Research Themes

Merje Kuus is a political geographer whose work concentrates on geopolitics and policy processes in national and transnational institutions. She investigates the production of expert knowledge in bureaucratic settings: processes that might be called political geographies of policy expertise. The research blends insights from political and economic geography as well as  international relations, anthropology, and political sociology to advance our understanding of knowledge and power in  regulatory institutions. Dr. Kuus has also written on state sovereignty, intellectuals of statecraft, identity discourses, and the idea of Europe. She is currently engaged in a multi-year research project on the creation of transnational diplomatic expertise 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 also a co-editor of the Ashgate Research Companion to Critical Geopolitics (Ashgate, 2013). 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.

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 a dynamic and unpredictable process that transgresses the convenient distinctions between state and non-state actors.

Empirically, 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 ambiguously transnational operation.

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 the geographical assumptions and definitions that underpin international politics today. I investigate how political practices, especially on the international arena, are underpinned 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 anchors a broader argument about knowledge and authority in bureaucratic settings.

Security, identity, and the state

Security is a powerful concept, 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 explained by invoking national security, and with what effects. In so doing, I seek to illuminate the transformations of state institutions and state-society relations in the context of immigration pressures, cross-border cooperation, and fears of terrorism.