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During this event the American political geographer Natalie Koch will present her book The Geopolitics of Spectacle: Space, Synecdoche, and the New Capitals of Asia.

Detail Summary
Date 28 June 2018
Time 15:30 - 17:00
Location Roeterseilandcampus - building B/C/D (entrance B/C)
Room REC B2.07

In The Geopolitics of Spectacle (Cornell University Press, 2018), Koch analyses how autocratic rulers use “spectacular “projects in new capital cities to shape state-society relations by contrasting these projects with the views of those from the poorest regions of the state. 

Cornell University Press, 2018

Spectacle has not been extensively theorized by geographers, despite their longstanding interest in its role in political, cultural, and urban geography. Focusing on statist spectacle, she outlines a geographic approach that treats it as a political technology and asks: who uses it, for whom, and when and where? To move beyond the prevailing “then and there” approach to spectacle, she argues for a grounded approach to asking “when and where” spectacle unfolds that also accounts for the unspectacular spaces, effects, and experiences that represent spectacle’s Others. Doing so effectively entails examining the deeply contextual spatial imaginaries that are required to give spectacle meaning. The trope of synecdoche, she suggests, is key to understanding the logic of spectacular urbanism. 

Through a cross-regional empirical study of recent capital city development schemes in Central Asia (Astana, Baku, Ashgabat), the Arabian Peninsula (Abu Dhabi, Doha), and East Asia (Naypyidaw, Bandar Seri Begawan), she calls for more attention to the role of spatial metaphors and geopolitical imaginaries, which underpin the logic of spectacular urbanism. Illustrating how spectacular capital cities only make sense to people who have learned to think synecdochically about the capital standing for the entire country, she also shows how synecdoche diverts attention from the multiple ways that spectacle’s unspectacular Others are expressed and scaled in each region.

Herman van der Wusten (University of Amsterdam) will act as discussant.

For all those interested in political geography, (new) capital cities, autocratic rulers and identity politics, resource-rich non-democratic nations in Central-Asia 

All are welcome, registration is not required but welcome (please send an email to 

About the speakers 

Natalie Koch is Associate Professor and O’Hanley Faculty Scholar in the Department of Geography at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. She is a political geographer focused on nationalism, geopolitics, and authoritarianism in post-Soviet Central Asia and the Arabian Peninsula. She explores alternative sites of geopolitical analysis such as sport, spectacle, urban development, and other ostensibly positive expressions of authoritarian state power. She is currently working on her second book, Spatializing authoritarianism: A critical geopolitics of the liberal-illiberal divide, and has several ongoing projects about knowledge-economy development, identity politics, and sustainability in the Gulf. In Spring 2019, she will be a Fulbright fellow in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Herman van der Wusten is Emeritus Professor of Political Geography, Department of Geography, Planning and International Development Studies, University of Amsterdam. His research interests include capital cities, nationalism, and the post-communist transition.


This book launch is organized by Virginie Mamadouh (AISSR - Geographies of Globalizations)  in cooperation with the Centre for Urban Studies.

Roeterseilandcampus - building B/C/D (entrance B/C)
Roeterseilandcampus - building B/C/D (entrance B/C)

Room REC B2.07

Nieuwe Achtergracht 166
1018 WV Amsterdam