Political Geography

Political Geography is a transdisciplinary approach to study how political processes and conflicts shape society and spaces across different geographical scales. Political Geography draws on a rich theoretical and methodological portfolio from international relations, geopolitics, area studies, post-colonial studies, peace and conflict studies, cultural studies, political economy, human geography and political ecology, anthropology, and history.

Our empirical entry points are boundary- & border-making processes and conflicts pertaining to state- and non-state territorialities, sovereignties and identities. Thematically, we study these processes and conflicts in the context of state formation and nation building; land tenure and agricultural policies; nature conservation projects, resource and land conflicts; water infrastructures and governance; democracy, authoritarianism and militarization; trade and migration. Geographically we work in Switzerland, New Zealand, South Africa, Namibia, Tanzania, Pakistan, and Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia.

For BSc and MSc students we offer courses and excursions in qualitative methods, political geography, human geography, political ecology, water geography, urban geography, economic geography, social theory, global development and change.

Our research projects in Political Geography

  • The Cultural Logistics of Chinese Science Fiction

    This project examines the recent rise in worldwide popularity of Chinese science fiction (SF) literature. Since the early 2010s, SF from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been rapidly gaining international recognition through translation, endorsements, prestigious awards, and film adaptations. So far, scholarship has sought to explain this phenomenon by analyzing the poetics, aesthetics, and ideology of SF texts. However, an exclusive focus on textuality ignores the discursive and material arrangements fostering the production of Chinese SF. Existing research fails to explain the modalities through which the Chinese party-state articulates and reaffirms its geopolitical hegemony and vision of techno-scientific modernity through SF. This project will shed light on the rise of Chinese SF by examining the relationships between its fictional speculation, shared imaginary practices, and networks of discursive and material circulation. Its main research question is: Why is Chinese SF particularly suitable for articulating and reinforcing China’s geopolitical aspirations, and how is this genre mobilized to serve this purpose? The methodology of the project combines literary analysis, semi-structured interviews, participant observation, virtual ethnography, and archival research. The project will advance science fiction studies, literary geography, and the geography of science fiction, while contributing also to the social study of logistics and popular geopolitics.


    Funding for this project is provided by the Swiss National Science Foundation.


    Image: https://chinafilminsider.com/chinese-sci-fi-blockbuster-draws-crowds-on-opening-day/ 

    Project members:

    Prof. Christine Bichsel

    Dr. Lorenzo Andolfatto




    Wandering Earth

  • Science, fiction and power: rethinking planetarity through post-Earth science fiction from China

    This project researches science fiction (SF) from China with the aim to advance the concept of planetarity. Scholars are still struggling to grasp conceptually the scale of climate change. They frequently mobilise the concepts of globality and the Anthropocene to analyse these processes; underplaying, however, their diverse dimensions. As a corrective, this project furthers the concept of planetarity, which denotes the understanding of Earth as a geological and socio-ecological entity at the planetary scale. In so doing, this research corrects human- and Earth-centric assumptions, providing an alternative heuristics and integrating power into the analysis.

    The project researches SF literature for advancing the concept of planetarity. SF is fiction that explores our relationship to Earth and the universe. It is a crucial mode of thinking at the planetary scale. Moreover, SF defamiliarises and decentres our understanding of Earth through a “post-Earth” perspective, i.e. unfamiliar representations of and fictional distance from Earth as we know it. SF proliferated in China during the last two decades. It takes shape within the fields of power and politics in China and the geopolitics of its genre by contesting the current hegemony of European and North American SF. The analysis of power relations of post-Earth SF from China will advance the concept of planetarity by rendering it receptive to power.


    Funding for this project is provided by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

    Image by Thomas Budach from Pixabay

    Project members:

    Prof. Christine Bichsel

    Dr. Lorenzo Andolfatto




  • Local Heritage, Moral Economy and Tourism within a World Heritage Cultural Property of Japan

    This research project examines the articulations and social worlds of heritage along the post-listing phase of a World Heritage cultural property of Japan. By looking at the various elements composing the cultural property (churches, coastal and offshore villages, houses, graveyards, coastlines etc.) and the individuals and groups connected to them, I reveal engagements with and attachments to places, objects and practices and their underlying rationalities as the World Heritage label enters the stage. The links between the moral dimensions of economy and the political and economic regime of Japan will be illustrated by an outlook on the moral dimension of economic life in reference to tourism-related activities. This project continues my JSPS funded research unfolding at the University of Tokyo which examined the representations of the World Heritage nomination at the level of state and non-state institutions.


    DAAD research fellowship, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle / Saale, 2020   


    Photo: © Raluca Mateoc, former Gorin Church  

    Project members:

    Dr. Raluca Mateoc





    Project area: Japan

Our team members in Political Geography

Raluca Mateoc

Postdoctoral researcher

Office PER 14 - 3.333.1

+41 26 300 90 23