La Politique des États et leur géographie… And their centres
Jean Gottmann*, La politique des États et leur géographie, Paris, CTHS, 2007, 261 p + XXI p., préface et bibliographie complète des travaux de Jean Gottmann par Luca Muscara.
Jean Gottmann was indeed interested in political geography and in the cloisonnement du monde as he called the political fragmentation of the surface of our Planet. In this book Gottmann exposes his theory on the iconography/circulation interplay: iconography is the force at the “foundation” of political entity; circulation is the force of change and flow. And the dialectics of both animate geographical space. Via this model Gottmann insists that the politics and policies of states are not only in their geography as the biggest and deepest cloisonnements lie not in space but in the hearts and in the human spirit.
But we can ask: where is the centre in all this? As we can see political centrality, a political centre founded in space and time, is a condition sine qua non for political partitioning of our world: every sovereign political entity has a spatial centre necessary to legitimize its existence, that is, geographical centre is at the foundation of every political entity. Where is the analysis of the political centre in this book?
The centre is too evident, it seems, that Gottmann didn’t devote any chapter to speak about it; we can see the centre in many arguments in the book: in how states are formed, in how borders are delimited, in how resource management is decided… In fact, the centre is omnipresent in this book: it is in every decision-making process and every policy drawing described and analysed. The centre is read as the equilibrium between iconography and circulation: after all isn’t the centre which is supposed to find balance between the “above” and the “before”, between past and future?
Later Jean Gottmann coordinates a book on political centres and centralities: Center and Periphery, Spatial Variations in Politics (1980), and where he analyses political centrality in extenso. Yet La politique des États et leur géographie, on its own, is a deep study of the centre.
*Jean Gottmann (1915-1994) was indeed a globalist before globalisation: born in the Russian Empire to Jewish parents, in the 1930s he became a research assistant in geography at the Sorbonne in Paris before leaving France, occupied by the Nazis, for the United States. He returned to Europe after the war where he spent some time in France then he went to the United Kingdom where he became the director of school of geography at the University of Oxford. It is hard to classify him in one geographical school of thought: we can say he is unique in his intellectual production.
 Napoleon once said « La politique des Etats est dans leur géographie » (States’ politics is in their geography). Arguably Gottmann is using an interesting wordplay to say “La politique des Etats et leur géographie” (States politics’ and their geography).