Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Introduction: Framing and Reframing Land and Identity

Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Introduction: Framing and Reframing Land and Identity

Article excerpt

What is at issue is the performative nature of differential identities: the regulation and negotiation of those spaces that are continually, contingently, Opening out', remaking the boundaries, exposing the limits of any claim to a singular or autonomous sign of difference - be it class, gender or race. Such assignations of social differences - where difference is neither One nor the Other but something else besides, in-between - find their agency in a form of the 'future' where the past is not originary, where the present is not simply transitory. It is, if I may stretch a point, an interstitial future, that emerges inbetween the claims of the past and the needs of the present.

(Bhabha 1994: 219)

For a long time, our understanding of land and identity, expressed as territoriality, had been located in the nation and the state. This had certainly been the case in the disciplines of International Relations, International Politics, History, and Peace and Conflict Studies. Indeed, a specific reading of territoriality was to be a dominant theme of international politics throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, during which time armed conflict was mainly between nation states or between states (often empires) and minority peoples struggling for their independence. The objectives of these conflicts were the acquisition and domination of enemy territory, or the creation of a national 'homeland' through armed conflict, concomitant with the stimulation of national identity. Alternative interpretations of such issues as territory, home, and identity in their many configurations have come through the work of Cultural Studies, Spatial Theory and Postcolonial critique (Krause/Renwick 1996: x). One influence on such writing has been Henri Lefebvre whose work on the "production of space" argues: "[I]t is precisely because [Space] has been occupied and used, and has already been the focus of past processes whose traces are not always evident on the landscape", that it might appear "neutral", and yet "[s]pace is political and ideological. It is a product literally filled with ideologies" (Soja 1989: 80). Similarly, the above quote by Bhabha identifies an "'opening out', remaking the boundaries, exposing the limits" (1994: 313) as vital in a reconsideration of normative notions of land and identity, emphasising the contingent and negotiated status of human relations to space in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Thinkers such as Lefebvre and Bhabha have transformed our sense of spatiality to critique notions of neutrality and to see it instead as contested terrain, filled with ideological struggles over political and poetical meaning as well as actual physical territoriality.

1. Landscaping

Our sense of place is really part of our cultural systems of meaning. We usually think about or imagine cultures as "placed" - landscaped, even if only in the mind. This helps to give shape and to give foundation to our identities. However, the way in which culture, place and identity are imagined and conceptualized are increasingly untenable in the light of the historical and contemporary evidence. (Hall 1995:186)

Hall's statement reminds us of the need to continually re-examine how relations between land and identity might be re-configured and retheorised and shows how real and imagined senses of self and place are filtered, amongst other forces, through memory, trauma, diaspora, language, and history. Hall's essay, first published in 1995, still rings true today, perhaps with an ever greater resonance, given historical, political, and cultural changes which have taken place over the intervening years. Whether one thinks of ethnic wars, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, technological developments, ecological warnings, economic collapse, or global migration, concepts of land and identity seem fundamental and significant to the twenty-first century. How we feel about place; how we define ourselves in relation to landscape; and how we respond to others' sense of these complex attachments is crucial, and is at the very heart of this collection of essays. …

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