Introducing Gertjan Dijkink
Dr Gertjan Dijkink (Doetinchem, 1946) currently works as Associate professor of political and cultural geography at the University of Amsterdam. He is also author of the frequently quoted book “National Identity and Geopolitical Visions: Maps of Pride and Pain” (Routlegde, 1996). After one year of Biology, Mr Dijkink studied Social Geography (including an extended program on Cultural Anthropology). He obtained his PhD in social sciences in 1987, with a thesis on geographical information and crime fighting in Amsterdam.
My relationship with geopolitics
At what age did you discover geopolitics and what attracted you to it?
At 23 (1969), as an assistant in the Geographical Institute of the Free University (Amsterdam), I had to do a content analysis of the German Zeitschrift für Geopolitik.
However during the following years I was rather attracted to problems of perception (‘tunnel visions’ in policy making) and discourse-formation in local politics which rooted in an interest that already developed when still at secondary school (‘illusions’).
My interest in international politics returned when the Cold War ended and nationalist sentiments revived in the Balkans (1990).
Which geopolitical topics have your focus and why did you choose especially these?
My interest in ‘geopolitical visions’ (or discourses) was on the one hand a logical consequence of a previous interest in political perception and on the other hand based on a strong premonition that Western Europe was not mentally prepared for the new ‘struggles for life’ that would open up at the international scene (ethnic cleansing, embitterment of Russia, new self-awareness in Germany, etc.).
My recent work on geopolitics and religion also fits in with this program. Currently I am studying the territorial impact of ‘globalization’ and its consequences for political power.
What do you consider your most important contribution to geopolitics?
In terms of citations and impact this undoubtedly is ‘National Identity and Geopolitical Visions’ (1996). However my current work on the changing role of territoriality is theoretically more ambitious.
My geopolitical preferences
What is your favourite definition of geopolitics?
Geopolitics studies the geographical background of politics as cognitive input on decision-making and as influence on the operational results of political decisions.
These are my words but the idea actually goes back to the work of H. and M. Sprout in the 1950s and 60s on ‘environmental factors in the study of politics’. I like the double articulation of the environment as cognitive input and unexpected influence on the results of our decisions.
Which geopolitical scientist do you admire the most?
If I have to choose from contemporary authors, it is probably Gerard Toal (Gearoid O’Tuathail) because he most productively applied ideas that resonated with my own interests since the early 1990s.
However, I cannot really mention a geopolitical scientist that has decisively influenced my thinking.
What is your favourite geopolitical book?
There is no special book that stands out among the rest. Books with a more than average impact on my knowledge were:
- David Campbell, 1992, “Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity”
- Peter Sahlins, 1989, “Boundaries: the Making of France and Spain in the Pyrenees”
- Le Monde diplomatique, “Atlas 2009, un monde à l’envers”
I like the atlas because it is such a rare enterprise without equal in the Anglophone world.
What is your favourite geopolitical website?
I find ExploringGeopolitics the most versatile website that does not hide allegiance to a particular institute or ideology behind the flag of geopolitics.
The geopolitical future
In what direction(s) will geopolitical science be heading the coming decades?
There will be much interest in the new multipolar division of power and in the consequences of the distribution of resources. Critical geopolitics will stay relevant in the study of new geopolitical actors (China).
Which geopolitical subject has been too little in the spotlight and needs further research?
The regional impact of failing states. Piracy near Somalia and the impact of weak state Pakistan on the events in Afghanistan have revealed blind spots in the vision of international policy makers.
What will be the largest geopolitical challenge for the world in the 21st century?
There is a divergence of norms about sustainability and a decent human life among the powers that are going to dominate the 21st century. This raises the possibility of a ‘war for wealth’ (Steingart) which will undermine the prospect of global governance.