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Natalie Koch

Natalie Koch

Contact Information:


323 Eggers Hall

Natalie Koch

Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Geography and the Environment Department

Highest degree earned

Ph.D., University of Colorado at Boulder, 2012


Geography undergraduate advising emails must be sent to:

I am a political geographer focusing on geopolitics, nationalism and identity politics, the state system, and authoritarianism. My research investigates how authoritarian regimes and power relations are reproduced through sites of pleasure and opportunity, rather than just violence and oppression. Empirically, I focus on the Arabian Peninsula, where I study the many transnational ties that bind the Gulf countries, actors, and ideas to other parts of the world.

Areas of Expertise

Political geography, nationalism, geopolitics, authoritarianism, Gulf and Arabian Peninsula studies

Research Grant Awards and Projects

2023     Wilson Center Fellowship (Wilson Center 2023-2024)

2022     Visiting Fellow, Potsdam Institute For Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS-Potsdam)

2021     Middle Eastern Studies Program Faculty Research Grant, Moynihan Institute, Syracuse University

2019     Appleby-Moser Fund for Research Grant, The Maxwell School, Syracuse University

2019     SSRC InterAsia Program, Transregional Research Short-Term Residency Grant, Duke GAI (2020)

2019     SU Collaboration for Unprecedented Success and Excellence (CUSE) Grant (2019-2021)

2018     Humboldt Research Fellowship for Experienced Researchers, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2019-2021)

2018     Merget Fellow, Maxwell-in-Washington, Syracuse University (2019-2020)

2018     Fulbright Core Scholars Grant, Middle East and North Africa Regional Research Program (UAE, Qatar)

2018    Visiting Fellows Alumni Grant, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki

2017    Pre-proposal Research Grant, Department of Geography, Syracuse University

2016    SU Maxwell School’s Daniel Patrick Moynihan Award for Outstanding Teaching, Research and Service

2016    SU Meredith Professors’ Teaching Recognition Award

2015    SU Office of Sponsored Programs Small Grants Competition

2015    J. William Fulbright Core Faculty Fellows Grant, Azerbaijan (declined)

2015    NSF Catalyzing New International Collaborations

2014    Stanley D. Brunn Young Scholar Award, Political Geography Specialty Group of the AAG

2014    M. J. Wasylenko Faculty Research Grant, The Maxwell School, Syracuse University

2014    Central Asia Fellowship, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki

2013    SSRC Postdoctoral Fellowship for Transregional Research (2013-2014)

2013    Pre-proposal Research Grant, Department of Geography, Syracuse University

2012    Appleby-Moser Fund for Research Grant, The Maxwell School, Syracuse University

2011    NSF and Academy of Finland Nordic Research Opportunity at University of Oulu

2010    NSF Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant

2009    NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (2009-2012)



2022. Arid empire: The entangled fates of Arizona and Arabia. New York: Verso. [Link]

2022. Spatializing authoritarianism. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press. [Link]

2020. Handbook on the changing geographies of the state: New spaces of geopolitics. Northampton: Edward Elgar (with S. Moisio, A. Jonas, C. Lizotte, J. Luukkonen). [Link]

2018. The geopolitics of spectacle:  Space, synecdoche, and the new capitals of Asia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. [Link]

2017. Critical geographies of sport: Space, power, and sport in global perspective. New York: Routledge. [Link]

Articles, chapters, and commentaries

Forthcoming. Event ethnography: Studying power and politics through events. Geography Compass.

Forthcoming. Teaching geopolitics through sport. Journal of Geography in Higher Education. [Link]

Forthcoming. Free speech or obedient speech? Revisiting liberal speech norms in “closed contexts.” Area. [Link]

Forthcoming. The problem with rallying around the (Ukrainian) flag. Space and Polity. [Link]

2023. Milk nationalism: Branding dairy and the state in the Arabian Peninsula. In S. Wippel (ed.), Branding the Middle East: Communication strategies and image building from Qom to Casablanca. Berlin: De Gruyter, 185-203. [Link]

2023. Geographies of nationalism. Human Geography 16(2): 200-211. [Link]

2023. Sustainability spectacle and “post-oil” greening initiatives. Environmental Politics 32(4): 708-731. [Link]

2023. Revisiting “For ethnography in political geography.” Political Geography 102: 102837. [Link]

2023. We can’t engineer our way out of the water crisis in the Southwest US (March 1). New Scientist. [ Link]

2022. The state fetish: Producing the territorial state system at a World’s Fair. FOCUS on Geography. [Link]

2022. Greening oil money: The geopolitics of energy finance going green. Energy Research & Social Science 93: 102833. [Link]

2022. Gulf hydrogen horizons: Why are Gulf oil and gas producers so keen on hydrogen? IASS Discussion Paper. IASS-Potsdam. [Link]

2022. Planting flags in water. Dialogues in Human Geography 12(2): 302-306. [Link]

2022. Wastelanding Arabia: America’s ‘Garden of Eden’ in Al Kharj, Saudi Arabia. Journal of Historical Geography 77: 13-24. [Link]

2022. The political geography of economic nationalism. In A. Pickel (ed.), Handbook of economic nationalism.Northampton: Edward Elgar, 14-28. [Link]

2022. Sports sponsorship and Gulf geopolitics. Orient 2022 (III): 6-11. [Link]

2022. Sporting cities and economic diversification in the Arabian Peninsula. In P.M. Brannagan and D. Reiche (eds.), Routledge handbook of sport in the Middle East. New York: Routledge, 287-296. [Link]

2022. Urban life in Central Asia. In D. Montgomery (ed.), Central Asia: Contexts for understanding. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 196-213. [Link]

2022. Guest essay: Arizona is in a race to the bottom of its water wells, with Saudi Arabia’s help (December 26). The New York Times. [ Link]

2022. Authoritarian space-time. Political Geography 95: 102628. [ Link]

2022. Global sport and Gulf’s sovereign wealth funds. AspeniaOnline: International Analysis and Commentary. [ Link ]

2021. Whose apocalypse? Biosphere 2 and the spectacle of settler science in the desert. Geoforum 124: 36-45. [Link]

2021. The desert as laboratory: Science, state-making, and empire in the drylands. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 46(2): 495-509. [Link]

2021. Desert geopolitics: Arizona, Arabia, and an arid lands response to the territorial trap. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 41(1): 88-105. [Link]

2021. The geopolitics of renewables in Kazakhstan and Russia. Geopolitics 26(2): 521-540 (with V-P. Tynkkynen). [Link]

2021. Food as a weapon? The geopolitics of food and the Qatar-Gulf rift. Security Dialogue 52(2): 118-134. [Link]

2021. The political lives of deserts. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 111(1): 87-104. [Link]

2021. Rethinking spectacular cities: Beyond authoritarianism and mastermind schemes. In R. Isaacs and E. Marat (eds.), Routledge handbook of contemporary Central Asia. New York: Routledge: 168-179 (with M. Laszczkowski). [Link]

2021. Environmental geopolitics in Central Asia. In J. Van den Bosch, A. Fauve, and B. De Cordier (eds.), European handbook of Central Asian studies: History, politics and societies. Hannover: ibidem, 811-852. [Link]

2021. The new sport geopolitics in 2022. The World in 2022, Italian Institute for International Political Studies. [ Link]

2021. The Gulf’s sovereign wealth fund cities. AspeniaOnline: International Analysis and Commentary. [ Link]

2020. InterAsian Islamisms: Monumental mosques and modernity in Kazakhstan and Qatar. In B. Batuman (ed.), Cities and Islamisms: On the politics and the production of built environment. New York: Routledge: 15-30. [Link]

2020. The geopolitics of Gulf sport sponsorship. Sports, Ethics & Philosophy 14(3): 355-376. [Link]

2020. Deep listening: Practicing intellectual humility in geographic fieldwork. The Geographical Review 110 (1-2): 52-64. [ Link]

2020. The corporate production of nationalism. Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography 52(1): 185-205. [Link]

2020. Methodological nationalism. In A. Kobayashi (ed.), The international encyclopedia of human geography (2nd ed., Vol. 9). Oxford: Elsevier: 245-248. [Link]

2020. Islamophobia and the uneven legal geographies of ethnonationalism. Political Geography 83: 102187 (with N. Vora). [ Link]

2020. German pigs, and the autocrats who loved them. Los Angeles Review of Books, October 15. [ Link]

2020. Of spectacle and intertextuality. In: Review forum: Reading Natalie Koch’s The geopolitics of spectacle: Space, synecdoche, and the new capitals of Asia. Political Geography 76: 102043 (with E. Holland, S. Lin, J. Sidaway, P. Das, S. Hughes, R. Mohammad, A. Murphy, A. Simone, C. Sneddon, G. Toal). [ Link]

2019. AgTech in Arabia: ‘Spectacular forgetting’ and the technopolitics of greening the desert. Journal of Political Ecology 26(1): 666-686. [Link]

2019. Capitalizing on cosmopolitanism in the Gulf. Current History 118 (812): 349-355. [Link]

2019. Laboratories of liberalism: American higher education in the Arabian Peninsula and the discursive production of authoritarianism. Minerva 57(4): 549-564 (with N. Vora). [Link]

2019. Post-triumphalist geopolitics: Liberal selves, authoritarian Others. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies 18(4): 909-924. [Link]

2019. Resource nationalism. Progress in Human Geography 43(4): 611-631 (with T. Perreault). [Link]

2019. Unboxing Central Asian studies. In: Book Discussion: Review of Natalie Koch, The geopolitics of spectacle: Space, synecdoche, and the new capitals of Asia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018). Central Asian Affairs 6 (4): 327-341 (with S. Harris-Brandts, D. Kudaibergenova, and M. Laszczkowski). [Link]

2018. The geopolitics of sport beyond soft power: Event ethnography and the 2016 Cycling World Championships in Qatar. Sport in Society 21(12): 2010-2031. [Link]

2018. Sports and the city. Geography Compass 12(3): 12:e12360. [Link]

2018. Green laboratories: University campuses as sustainability ‘exemplars’ in the Arabian Peninsula. Society & Natural Resources 35(1): 525-540. [Link]

2018. Mosques as monuments: An inter-Asian perspective on monumentality and religious landscapes. cultural geographies 25(1): 183-199 (with A. Valiyev and H. Khairul). [Link]

2018. Disorder over the border: Spinning the spectre of instability through time and space in Central Asia. Central Asian Survey 37(1): 13-30. [Link]

2018. Sports and heritage in the UAE. LSE Middle East Centre Blog: December 15. [Link]

2018. The geopolitics of renewables in Kazakhstan. George Washington University Central Asia Program Memo #211. [Link]

2018. Renewables in Kazakhstan and Russia: Promoting ‘future energy’ or entrenching hydrocarbon dependency? PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo #538 (with V-P Tynkkynen). [Link]

2018. The World Cup and migration: Looking ahead to Qatar 2022. Jadaliyya: August 20 (with N. Vora). [Link]

2018. Gulf nationalism and invented traditions. LSE Middle East Centre Blog: August 3. [Link]

2018. Reassessing the Trump presidency, one year on. Political Geography 62: 207-215 (with P. Steinberg, S. Page, J. Dittmer, B. Gökariksel, S. Smith, A. Ingram). [Link]

2017. Qatar and Central Asia: What’s at Stake in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan? PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo #484. [Link]

2017. Geopower and geopolitics in, of, and for the Middle East. International Journal of Middle East Studies 49(2): 315-318. [Link]

2017. Orientalizing authoritarianism: Narrating US exceptionalism in popular reactions to the Trump election and presidency. Political Geography 58: 145-147. [Link]

2016. Cowboys, gangsters, and rural bumpkins: Constructing the ‘other’ in Kazakhstan’s ‘Texas.’ In M. Laruelle (ed.), Kazakhstan in the Making: Legitimacy, Symbols, and Social Changes. Lanham: Lexington Books, p. 181-207 (with Kristopher White). [Link]

2016. We entrepreneurial academics: Governing globalized higher education in 'illiberal' states. Territory, Politics, Governance 4(4): 438-452. [Link]

2016. Banal Nationalism 20 years on: Re-thinking, re-formulating and re-contextualizing the concept. Political Geography 54: 1-6 (with Anssi Paasi). [Link]

2016. Is nationalism just for nationals? Civic nationalism for non-citizens and celebrating National Day in Qatar and the UAE. Political Geography 54: 43-53. [Link]

2016. Is a ‘critical’ area studies possible? Environment & Planning D: Space and Society 34(5): 807-814. [Link]

2016. The 'personality cult' problematic: Personalism and mosques memorializing the 'father of the nation' in Turkmenistan and the UAE. Central Asian Affairs 3(4): 330-359. [Link]

2016. Restructuring extractive economies in the Caspian basin: Too little, too late? PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo #441 (with A. Valiyev). [Link]

2016.  La fauconnerie, un ‘sport-héritage’ dans la péninsule arabique [Falconry as a ‘heritage sport’ in the Arabian Peninsula]. Conflits: Revue de géopolitique 10: 60-61.

2016. Why no "water wars" in Central Asia? Lessons learned from the Aral Sea disaster. PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo #410. [Link]

2015. Everyday inclusions: Rethinking ethnocracy, kafala, and belonging in the Arabian Peninsula. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism  15(3): 540-552 (with Neha Vora). [Link]

2015. Gulf nationalism and the geopolitics of constructing falconry as a 'heritage sport.' Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism 15(3): 522-539. [Link]

2015. Exploring divergences in cross-regional comparative research: The spectacular cities of Central Asia and the GCC. Area 47(4): 436-442. [Link]

2015. 'Spatial socialization': Understanding the state effect geographically. Nordia Geographical Publications 44(4): 29-35. [Link]

2015. The violence of spectacle: Statist schemes to green the desert and constructing Astana and Ashgabat as urban oases. Social and Cultural Geography 16(6): 675-697. [Link]

2015. Domesticating elite education: Raising patriots and educating Kazakhstan's future. In M. Ayoob and M. Ismayilov, Identity and Foreign Policy in Central Eurasia and the Caucasus. New York: Routledge: 82-100. [Link]

2015. The Sochi syndrome afoot in Central Asia: Spectacle and speculative building in Baku, Astana, and Ashgabat. PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo #371 (with A. Valiyev). Reprinted on openDemocracy. [Link]

2014. 'Building glass refrigerators in the desert': Discourses of urban sustainability and nation-building in Qatar, Urban Geography  35(8): 1118-1139. [ Link]

2014. The shifting geopolitics of higher education: Inter/nationalizing elite universities in Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia, and beyond. Geoforum 56: 46-54. [Link]

2014. Bordering on the modern: Power, practice, and exclusion in Astana, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (3): 432-443. [Link]

2014. The Birth of Territory: Should Political Geographers Do Conceptual History? Dialogues in Human Geography 4 (3): 348-351. [Link]

2014. Grounding Central Asian geopolitics. Geopolitics 19: 227-233. [Link]

2013. Introduction - Field methods in 'closed contexts': Undertaking research in authoritarian states and places. Area  45(4): 390-395. [Link]

2013. Technologizing the opinion: Focus groups, coercion, and performance. Area  45(4): 411-418[Link]

2013. The 'heart' of Eurasia? Kazakhstan's centrally-located capital city, Central Asian Survey 32(2): 134-147. [Link]

2013. Kazakhstan's changing geopolitics: The resource economy and popular attitudes about China's growing regional influence, Eurasian Geography and Economics 54(1): 110-133. [Link]

2013. Sport and soft authoritarian nation-building, Political Geography 32: 41-52. [Link]

2013. Why not a world city? Astana, Ankara, and geopolitical scripts in urban networks, Urban Geography 34(1): 109-130. [Link]

2013. Technologizing complacency: Spectacle, structural violence, and 'living normally' in a resource-rich state, Political Geography 37: A1-A2. [Link]

2012. Urban 'utopias': The Disney stigma and discourses of 'false modernity.' Environment and Planning A 44(10): 2445-2462. [Link]

2011. Security and gendered national identity in Uzbekistan. Gender, Place, and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 18(4): 499-518. [Link]

2010. The monumental and the miniature: Imagining 'modernity' in Astana. Social and Cultural Geography 11(8): 769-787. [Link]

2010. Interethnic tensions in Kyrgyzstan: A political geographic perspective. Eurasian Geography and Economics 51(4): 531-562 (with A. Bond). [Link]

2009. Ivy League and geography in the US. In R. Kitchen and N. Thrift (Eds.) International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Oxford, Elsevier. Volume 5: 616-621 (with R. Wright). [Link]