Rowman and Littlefield International

Territory Beyond Terra

Published on Friday 16 Mar 2018 by Kimberley Peters, Philip Steinberg, Elaine Stratford, and colleagues
"Territory is a concept that destabilises even as it suggests stability, and that complicates even as it suggests closure."

In seeking closure for Territory Beyond Terra, the editors invited each contributing author to entertain one more task: reflect on how this project has shifted your thinking, changed your methods of approach, influenced your practices, and/or stimulated new work. Some contributors focused on the thought processes that accompanied the writing of their specific chapters, while others focused on the rationale driving the entire project. In what follows, we piece together excerpts from the reflections of each author and these are organised around their insights into how thinking of territory beyond terra has influenced them, their work and future trajectories.[i]


[i] The volume’s editors have edited these reflections for clarity and consistency of format.



Rethinking the Specifics of Elements, Environments, and Edges




Nigel Clark: ‘Fire might seem an unlikely incitement for destabilizing the “lithic Earth”. But setting out from a particular nation-state or territorial unit—namely Indonesia—drew me into entanglements of fire and rock that were new to me: most notably processes whereby forest fires can set coal seams alight and smouldering coal seams can ignite new forest fires. Such insights have led me in two new directions. One is thinking about a new species of political “trouble” sparked by the convergence of instabilities at the Earth’s surface with “deeper” subsurface upheavals or disturbances. This thinking is emerging in conversation with Lauren Rickards in relation to the coal seam fire at the Hazelwood mine in Victoria, Australia. The other is thinking about how seismically and volcanically active the Indonesian islands are, which has pushed me to consider domains even deeper than the solid rock of the Earth’s crust—which is, after all, only a tiny part of the planet’s mass, and that is mostly made up of great churning currents of semi-molten rock. So, the question of territory beyond terra is starting to draw me into thinking about the relationship between solidified rock of the crust and that other, vast, seething underworld of mobile, superheated rock.’


Stephanie Kane: ‘This project has led me to rethink how geophysically ambiguous geographies or terrain-linked territories complicate enactments of naïve or wilfully ignorant laws. Reflecting on the ways in which waters flow across spaces sets the stage for new labours that involve thinking about different kinds of negotiations that work across multiple jurisdictions. I have been concerned about how such geographies may be subject to purposeful ambiguation [or disambiguation] with a view to undermining or to fortifying human and nonhuman rights and environmental protection. New scholarly labours require engaging with the subtleties that exist in acts of negotiation, including in relation to the presence and absence of knowledge forms. Implicated here is the need to consider the development of particular ways of knowing, living, and remembering.’


Rachael Squire: ‘This work has been formative in framing my current understanding of how territory and terrain relate and mutually inform one another, and it has enabled me to reflect on key themes that characterise these concepts, including the significance of various temporalities, the intersections of bodies and non-human elements, the immersive and pressing nature of a territory beyond air, and the practicalities of “domesticating” a space inherently unruly and recalcitrant. Simultaneously, the work has encouraged me to think through some of the psychological aspects of sub-marine habitation and of habitation in territories beyond terra more generally. These are ideas that I will seek to develop and flesh out in future research projects.’


Rethinking Scale, Time, and Space




Clayton Whitt: ‘The Territory beyond Terra project drove me to engage in new conversations that initially I had not seen in my own more-narrowly focused ethnographic research. I had been seeking the politics of people’s relationships with the materiality of space, but before this project perhaps my thinking had been too small. I had been focused on how a large-scale process such as global climate change was intimately experienced in a small-scale setting—in people’s daily lives. The project inspired me to think more about how those daily experiences gained expression in a larger political project and in the construction of territory. Territory, then, has become a key tool for my broader project pertaining to the emergence of politics in people’s day-to-day experiences with environmental transformations in space.’


Ross Exo Adams: ‘While I have always been interested in tackling questions in the present through historical analyses, this piece gave me the opportunity to reframe certain problems that emerge in the present as exemplars of a much deeper historical line of inquiry. Thus, the contemporary discursive problems that frame my inquiry here are catalysts to open-up histories that have received little or no attention. This study involved a complex set of historical relations that were resolved in reflections on contemporary discourse, and this helped me to clarify a certain methodological power, and centrality of history, in my work. I have realised that, in focusing on ruptures to oceanic urbanisation, changing definitions of territory, or paradigm-shattering conditions in any field of study, we may overlook more subtly shifting continuities and entrenchments of power that such ruptures might otherwise obscure. I keep coming back to the work done in this project, viewing it as a kind of proof of method as I frame out a new and much larger project on the history of the body.’


Leah Gibbs: ‘The project provided a new conceptual framework for understanding the world I have been engaging with for some years; the watery, more-than-human, always-changing world of the beach, the shore. It provided a way to reposition subjects there in relation to each other. Thinking territory in the company of others—in discussion, and by reading, listening, and responding—provided confidence in my understanding and my application of a concept to a problem. Territory has become a conceptual tool that I handle with growing dexterity, and with the guidance of others. Territory has become a new idea to think with in relation to questions of politics. Specifically, how do nonhumans become political agents? Are, and how are, political processes inherently more-than-human endeavours? Thinking through territory in the context of the more-than-human world of the shore has allowed me to see, first, that projects that assert, maintain, and contest territory are always more-than-human projects; and, second, that nonhuman animals, materials, elements, and processes play vital roles in co-producing territory.’


Kate Coddington: ‘My past work has focused on concepts in political geography such as nationality, citizenship, asylum, “the state”,— all of which have circled around the notion of “territory” but never directly engaged with it. In writing this chapter, I have enjoyed the opportunity to work through some of the connections between that earlier work and notions of “territory”, all within a landscape haunted by continued processes of colonisation. It has made me turn back to the work of Avery Gordon (2008, 6), who notes that “this is a project where finding the shape described by her absence captures perfectly the paradox of tracking through time and across all those forces which makes it mark by being there and not there at the same time”. In this project, the shape I constantly encountered was the relationship between ongoing settler colonialism and territory—not always land, not always concrete, not always settled—thus “being there and not there at the same time”—but always a claim made on the Australian imagination. It was very interesting coming to grips with this shape, and wrestling with how that shape could be articulated on the page.’


Rethinking Territorial Knowledge




Thérèse Murray: ‘It has been exciting to be stretched to rethink our understanding of bodies not as citizens, subjects, or fleshly constituents of the state and of territory, but rather as the “ground” by which to delimit, describe, or define space as territory. Thus occupying bodies—even abject bodies such as convicts and slaves—become colonising tools and sources of territorialisation. Most striking is the violence done to certain bodies no longer useful for such ends: their erasure and replacement with other colonising bodies. Here, in terms provided by Mbembe (2008), is the violent “cleansing” of territory in order to claim, own, and control terra and non-terrestrial environs; bodies made abject and cast out; a blurring of bodily autonomy and sovereignty (Butler 2006). For myself and Elaine, a chief example is the traumatised corpse, a disturbing reminder of our own mortality/materiality. Thus, the decomposition of the abject body lost at sea is the ultimate dissolution of subjectivity/citizen-status/sovereignty and connections to territorial power. It is also a paradox confirming, in the moment of death, that all bodies are, or have once been, human/subject—not abject/object—a transformation that explains the outpourings of sympathy for the “lost souls” of the Waterloo.’


Johanne Bruun: ‘The project has afforded me opportunities to think about territory beyond the limits of what is intuitively associated with the notion of terra. Such work brings to the fore how the “terra of territory” is not limited to soil and rock, and may be equally or better understood in ways that include other of Earth’s elements such as ice, liquid water, and air. Also, thinking about such matters in reference to T-3 and the territorial processes in which it became embedded illustrates how technologies of territory may be directed at systems and environments rather than at segments of space or at certain locales. Here, mobility became important in my thinking. The mobility, or drift, of the Greenland ice sheet was something that military scientists accounted for in order to overcome it or attune to it—however in the case of T-3, drift (as motion) was a source of geopolitical power in and of itself—something that US scientists were able to capitalise on as they sought to account for the textures and trajectories of territory. This insight calls into question the necessary “groundedness” of terra-as-territory—and perhaps underlines how territorial stability is not necessarily the same as territorial stasis.’


Weiqiang Lin: ‘Writing this chapter has revealed and reminded me of human beings’ insistence on the need to transform all manner of unlikely spaces into territories for control, management, and possession. Land is often the common subject of territorial thinking (territory having the root word “terra”), but we should not preclude the ordering of air, atmosphere, sea, ocean, water, and outer space from the same logic. Indeed, most people often think of air travel as a transit, a vector, a line to get somewhere. Yet, thinking about air territorially can be so productive and should inspire one to want to know more about the spatio-political organisation of this invisible space, before things can even get moving in it. In short, to understand the aeromobile, one must uncover not only the obviously fluid, but also what is normatively laid down as spatial rules, areas, spacings, cartographies and, above all, territories. It involves a new epistemological orientation, as well as a methodological approach that seeks to plumb the heights, lengths and breadths of air and other spaces.’


Marijn Nieuwenhuis: ‘Working on my contribution to this volume has made me more interested in the epistemologies of physical geography and in questions about the arbitrary differences between sand, silt, gravel, and other particles. How to account for these “scientific” categories if quantitative measures of size are inherently problematic because of their changing materiality and the constant blurring that takes place between organic and inorganic materialities? This question is similar to another problem I face in writing of storms—do they even exist, I ask? Perhaps the issue many of us are dealing with relates to the difference between our historically-taught and trained understanding of the Earth and its actual workings. The former is static and conservative; the latter dynamic and progressive. Can we “bend” knowledge in such a way to make it less perennial, less authoritative, less damaging? It is a political question to ask how to adopt a different way of knowing because the problem of territory is symptomatic of old knowledge. Perhaps I have become increasingly interested in the radical potential of knowing differently.’


Closing Comments


As the preceding reflections suggest, Territory Beyond Terra adds a critical new dimension to conceptual thinking about territory. Over the course of the book we build upon a rich legacy of historical work on the topic, as well as more recent theoretical insights, and are motivated by a collective desire to advance understanding of one of the key principles of political geography and international relations. In his preface to this volume, Stuart Eden asks, “Is territory, which is so often assumed to be rooted in the terra, the earth or land, something which is solely grounded in that way?” (emphasis added). The chapters in this book, together with the authors’ final reflections, suggest that the answer to this question is a definitive “no”. Even as the notion of territory resonates with an ideal of earth as solid, stable, and surficial, and with an ideal of politics as boundable, controllable, and tied to that earth, territory suggests both a materiality and a politics that is always more dynamic and indeterminate. Territory is thus a concept that destabilises even as it suggests stability, and that complicates even as it suggests closure. By considering a number of ways that territory is constructed beyond terra, this book suggests new ways to understand the dynamic relations that write space to power and power to space.


Through a focus on the planet’s elements, environments, and edgesTerritory Beyond Terra extends our understanding of territory to the dynamic, contentious spaces of contemporary politics. 


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