Imagined geographies

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The concept of imagined geographies has evolved out of the work of Edward Said, particularly his critique on Orientalism. In this term, 'imagined' is used not to mean 'false' or 'made-up', but 'perceived'. It refers to the perception of space created through certain images, texts or discourses. Imagined geographies can be seen as a form of social constructionism on par with Benedict Anderson's concept of imagined communities.


Main article: Orientalism (book)

In his book on Orientalism, Edward Said argued that Western culture had produced a view of the 'Orient' based on a particular imagination, popularized through academic Oriental studies, travel writing and a colonial view of the Orient. The area was feminized as an open, virgin territory, with no ability or concept of organized rule and government.

Development of theory[edit]

Said was heavily influenced by Michel Foucault, and those who have developed the theory of imagined geographies have linked these together. Imagined geographies are thus seen as a tool of power, of a means of controlling and subordinating areas. Power is seen as being in the hands of those who have the right to objectify those that they are imagining.

Further writers to have been heavily influenced by the concept of imagined geographies including Derek Gregory and Gearóid Ó Tuathail. Gregory argues that the War on Terror shows a continuation of the same imagined geographies that Said uncovered. He claims that the Islamic world is portrayed as uncivilized; it is labeled as backward and failing. This justifies, in the view of those imagining, the military intervention that has been seen in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ó' Tuathail has argued that geopolitical knowledges are forms of imagined geography. Using the example of Halford Mackinder's Heartland Theory, he has shown how the presentation of Eastern Europe/Western Russia as a key geopolitical region after World War I influenced actions such as the recreation of Poland and the Polish Corridor in the 1918 Treaty of Versailles.

This theory has also been used to critique several geographies created; both historically and contemporarily - an example is Maria Todorova's work Imagining the Balkans. Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations has also been criticized as showing a whole set of imagined geographies[by whom?]. Halford Mackinder's 'imperial gaze' has also been argued to be an important imagined geography [1] that emphasised the importance of the British Empire over colonial peoples, and asserted the view of the geographical 'expert' with the 'God's eye view'.

The implications of imagined geographies[edit]

Imagined geographies show the problems created by the use of popular discourse to construct views of other regions or societies. All landscapes are seen as being imagined – there is no 'real' geography to which the imagined ones can be compared. Thus when being analyzed, these geographies should not be 'measured' for their 'accuracy', but de-constructed so that the power invested in them can be revealed.


See also[edit]