Political vs. Functional Geography

Author and global strategist Parag Khanna to give GEOINT 2016 keynote


Parag Khanna’s passion for geography was fostered by his global upbringing, having lived in New York, India, the United Arab Emirates, and Germany as a child. He vividly remembers traveling to Berlin with his parents in 1989 and sitting on what was left of the Berlin Wall.

“Going to Berlin right after the wall came down was a major eighth-grade geopolitical awakening,” Khanna said.

He was subsequently glued to CNN during the first Gulf War and carefully analyzed the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“That particular point in time was for me when geography and travel became geopolitics and career,” Khanna said.

Khanna, who will give a keynote address Monday at 10:45 a.m. during the GEOINT 2016 general session, has since become a leading global strategist and best-selling author. He is a CNN Global Contributor and a senior research fellow with the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the National University of Singapore. He is also managing partner of Hybrid Reality.

Parag Khanna


Khanna’s most recent book, Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, is the last in a trilogy 10 years in the making. “Connectography,” as defined by Khanna, is the fusing of connectivity and geography. The book examines how the emergence of megacities (in the U.S., consider the Northeastern corridor stretching from Boston to D.C.) and modern infrastructure are reshaping the meaning of geography all over the world. When compared, infrastructure lines overwhelm political lines on a map, Khanna explained.

In his keynote, Khanna aims to be provocative and to encourage the national security community to think more in terms of functional, or infrastructural, geography as opposed to political geography.

“There is a systemic shift underway from political to functional geography, both of which are equally strategic,” Khanna said, adding he hopes this perspective will provoke thought from the audience about the consequences of how and what they map.

“That topographical re-engineering of geopolitical relationships underway in the world today has such enormous consequences,” Khanna continued. “It’s not focused on enough. I want to put that front and center. A lot of what we think of as alliances and maneuvers are actually very ephemeral.”

Khanna will also discuss his Connectivity Atlas project, a living, regularly updated visualized data set of infrastructure and connectivity in the areas of transportation, communications, and more.

Copies of Connectography will be available for sale Monday at 12:30 p.m. in the foyer outside the Osceola ballroom, and Khanna will be present to sign copies. The book brings together visual and literary elements with robust, custom maps representing the ideas put forth in the text. Maps in the book reveal 21st century trade flows, what the world will look like if it warms four degrees, separatist movements in Africa, urban archipelagos, and how North America is evolving beyond the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In February, Khanna gave a TED Talk titled, “How megacities are changing the map of the world.” Preparing for the TED Talk helped shape the book as he honed and distilled his many thoughts on connectography, he said.

Khanna said he looks forward to hearing the other GEOINT 2016 keynotes and engaging in conversation with fellow speakers and attendees.

“[The GEOINT Symposium] is the largest gathering of its kind bringing together such a diverse group of people,” he said. “That kind of intersection is going to be really exciting.”


Facts from Parag Khanna’s February 2016 TED Talk:

  • The world currently houses 64 million kilometers of roads, 4 million kilometers of railways, 2 million kilometers of pipelines, and 1 million kilometers of internet cables—but has less than 500,000 kilometers of political borders.
  • The world will build more infrastructure in the next 40 years than it has in the last 40,000.
  • By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will live in cities, and the world will have as many as 50 megacity clusters.

Photo Credit: Parag Khanna

Posted in: GEOINT Symposium   Tagged in: Civil, Data, Human Geography


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