhaps it is in geology that we find the true inheritor of the etymological sense of the term, the logos of the geo.
Elizabeth Grosz has suggested the idea of geopower as a broader frame within which geopolitics operates. Within a wider rethinking of geopower we can then resituate what we mean by geopolitics, as a politics of the earth. At its best, such a politics of the earth would take into account the power of natural processes or resources; the dynamics of human and environment; the interrelation of objects outside of human intervention; the relation between the biosphere, atmosphere and lithosphere; and the complex interrelations that produce, continually transform and rework the question of territory and state spatial strategies. This geopolitics would sit alongside, rather than replace, the attention given to biopolitics in recent years.
This talk picks up on these suggestions, in the particular register of geo-metrics. Just as with biopower, biometrics and biopolitics, there is a three-way relation between geopower, geometrics and geopolitics. Geometrics can be understood both in the traditional sense of the term, a measuring of the earth as geo-metry. In Herodotus there is a description of the original earth-measurers, the Egyptians sent to remark the boundaries of fields after the Nile’s floodwaters had subsided. But there are also a range of other ways geo-metrics might be thought in terms of the applied sense of land surveying; the measuring of the yields of oil and gas, soil fertility, air quality, emissions, and population density. How might this sense of the term be useful today as we grapple with new metrics, new regimes of calculation, new ways of governing the global?