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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

Steven V. Miller, Jaroslav Tir, and John A. Vasquez

Traditional, structural theories of international relations may have eschewed the importance of geography and territory to understanding international conflict, but the past 50 years of quantitative scholarship have returned geography and territory to the fore of the discipline. The importance of geography and territory to the study of international conflict first emerged in the discipline of political geography and the early foundations of peace science. Subsequent empirical analyses demonstrated a robust connection between geography, particularly disputed territory, and all phases of inter-state conflict. Explanations for this robust relationship emerged concurrent to the empirical findings. The theoretical arguments are eclectic and focus on territoriality as human instinct, the tangible and intangible value of territory, and whether conflict over territory conforms well to implications from the bargaining framework. Though traditionally the domain of inter-state conflict scholars, civil conflict scholarship has greatly informed this research program on geography, territory, and conflict by expanding and enriching its theoretical arguments and empirical implications. The future of territorial conflict scholarship should focus on reconciling different theoretical arguments about the emergence of peace after World War II, wrestling with the future of territorial conflict as more territorial disputes are settled, providing richer data on territorial claims, and exploring the implications of global climate change for future conflict over scarce and changing waterways and maritime/river boundaries.

Article

Kerry Goettlich

Since roughly the late 19th century, international borders have generally been characterized by linearity, or the appearance as a series of one-dimensional points, connected by straight lines. Prior to this, various kinds of frontiers existed globally, some of them being more linear than others, but most included some kind of formal ambiguity. International relations (IR) often takes for granted the historical process which brought about the global linearization of borders, culminating in the late 19th century and still ongoing in ocean spaces and in outer space. But because cross-border relations are the main substance of inquiry in IR, many theories and areas of study in IR contain some perspective on that process, at least implicitly.

Article

A comprehensive review of the scholarly literature that considers ethical questions surrounding human migration flows across international borders covers themes of membership and belonging, the right to exclude, the liberal impasse with regard to immigration, the role of property rights at the international level, movement through visa categories, and the problem of jurisdiction during migration journeys. Such an examination reveals that migration provokes a particular problem for international relations when the nation-state is the primary unit of analysis, and that the current literature acknowledges yet does little to correct a Western bias at the heart of scholarly work on the ethics of human migration flows. Ethical questions regarding human migration have been at the forefront of news and public debate, particularly in recent years. The implications of human migration for membership in political communities have received much attention in political theory, international relations theory, international law, human rights, and ethics. Migration, by definition, challenges some of the key assumptions, categories, and ways of theorizing international relations (hereafter IR). The conventional assumptions of IR reproduce the notion that states as unitary actors interact with each other in a global sphere or within the confines of the international system and its structure and rules of behavior. In this rendering of the global, there is little room for people who seep outside of state borders, people who move with no national affiliation, or people who retain multiple national affiliations. The embodied contestation of the territorial categories of IR that is practiced by the movement of people is particularly relevant to constructivist IR theory. If the world is constituted through social interactions and intersubjective understandings, when social interactions happen across borders the intersubjective understanding of state units containing human populations is called into question. When people manifest multiple identities, the state-based identities of the international system are called into question. Studies of the ethics of migration flows then must tackle these lines of inquiry.

Article

Space has always animated world politics, but three spatial orientations are striking. First, the Westphalian orientation deems space a sovereign power container. Second, the scalar takes recourse to the local, regional, national, and global spaces in which world politics is played out. Third, the relational deems space a (re)produced, sociohistorically contingent phenomenon that changes according to the humans occupying it and the thought, power, and resources flowing through it. Under this latter orientation, space is lived, lived in and lived through. Whilst relationality, to a degree, calls into question the received wisdoms of International Relations (IR), the fixity of sovereignty and territory remain. The orientations coexist concomitantly, reflecting the “many worlds” humankind occupies.

Article

Kimberly Marten

As a response to the new policy problems facing the international community after the end of the Cold War, the security studies literature on weak and failing states and their relationship to various forms of conflict emerged. Two sets of events caused policy makers to focus on state weakness as a threat to international security. The first wave of research was generated by the new United Nations (UN)-sponsored peace operations of the post-Cold War era. The second overlapping wave of research followed the al-Qaeda attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001, and the resulting perception that non-state terrorist groups were likely to use failed or failing states as their base of global operations. There has been no agreement among researchers about how to define the concept or varieties of state failure. As such, it has not coalesced into something that could truly be called a scholarly research program. Nevertheless, a vibrant literature has emerged on the political economy of “ungoverned territories.” Warlords are actors who use a combination of force, charisma, and patronage to control small slices of territory inside of what is purportedly a sovereign state. They usually profit from organized criminal activities that threaten both the peace and the legal institutions of the state, but can be used to help weak states to survive and reconstitute themselves in wartime. Meanwhile, scholars argue whether states should necessarily be reconstructed after they fail, given that many failed states were unnatural and authoritarian postcolonial creations.

Article

The concept of sovereignty developed along with the modern state system. Its institutionalization greatly influenced interactions among political-territorial entities and largely coopted the modern geographical imagination. An international system based on sovereign principles has never been realized, of course, and accelerating globalization, increased mobility, and a revolution in the technology of communication are challenging sovereignty’s functional and perceptual significance in unprecedented ways. Nonetheless, sovereignty’s de jure and conceptual impact remain strong, as evident in everything from nationalism’s continuing hold on the human imagination to the way that projects ostensibly set up to transcend the norms of the modern state system (e.g., European unification) remain closely bound to sovereign territorial ideas and understandings.

Article

Klaus Dodds and Chih Yuan Woon

An exploration of the genesis of classical geopolitics lies in a conviction that location and resources are pivotal to the exercise of political power over territory. The term geopolitics was first coined in the late 1890s by the Swedish writer Rudolf Kjellén. Classical geopolitics, the term used to describe the earliest writings, was for Kjellén an intellectual field that recognised that it was “[a] science which conceives of the state as a geographical organism or as a phenomenon in space.” Later authors thought that geopolitics was more than a science. It was a way of understanding designed to signal a rather hard-nosed or realist approach to international politics. What made it reliable was its ability to generate law-like statements about the importance of the facts of physical geography, such as the distribution of landmass, the extent of the oceans, and the importance of particular, strategically located regions, in determining patterns of global political power. This article reviews in some detail the core features of this field—and interrogates a series of core ideas and principles at play. It also notes some other pertinent characteristics, such as the case that most classical geopolitical writers were committed nationalists and imperialists, under the intellectual influence of social Darwinism. The global map for these authors was fundamentally divided between the imperial great powers and the colonized world, now referred to as the Global South. Finally, these authors were convinced that they were offering a “god's eye view” of the world to fellow citizens and policy makers, uncorrupted by ideology or prejudice. The fate of classical geopolitics is uneven in the English-speaking world, in particular with a formal decline in the post-1945 period, signs of revival in the 1970s and 1980s, decline in the 1990s, and now re-emergence in a new era characterized by nationalism, nativism, populism. Animated concerns about borders and population composition and size provide fertile ground for old ideas to re-emerge about the needs of nation-states to secure their territories and peoples from others. The reader is introduced to a newer field critical geopolitics. It calls into question some of those core principles of classical geopolitics and emphasizes more the deliberate framing of space, the rejection of a hard separation between the domestic and the foreign, and it eschews the idea of the nation-state as a “living organism,” operating in a territorial container. It also draws attention to popular geopolitics, and the manner in which ideas about geography and cognate disciplines are produced and circulated through public cultures. Classical and critical geopolitics share a common concern—geography matters—but where they differ is how, where, and why geography matters.

Article

Roxanne Lynn Doty

The connections between the local and the global raise a range of issues that have been addressed in social and political theory in the past but continue to provoke important discussion. Many of the constructs that have traditionally been foundational to the academic discipline of international relations, including territory and sovereignty, are inherently intertwined with how we think of the local and the global. The local–global connections revolve around three broad and overlapping themes: the critical scrutiny of older concepts and the emergence of new ones as well as alternative vocabularies; an appreciation of the necessity of an interdisciplinary perspective; and attention to the significance of the relationship between theory and practice. Many of the more recent scholarly work on the local–global continue to tackle the effects of global capitalism in locations constructed as local as well as the role of these locations in facilitating global capitalist relations. Critical geographers and cultural studies scholars have made important contributions to our understandings of the global–local nexus by focusing on the formation of social movements and localized practices of resistance as well as transversal struggles that call into question conventional spatial logics. Another important area of research that has made both conceptual and empirical contributions has produced the “global cities” literature. Students of international studies need to continue to focus on what have been referred to as “everyday” or “local” practices that have often been considered unimportant when it comes to the “big” issues of international studies.