Introducing Veit Bachmann

Veit BachmannDr Veit Bachmann (born in 1979) works at the Department of Human Geography at Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Germany. He is currently the director of the EuroGaps research group that examines external relations and external perceptions of the EU in sub-Saharan Africa and the Black Sea Region. Veit was trained at the University of Plymouth (PhD, 2009), Texas A&M University (MSc 2006) and the Universität Trier (BA 2004).

Geopolitical Passport

1. At what age did you discover geopolitics and what attracted you to it?

I don’t know. It is difficult to answer. I think my initial attraction to “geopolitics” (whatever it means?) came through travelling. This started while I was still at school and long before I became interested in an academic engagement with it.

When I was 21, I decided to start studying geography because I thought as a geographer one has to travel much (I had not read “The Little Prince” by then). At that time I did not think much about geopolitics. I was primarily reading German texts, and in German the word “Geopolitik” was barely used since it has long been associated with Nazi Germany’s expansionism.

When I first started to engage with geopolitics, I thought of it as almost as an equivalent to international politics.

2. Which geopolitical topics have your focus and why did you choose especially these?

EU geopolitics, European integration, African politics, Global North-South relations, Colonialism.

My interest in European integration, and EU geopolitics, is also based on the history of Europe, which is equally troublesome and fascinating. I have a very positive and normative attitude towards European integration, less so about the EU’s role in the world.

The former is based on the history of overcoming centuries of warfare in Europe (at least in large parts of it) and the privilege of growing up in a free, civilian and peaceful environment – which I attribute at least to some extent to the process of European integration.

The latter results from my work on EU external relations, which, unfortunately reproduce many of the problematic external policies of its member states. Most worrying, in my opinion, are the Europe’s restrictive and inhumane migration policies, the member states’ aligned visa regimes, an inflexible development policy, and the perceived obligation to play an important geopolitical role.

3. What do you consider your most important contribution to geopolitics?

I do not think I can claim any significant contribution to geopolitics.

An aspect that I like about my work, though, is that I get to interact frequently with European and African diplomats and I want to believe that – at least occasionally – my discussions with them leaves them (and me too, of course) with a slightly better understanding of each others’ perceptions about each other.

Your geopolitical preferences

4. What is your favourite definition of geopolitics ?

I have difficulties settling on a finite definition of what geopolitics is or means. However, there are certain attributes that I would attach to ‘geopolitics’:

  • It is glocal: locally grounded and inherently context-specific but with wider international connections; as such geopolitics is also geoeconomic, geocultural, geosocial, etc.
  • It is always a process: subject to evolution and change, never static
  • It is sociospatial: interdependent with underlying spatial configurations that are simultaneously shaping and shaped by the interaction of geopolitical actors
  • It is concerned with international politics, but not only!

Having said all this, I still like John Agnew and Stuart Corbrige’s definition of geopolitics as a “set of socially constructed, rather than naturally given, practices and ideas through which the international political economy is realized geographically” (Mastering Space, 1995, 5).

5. Which geopolitical scientist do you admire the most?

Hmm, also a difficult choice. Of course, a lot of my thought is inspired by the work of the usual suspects in Critical Geopolitics. However, maybe in addition I would I would name:

  • Mark Duffield, for developing early thoughts on the ‘global civil war’
  • James Ferguson, for his work on state spatialization
  • Ian Manners, for his work on EU geopolitics
  • Immanuel Wallerstein, for the density of ‘The Modern World System I’

6. What is your favourite geopolitical book (and why)?

Probably Wallersteins’ “The Modern World System I” because I read it at the beginning of my graduate studies and was massively impressed by the detail and depth of how it teases out the historical evolution of an interdependent world economy.

Also John Agnew’s “Hegemony: the new shape of global power”is an excellent geopolitical read in my opinion.

7. What is your favourite geopolitical website (and why)?

This one of course!!!

And also Stuart Elden’s Progessive Geographies.

The geopolitical future

8. In what direction(s) will geopolitical science be heading the coming decades?

I tell you in which direction I think it should be heading.

It should include more voices from beyond the ‘West’, what Jo Sharp calls ‘Geopolitics at the margins’.

It should also ‘embrace the normative’ to refer to Elisabeth Olsen and Andrew Sayer. We have long been hesitant to make normative statements – for good reasons, I might add.

And I think we must keep a critical eye on normative statements, but I think it is disastrous to sacrifice normativity entirely on the altar of deconstructivism. I think through its history of critical reflexivity and historical, geopolitical and local sensitivities in different time-spaces, critical geopolitics is now mature enough to make more active, constructive, normative (political) statements without falling back into essentialising and ethnocentric authoritarianism.

We have also long lamented the close-to-non-existing impact our work has outside academia. However, if all we do is to deconstruct, it is no wonder nobody is interested in reading our non-statements.

I also want to re-engage Nick Megoran’s call for researching not only war but also peace. In addition to studying war, causes of conflict, and what has gone wrong in different contexts, we should increasingly be studying cases where potential conflict has been avoided and things have gone well. I agree with Nick that this kind of research refers far too little attention.

9. Which geopolitical subject has been too little in the spotlight and needs further research?

See above and below.

10. What will be the largest geopolitical challenge for the world in the 21st century?

I want to give two answers here:

First, Western societies will have to understand that we cannot continue our present life-style of environmental destruction and social exploitation (both nationally as well as globally). We will also have to understand that we will not solve these problems through a paradigm of economic growth.

Second, we have to accept migration and define more inclusive social policies. I do not think that territory, the nation-state and national citizenship will decrease in geopolitical significance.

However, I am convinced that the contemporary exclusionary immigration regimes of ALL Western countries cannot coexist much longer with Western countries’ normativity and commitment to human rights and universal values. It is incomprehensible why we fight for the free flow of virtually everything around the globe (pretty much all kinds of commodities, financial capital, ideas, cultural goods, etc.), but at the same time restrict the free flow of humans – except of course when we want to go somewhere.

The key challenge, in my opinion, will be to find a balance between migration and social policies without overstretching the capabilities of the social welfare state – possibly through more re-distributive taxing mechanisms (national and international) and a demand-and-support social policy scheme. What I am particularly worried about are growing levels of intolerance, racism and nationalism – in Europe, but also beyond.

What I am not worried about is China and a loss of European influence on a global stage.

Veit Bachmann: European Union, External Relations, Immigration, Development Policy
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