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Article

The discipline of geography is built around four key concepts—environment, place, space, and scale—that form a matrix for exploring and appreciating many aspects of contemporary society. The environment is the ultimate source of human sustenance; people have created places to realize that potential; and a spatial structure—nodes, routes, surfaces and bounded territories—has been erected within which human interactions are organised. The relationships between human societies and their environments—now very much changed from their pre-human “natural” state—involve competition for and conflicts over resources, of increasing intensity. Resolution of all but the smallest scale of those conflicts requires a body that is independent of the actors involved and can ensure that agreements are reached and then implemented. Such a body is the state, a territorially bounded apparatus that, through the operation of territoriality strategies, can ensure conflict resolution among its citizenry and thereby resolve environmental problems. Many of those problems—the most severe being global climate change resulting from anthropomorphically induced global warming—are not contained, and cannot be contained, within an individual state’s territory, however. Tackling them requires inter-state co-operation, at a global scale, but the absence of a super-national body with the power to require actions by individual states is a major constraint to problem resolution.

Article

James D. Sidaway and Carl Grundy-Warr

The state can be viewed as a form of community. Forms of human community and their attendant territorialities have been characterized by extreme variation, both historically and geographically. A profound territorial link exists between the state and the nation, with the former claiming to be a sovereign expression of the nation. A common feature of states is that they all have territorial boundaries. Moreover, the state can be interpreted as a territorial–bureaucratic expression of nationalism, found in many public rituals such as coronations and remembrance days, military parades, national holidays, swearing in of governments, and state funerals. One of the most contentious issues among states, potential states, and nations revolves around sovereignty. Challenges to sovereignty and the historical and geographical complexity of nations may be seen in terms of political landscapes as “sovereigntyscapes.” Related to the question of sovereignty are the so-called “shadow powers and networks” that transcend territorial boundaries. In the field of political geography, in tandem with significant strands of International Relations and Political Science, state power is recognized as a key, albeit not the only form, of territorial politics. The state’s relationship with the ideas of nation and citizen give rise to a host of particularisms, similarities, and contradictions that require theoretically informed yet thoroughly grounded research in divergent contexts.

Article

A relatively recent phenomenon in international politics is the study of crisis, which began in the twentieth century, when scholars looked back at two world wars and the interwar period that was shaped by the Great Depression. Today, the challenges to effective crisis prevention and management have become broader and deeper. During the Cold War, leaders were prone to escalate to force in crises over the classic currency of international politics—territory. In the contemporary global system, territorial disputes continue to matter and are most likely to escalate when the land is highly valued for its strategic importance, economic potential, or symbolic significance. An important part of the explanation of crisis escalation, and of an inadvertent slide into wars or violent confrontations, are theories emphasizing “miscalculation” and “misperception.” These theories have been used as a mediating variable between external and domestic attributes, and the way leaders perceive and process information about these factors, and then make choices. However, arguments on “misperception” and “miscalculation” are built on the assumption that accurate perception and calculation are possible. That leaders are “rational” and capable of “accurate” perception and utility-maximizing choices. The challenge lies in the understanding of error and the model of human reason. Research in the last several decades has revolutionized that understanding.

Article

Yale H. Ferguson and Richard W. Mansbach

The “state” is the theoretical and empirical bedrock of the international relations field, yet it is a hotly debated concept and is routinely defined to suit the normative and/or empirical ends of scholars and practitioners. It is thus a conceptual variable. The state has so many “meanings” and connotations that the term must be carefully defined every time it is used. Perhaps the most that can be said, with any degree of certainty, is that today the sovereign state has a recognized status in international law, continues to be an important identity symbol for many citizens, and is the focus of citizen demands for the provision of collective goods. Beyond such a statement, the going gets far more difficult. Different “schools” of social science theory view the state with different lenses. Whether the concept of state has any applicability to polities that predated early modern Europe is dubious. In any event, the state and all its variants were contingent products of particular times and European space, and states have continued to adapt and evolve over the centuries to such an extent that the “modern” state bears little resemblance to its Westphalian predecessor. Indeed, modern states themselves evince such a remarkable diversity that they have little in common with one another except sovereign legal independence. That status, in turn, is not to be confused with “real” independence, which has become increasingly evident in our present-day substantially globalized world. The traditional “inside/outside” distinction offers little consolation to state decision makers who find the “outside” severely constraining their capacity to offer their citizens security and welfare. The state’s “crisis of authority” has only worsened with the spread of illiberal populist nationalism and the “return of geopolitics.”

Article

Muslim views on the polity represent the paradigmatic understandings of how Muslims relate citizenry, authority, territoriality, and sovereignty to the overarching influence of the Western nation-state system. For instance, the meaning of citizenry in the modern state system was adopted by several Muslim societies during the decolonization period. Faith or submission to the will of God was the main criterion to become part of the group (usually referred to as the ummah). However, orientalists regarded ummah as a synonym for tribe, while Arab linguists insisted on a religious connotation. Authority, on the other hand, is ultimately enshrined in the personhood of the Prophet who is the spiritual leader, executor, legislator, and judicial interpreter of God’s message. Since in reality the Prophet is no longer existing, leadership is bestowed on the subsequent followers, and sometimes the ummah may possess leadership status through a social contract between the ruler and the ruled. The manifestation of operationalized authority needs a political space, domain, or place, which is attainable via the notion of territoriality. This is loosely conceptualized as an ummah that has geographical aspects, cultural traits, and a lingua franca. In the 8th century, jurists divided Muslim territoriality into two analytical terms, the abode of Islam (dar al-Islam) and the abode of war/the enemy (dar al-Harb), while the Shia version of abodes rests in the Qur’anic dichotomy of “oppressed–oppressor.” The last concept pertains to sovereignty (hakimiyyah), commonly understood as “the will of God” and advanced by Islamists in the 20th century. In medieval times, it was understood as the promotion of public welfare envisaged in Shari’ah, while in modern times, Islamic modernists argued that Islamists wrongfully understood sovereignty and that the root word used in the Qur’an meant “to govern.” Nowadays, the assertion that symbolizes God’s sovereignty can be found in some modern Muslim states.