PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2019, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (5): 637-647.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2019.05.002

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The evolving concept of lebensraum in political geography

Lulu HOU1(), Yungang LIU2,*()   

  1. 1. School of Geography and Planning, Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Urbanization and Geo-simulation, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
    2. School of Geography, Southern China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
  • Received:2018-07-11 Revised:2019-01-22 Online:2019-05-28 Published:2019-05-28
  • Contact: Yungang LIU;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No. 41571130 and 41271165


Lebensraum is a core concept that Friedrich Ratzel created while he first founded political geography. In 1901, based on the study of anthropogeography, Ratzel came up with two analytical frameworks of spatial politics, "lebensraum" and "national organism," and the word lebensraum has attracted much attention since then. Haushofer, Ratzel's student and a used-to-be soldier devoted to national interests, contributed to the use of lebensraum in geopolitics and military science. Along with the rising popularity of geopolitics, lebensraum was developed into a geopolitical concept to explain the evolution of country system, which served as a theoretical support for Fascism. In the first half of the 20th century, German geographers played a leading role in lebensraum research. With the end of World War II, neither lebensraum nor geopolitics escaped from condemnation. Treating lebensraum as a weapon speaking for fascist states, Anglophone geographers tried to keep away from it, leading to its abandonment in the West. Due to the different language and a relatively independent academic community from the West, some Japanese geographers took up the study of lebensraum from a regional planning perspective since the 1960s. With political geography back into humanism view since the late 1980s, lebensraum liberated from the darkroom of German geopolitics, and there have been increasingly more geographers aware of the enormous theoretical value behind the concept. Through a brief review of the development process of lebensraum, this article aims to reveal the status and role of lebensraum in understanding the analytical framework of political geography, the relationship between human and land, space governance, and decision making of human agency.

Key words: lebensraum, Friedrich Ratzel, political geography, geopolitics, life circle