Acquiring Geographic Knowledge in International Politics - 10.5102/uri.v8i2.1293

Luís Miguel da Vinha


Recent years have witnessed the emergence of a number of works relating geographic mental maps to international politics. Notwithstanding the various efforts to clarify and explain the conceptual framework underlying the geographic mental map research agenda, much theoretical bewilderment still persists. The concept of the geographic mental map has diverged considerably in definition and numerous methodological approaches have been undertaken. Consequently, no scholarly consensus has yet been reached. “Mental map” is still used as a catch-all term with only very vague notions as to its conceptual underpinnings. Several fundamental issues still need to be addressed. First and foremost, geographic mental maps are in need of a serious effort of conceptualization in order to be properly applied to the study of international politics. In particular, the question of how foreign policy decision-maker’s geographic
mental maps are formed has to date eluded a satisfactory response. With this in mind, this article shall consider some of the many ways individuals can acquire geographic knowledge from their political environment. For this purpose we draw from the vast theoretical and empirical literature that has emerged primarily from the fields of environmental psychology and behavioral geography. Despite the inherent limitations of adapting this knowledge to the field of foreign policy analysis, this literature is highly
suggestive given that it serves as an important source of insight and hypotheses for those
concerned with the understanding of foreign policy-maker’s geographic constructs.


cognition; geographic knowledge; geographic mental maps; international politics; perception.

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ISSN 1807-2135 (impresso) - ISSN 1982-0720 (on-line) - e-mail:

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