Tag: political geography

New Subnational African Education and Infrastructure Dataset

Todd Smith, Anustubh Agnihotri, and I have put together a new resource of subnational education and infrastructure access indicators for Africa, released as part of the Climate Change and Africa Political Stability (CCAPS) program at the University of Texas. This dataset provides data on literacy rates, primary and secondary school attendance rates, access to improved water and sanitation, household access to electricity, and household ownership of radio and television. The new CCAPS dataset includes data for 38 countries, covering 471 of Africa’s 699 first-level administrative districts.  Continue reading

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Political Geography Lesson 101

In my American Foreign Policy class, I typically try to find some time to engage students about Puerto Rico. After all, most of them never have cause to think about Puerto Rico’s quasi-colonial status in the US geostrategic orbit. Some Puerto Rican nationalists seek freedom from US domination, but even progressive activist American students interested in global affairs tend to overlook the plight of Puerto Rico in favor of other concerns.

Apparently, beyond my students, more people in Louisville are now going to learn a little something about Puerto Rico’s legacy. Cardinal basketball coach Rick Pitino agreed late last year to coach the Puerto Rican national team in this summer’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament — and in the 2012 London Olympic Games if the team qualifies.

However, Pitino apparently had multiple motives in making this deal. He thought that his Louisville Cardinal basketball team would travel to Puerto Rico, hold practices, and then play against the local “national” team.

The NCAA says no. Once every four years, college basketball teams are able to conduct extra (10, apparently) practices and play additional exhibition games if they travel to foreign lands to play local teams. The college team members get to see a bit of the world and the team benefits from some additional early preparation for the upcoming season.

So what is preventing Pitino from taking his team on the road?

Simple, right? The NCAA pointed out that Puerto Rico is part of the United States and is thus not foreign.

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Current “Current Intelligence”

It’s been a busy week for me adjusting to new blog formats in multiple spaces. So while LGM readers wait for their heads to stop spinning at this site’s facelift, I encourage them to hop on over and check out the new Current Intelligence site, also just renovated this week.

Current Intelligence
, where I post from time to time about the laws of war, used to be an off-shoot of Complex Terrain Lab but is now an online journal with a blog, a set of more formal foreign policy columnists including my Duck of Minerva co-blogger Jon Western, and a “Letters from Abroad” series in which the site’s bloggers report from places they visit, like Durban, South Africa and Varanasi, India. Our illustrious editor actually convinced me to contribute a piece on New Orleans as a “letter from abroad” – something you can actually do at an online journal where political community is understood to be delimited by something other than sovereign territorial boundaries. Snippet:

“It was corporate hotel culture I and my colleagues visited, not New Orleans per se.The gap between physical and social place-ness struck me all week, just as it does when I “pass through” sovereign territorial-legal spaces while never leaving the neo-medieval corridors of international airports – each of which aims to present a caricature of national culture but all of which function as carriers instead of a global culture, one characterized by spaces of liminality and heterogeneity. And yet one’s experience in such spaces borders on strictly homogeneous from a class perspective. We find ourselves compartmentalized from others around us not by geography or language but by norms, rules, uniforms and political economies… Transnational conference sites are like this too. They are hyped up as opportunities to visit a locale, interface with a population, affect local understandings, but they are actually transnational sites in which cleavages are based on capital.”

Anyway. Current Intelligence covers foreign affairs, asymmetric conflict, war law and post-Westphalian political geography. It’s a fabulous community that includes a number of excellent bloggers such as Chris Albon (ConflictHealth is one of the finest human security sites I know of), Tim Stevens who also blogs at Ubiwar, and of course Mike Innes who blogs at Monkwire and is behind the whole thing.

[cross-posted at LGM]

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The Political Geography of “Risk”

I spent ten hours today playing Risk with my son. What would normally have been simply a time-killer on a rainy Sunday became, after my earlier perusal of P. Michael Phillipps’ treatise on the non-decline of the non-Westphalian-system, a day-long exercise in thinking about political geography.

By lunchtime we had grown tired of the Classic version and took a break to run down to World Apart Games and pick up the 2008 version for an “updated version of the map” (advertised online). But when we had a chance to look at the gameboard we were disappointed at the changes, which didn’t make the new map look anything like the world we live in or any empirically grounded version of it. (True the Risk rules would probably mitigate against a world of 190+ sovereign “territories”; but if you must simplify a complex globe, what about lumping countries together according to factors in particular regions that actually do cross national boundaries while distinguishing them from others: like commodities belts or cultural affinities. And instead of using the continents as a frame of reference for scoring, why not use transnational classifications and simply color code the map? The Islamic bloc, for example could be represented in green; OECD countries, dictatorships, or some equivalent of Barnett’s non-integrating gap could be other “regions.” Parts of these blocs are contiguous but parts would not be, introducing an interesting twist on the rules of claiming and holding territories for bonus points. Also, some of these overlap: many but not all OPEC countries might fall into the Islamic bloc and vice-versa, offering a diverse range of options for accumulating different scores for “blocs.”

Any such alternatives would have been more interesting and timely than what Risk 2008 actually offers, which is territorial units in which Russia, for example, looks more like an enclave in Eastern Europe than a continent-spanning empire. As a parent and educator, I was uninspired.) We were told that the most significant changes in this version were actually not the map or the concepts but rather the rules: Risk 2008 offers several different ways to play.

However we were lucky enough to acquire a demonstration copy of an earlier version of Risk, albeit one set later in history: 2210 AD. This version is much more interesting because in some respects the labels on the map make (a kind of) sense when extrapolating ahead into history. What was Brazil on the earlier version is now the Amazon Desert; New York is now the site of one of several underwater cities; central Africa has become the Zaire Military Zone; South Asia is now United Indiastan, China is Hong Kong and Alaska is the Northwest Oil Emirate.

(Also the moon bases are extremely cool.)

Why can’t we use the same kind of imagination to create a meaningful post-Westphalian alternative to map our contemporary world – one in which factions compete not simply for territorial space but to access over resources, transit routes and communications grids; in which the political economy of battle is measured not just in land army units but also on the seas, in the air and in people’s minds; and in which the political cleavages and alliance structures are often non-territorially-based?

I wonder if the predominance of a Westphalian political geography in the boardgame Risk tells us something about our still entrenched notions of the world we live in.

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