Places are never neutral entities with undisputed objective meanings but are socially constructed by individuals and groups. Discuss the relevance of this statement to the study of political geography
In their textbook An Introduction to Political Geography: Space, Place and Politics, Martin Jones and Rhys Jones adopt an expansive definition of “political geography” to encompass the intersection of policy, power and politics as they influence debates from the local or to the grand, strategic level of territorial disputes or acquisitions. The authors discuss political geography in contexts ranging from local debates about the future use of neighborhood parks to the nearly-cataclysmic debates about the status of global flashpoints like Jerusalem and the India-Pakistan dispute regarding Kashmir. They are concerned, primarily, with “how different perceptions of place can lead to political conflict,” and provide myriad examples such as those just mentioned. In Chapter 7 of their textbook, Contesting Place, the authors state the following regarding the problems emanating from divergent perceptions of individual or specific “places”:
“Conflicts of this type arise because places are never neutral entities with undisputed objective meanings. Rather, they are socially constructed by individuals and groups who draw on their own experiences, beliefs and prejudices to imbue places with particular characteristics, meanings and symbolisms. . .[O]ccasionally, the different discourses of places that are mobilized are so incompatible that political conflict erupts over, for example, the appropriateness of particular developments, the legitimacy of would-be local political leaders or even the place name.”
What Jones and Jones are suggesting is that no, or few, territories or locales are free of some form of dispute requiring conflict resolution in order to avoid an uglier resolution, from civil suits in local courts to wars between competing nations. The example of Jerusalem is classic and obvious, given claims on its legitimacy by Judaism, Christianity and Islam and, even with minute sections of land, within each of those faiths. This educator has visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on numerous occasions and remains struck by the rivalries within Christianity regarding control of every square inch of that holy space. Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Armenian Orthodox are the main occupants and zealously guard their sections of the church from encroachment by the others, including by the Ethiopian, Coptic and Syrian Orthodox Churches, which vie for space on the church’s roof and in surrounding and very finite chunks of land. Closer to home, the presentation of unclaimed land within city boundaries can precipitate fierce debates regarding appropriate uses of that land, with some arguing for its use for public parks and others advocating for its development for housing or business. The point of the above quote is that political geography as a discipline is heavily influenced by such conflicts and the dynamics that surround them.