There are three concepts representing the different fields of study aimed at evaluating and understanding the interactions or relationships between different jurisdictions and entities or actors with substantial sociopolitical influence. These are geopolitics, political geography, and international relations.
The Difference Between Geopolitics, Political Geography, and International Relations
Geopolitics is the study of the influences of geographical factors in politics and the relationships between different political actors, particularly sovereign states, as well as de-facto states and subnational geopolitical entities. Within the context of international relations, geopolitics provides a framework for studying foreign policy, as well as for explaining and predicting the behaviors of international political actors based on geographical variables.
On the other hand, political geography is a branch of geography concerned with the boundaries, divisions, and/or possessions of jurisdictions or sovereign states and even de-factor states. It is specifically a field of study concerned with understanding the spatial distribution of political processes and how such processes are influenced by the geographic location of a political actor. Hence, it analyzes the interrelationship between territories and politics.
International relations is another field of study based on a multidisciplinary approach in analyzing the interconnectedness of politics, economics, and the law as they transpire in the international arena, as well as the interactions between different political actors such as sovereign states, international governmental and non-governmental organizations, and multinational corporations, among others.
The scope of international relations is comprehensive because it takes into consideration other fields and concepts such as globalization and internationalization, society and culture, comparative religion, environmental studies and ecological sustainability, business management, international trade, diplomacy and foreign policy, terrorism and organized crime, and national and international security, among others. Note that geopolitics and political geography are also under the scope of international relations.
Summary of the Difference: Geopolitics vs. Political Geography vs. International Relations
Nonetheless, all three fields of study have some overlaps. Both geopolitics and political geography can also be applied in a non-international or localized landscape while international relations is particularly concerned with the global landscape. However, based on the aforementioned general definitions, the difference between geopolitics, political geography, and international relations can be summed up in the following:
Geopolitics examines how geography shapes politics while political geography is about examining how politics shapes geography. Both geopolitics and political geography are closely related. They represent two ways of looking at the same thing. Meanwhile, international relations is simply concerned with the interrelationships between different state and non-state political actors, as well as the political, economic, and social structures and processes transpiring in the international landscape.