Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Ethno-Territoriality and Ethnic Conflict

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Ethno-Territoriality and Ethnic Conflict

Article excerpt

Territory is a fundamental basis of the modern sovereign-state system, and a common objective over which wars are fought. Identification with, and assertion of authority over, territory is also a central component of ethno-nationalist politics. At the same time, attempts to control contested spaces often generate social strife, especially when they engender rival ethno-territorial claims by states or communities. So it is not surprising, perhaps, that the terms ethno-territoriality and ethno-territorial are increasingly invoked by those doing research on nationalism and ethnic conflict. The two words, for example, can be found over fifty times in Gerard Toal and Carl Dahlman's Bosnia Remade, which offers a detailed analysis of ethnic cleansing during the Bosnian war and attempts to facilitate postwar returns (2011). Moreover, a search of Google Scholar returns only twenty-three works that use the term ethno-territoriality in all the years before 2000, but more than ten times this number (238) between 2000 and 2015, while a similar search for ethno-territorial returns 623 hits before 2000, and 2,888 results between 2000 and 2015. (1) While more frequently invoked in recent years, ethno-territoriality has not been subject to sustained definitional or conceptual examination. It tends to be used as a descriptive shorthand, a synonym for ethnically based territorial units within states, or an explanation for ethnic conflict over state spaces driven by political elites. However ethno-territorial projects are not so straightforward. They take place at multiple scales (not just the state level), involve various actors (not just elites), and are made up of an ensemble of political and social practices.

The aim of this article is to develop a definitional and conceptual framework for ethno-territoriality and describe why it is a useful concept for thinking about the dynamics of ethnic conflict. I begin by briefly reviewing the well-established linkages between territoriality, state sovereignty, and nationalist politics. Then I provide a definition of ethno-territoriality and outline a four-part typology of the key elements of ethno-territorial practice. The last section discusses the relationship between ethno-territoriality and ethnic conflict.

TERRITORIALITY, NATIONALISM, AND STATE SOVEREIGNTY

Individuals and institutions engage in a variety of territorial projects. We are constantly constructing, reinforcing, and contesting rules of "in and out," classifying and organizing places. At its most basic level, territoriality is a strategy directed toward the control of space, not just for its own sake, but as a means through which other goals may be accomplished. In his classic text on the subject, Robert Sack defines human territoriality as "... the attempt by an individual or group to affect, influence, or control people, phenomena, and relationships, by delimiting and asserting control over a geographic area" (1986, 19).

Territoriality is, as this definition suggests, inextricably tied to questions of power. Asserting and enforcing territorial claims makes concrete power relations. More fundamentally, territoriality is an important aspect of authority and power. It is, Sack claims, "the primary spatial form that power takes" (1986, 26). Territoriality, though, is not just about power and control. It is also interwoven with matters of meaning. Territories are meaningful bounded spaces, symbolizing and communicating a variety of social understandings at a variety of scales. There is no inherent meaning that adheres to territory per se (Elden 2013). Rather, it is territorial practices and ideas that give meaning to the social things we call territories (Knight 1982). Territorial significations may be clearly communicated, as when private property is surrounded by fencing and posted signs that say "Keep Out!" But territoriality can also be conveyed more subtly, such as the gendered territorialization of separate "work" and "home" spheres of responsibility and labor activity (Domosh and Seager 2001). …

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