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Political Geography

Department of Geography
University of Zurich (Irchel)
Winterthurerstr. 190
CH-8057 Zurich, Switzerland

E-Mail: perscheng.assef@no.spam.geo.uzh.no.spam.ch

Sri Lanka

Democratic Republic of Congo

Sri Lanka

Democratic Republic of Congo

About us


The picture above provides a schematic overview of our research interests. Our teaching, in turn, is based on this research.

1. Research

We study the intricate relations between violence, politics, and space. Drawing on the interdisciplinary field of geography, anthropology, political ecology and international relations, we conduct qualitative extended case studies in different parts of the world, principally in South and Southeast Asia (Nepal, Sri Lanka, Borneo), Africa (Ethiopia, DR Congo) and Europe, as well as in the transnational contexts of migration and humanitarian aid. Methodologically, our research is grounded in qualitative fieldwork. We pursue two main themes of interest:

1) The state, projects of rule, and forms of sovereignty: This theme is concerned with the ways political order is produced, reified and legitimised through practices and technologies of rule. We investigate the violent reconfiguration of practices and technologies of rule that emerge in war zones, post-conflict reconstruction and war-to-peace transitions (Sri Lanka, Nepal, Horn of Africa, Congo). This is linked to our interest in the politics of group identity, genealogy, sense of belonging and the contested boundaries between religion and politics (Sri Lanka).

2) Territory and territorialisation: we work on boundaries and the ways they are demarcated, crossed and contested as well as on the practices of claiming property and ownership over landed resources and how these claims are producing and are the product of political legitimacy. Central is the notion of the frontier, or the way (state) power is enacted and projected in the geographic margins of state rule, including borderlands (comparative cases across South Asia and Africa), peripheral cities (Ethiopia), the forest settlement frontier (Borneo, Sri Lanka), the pastoral resource frontier (Horn of Africa) and nature conservation zones (Congo). We have also dealt with the question of post-disaster housing and land (Sri Lanka).

SOTOMO: The independent research group sotomo (led by Dr. Michael Hermann) is affiliated with our unit. Sotomo supports the knowledge transfer from the scientific community to the general public. 


More detail about specific research projects can be found here


2. Teaching

The Political Geography Unit is responsible for teaching the following courses:


Bachelor’s level

Geo 112 Introduction to social science (every fall semester). Geo 112 is an introductory course that focuses on scientific skills, scientific writing in particular (in German).

Geo 242 Political Geography I (every spring semester). Geo 242 covers a wide range of subjects; it bridges some of the classic work by pioneers in political geography with contemporary authors (in German and English). 

Geo 363 Political Geography: Identity, Sovereignty, Territory (every fall semester). GEO 363 introduces students to the subjects that our unit specializes in: identity (and nationalism), sovereignty (and the state), and territory (and territoriality) (in English and German).


Master’s level

Geo 423 Political Geography (every spring semester). Geo 423 is an advanced course; it expands on geo 363 and focuses explicitly of armed conflict.  

GEO 410 Thinking Geographically (every fall semester). This course is a compulsory module for all master students and brings together lecturers from all sub-fields of geography to explain how concepts shape what geographers do in their research.


Elective courses

GEO 844 Politische Ökologie

GEO 745 Politische Philosophie meets Politische Geographie


In addition to taught courses, we supervise BA and MA theses, as well as ongoing PhDs. For more information on our teaching activities, please click here.


3. Publications


We regularly publishes our findings in academic journals. The Political Geography Unit also actively engages with other media to further disseminate our research. For more information, please see Publications.


4. Consultancies


Alongside academic research, our unit also executes policy and practice oriented research, through consultancies for specific clients. This includes evaluations, policy workshops, and advisory studies. For more information on these kinds of assignments, please contact Bart Klem.