Territory

Before reading the article by Agnew, I had heard of the term “territorial trap,” but I had not given much thought to what it meant.  This article started by explaining the three conventional trains of thought that have founded the “territorial trap.”  These three trains of thought were: states as fixed units of sovereign space, the domestic/foreign polarity, and the states as ‘containers’ of societies.  Also, necessarily, space was defined as being either territorial or structural.  Territorial space is space viewed as several blocks that are defined by state territorial boundaries.   Structural space focuses more on how geographical entities interact with one another.  However, both of these views of space do not give any precedence to history’s influence on territorial formation.  Also, while reading about the description of the structure of the international system, I was very intrigued.  This structure was described as being anarchic, which makes sense, but living within a territory makes this anarchic international system less obvious.  Furthermore, when an individual crosses political borders, documentation and allowance are required, which again leads to this anarchic system being less obvious.  The second feature of the international system was that states all perform the same functions and are equivalent units.  However, I was confused by this feature because the third feature states that there is an uneven distribution of resources and capacities among states.  Therefore, states may not be equivalent units if there is an uneven distribution of resources among states.  These two last features of the international system seemed contradictory to me and caused me much confusion.  Regardless, one of the most important aspects of this ‘international system’  is the fact that it is balanced by the force of power, and this dynamic power determines this international system’s shape.  

An optimistic viewpoint was present in Agnew’s article, which stated that while states may be competitive, the can benefit mutually through cooperation.  This leads to states being regarded as utility rather than as ‘status enhancers.’  On the other hand, a more disheartening viewpoint was mentioned.  This viewpoint is one of the contributing factors to the ‘territorial trap,’ and it states that the state existed before society and is therefore a container of society.  This viewpoint suggests that the territorial state is a primal force and everything is inferior to it.  The state provides social order, and it is therefore believed that outside of the state, there is chaos and peril.  Scarily enough, this means that society would not exist without the state.  This is a terrifying insight, until you recognize that society is not necessarily culture and/or civilization, as we know it.

The Paasi article was personally more enjoyable and easier to digest.  It was interesting to read that sovereignty and territory are practically synonymous terms because they both imply that there is one final authority in a political community.  Territory was defined as a strategy that human beings utilize in order to control people and an area.  Also, it was mentioned that territories are always demonstrations of power.  Due to territories containing so much power, they shape group membership and social relations.  After reading the Boundaries article last week, it was notable that this article stated that boundaries are the basic element in the construction and in the practice of territoriality.  Society and politics are defined by these boundaries, and as a result these boundaries will stem nationalist ideals and father the mentality of “us” and “them.”

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