Merje Kuus Photo

Merje Kuus

Associate Professor
Department of Geography
1984 West Mall, Room 235
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada
Tel. (604) 822-3443
E-mail: merje.kuus@geog.ubc.ca

 

Research Themes

Merje Kuus is a political geographer whose work concentrates on geopolitics and policy processes in transnational institutions. Her research investigates geopolitical knowledge production in bureaucratic settings: processes that might be called political geographies of expertise. It blends insights from human geography, political science and international relations, anthropology, and political sociology to advance our understanding of knowledge and power in transnational regulatory institutions. Dr. Kuus has also written on state sovereignty, intellectuals of statecraft, identity discourses, and the idea of Europe. She is currently in the early stages of a multi-year project on transnational diplomacy in Europe.

Dr. Kuus is the author of Geopolitics and Expertise: Knowledge and Authority in European Diplomacy (Wiley Blackwell, 2014), Geopolitics Reframed: Security and Identity in Europe’s Eastern Enlargement (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), and numerous articles in geographic, international relations, and European studies journals. She is a co-editor of the Ashgate Research Companion to Critical Geopolitics (Ashgate, 2013), a review editor of the journal Geopolitics, and a co-editor of the book series Critical Geopolitics at Ashgate. Dr. Kuus has been the recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship and the Killam Fellowship as well as individual research grants from the United States Institute of Peace, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Soros Foundation, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, among other bodies.

The list below highlights the key themes within that work. Bibliographic information on publications, including links to the webpages of the books, is listed under the tab ‘Publications’ above.

Geopolitics and diplomacy

Geopolitics is a tricky term that many rightly associate with the violent inter-state power politics of the previous two centuries. In my work, as in much of contemporary human geography, to study geopolitics is to analyze and deconstruct the geographical assumptions and definitions that underpin international politics today. In broad terms, I investigate how political practices, especially on the international arena, are underpinned by spatial assumptions—by geographically defined categories like center and margin, inside and outside, Self and Other. These assumptions are central to the processes by which complex political issues come to be defined and managed in a particular manner.

Empirically, my current work focuses on transnational diplomatic practices in the European Union. This example undergirds a broader argument about knowledge and authority in bureaucratic settings.

Transnational policy processes; production of bureaucratic expertise

Policy impinges on all aspects of self and society. It shapes not just societal outcomes but, more importantly, the processes that produce these outcomes. To study policy is to investigate not a ready-made blueprint but a dynamic and unpredictable process. In geography as well as other social sciences, there is today a growing recognition of the need for close-up studies of policy processes. My work is a part of that effort to understand the fields of power that operate within policy-making bureaucracies.

Empirically, this strand of my research focuses on the European Union as a key power center in today’s world. Any attempt to understand the diffuse operation of power in the international sphere must closely consider the EU in all of its irresolvable ambiguities. My particular interest lies in the Union’s external relations, specifically in the ways in which these relations are conceived and codified within the Union’s bureaucracy in Brussels.  

Security, identity, and the state

Security is a key political dynamic today, as an ever wider range of social issues, such as environment, health, or minority rights, are increasingly framed in terms of national security in many countries. Such security threats are not simply external to the community which they allegedly endanger. Rather, threats from the 'outside' are necessary components of maintaining and consolidating that community's identity 'inside'. Inscription of threats is therefore a key part of political struggles. Focusing empirically on Europe, I examine how particular foreign and domestic policies are justified by invoking national security, and with what effects. In so doing, I illuminate the transformations of state power in the context of growing immigration pressures, cross-border cooperation, and the current 'war on terror'.

Many of the geographical and territorial concepts that we take for granted today, such as nation and state, originate in Europe and were first put into practice there. By studying Europe, we can better understand their historical emergence and transformation, their mass appeal, and their societal effects. Today too, mainstream understandings of civilizations, borders, and historical memory are closely bound up with geographical understandings of identity and belonging. Unraveling this inherently spatial operation of culture and politics in Europe therefore tells us a great deal about that continent, and others.

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For further information, see ‘Geopolitical Passport’, an interview with Leonhardt, van Efferink,  published at Exploring Geopolitics (website) , April 2011