Stuart Elden – Territory: Political Technology, Volume, Terrain

Lecture date: 2015-10-07

Landscape Urbanism Open School Event

This lecture will give an overview of the concept and practice of territory. While the complicated and contested as- pects of territorial disputes are well known, territory also requires theoretical interrogation in order to grasp how it has been understood and practiced in different times and places.

Territory is a political and geographical notion, of course, but can only be adequately understood if we understand its implications in a range of registers, including economic, strategic, legal, and technical ones. Territory can be un- derstood, following Foucault, as a political technology – not simply as a container or site of political struggle, but as a contested political process.

The particular focus of this talk will be on the physical, material nature of territory. It will think about the relation of territory to terrain, which is a geo-strategic question, an important concept in both physical and military geography. Terrain is important because it combines materiality, strategy and the need to go beyond a narrow, two-dimensional sense of the cartographic imagination. Instead, terrain forces us to account for the complexity of height and depth, the question of volume. Terrain also makes possible, or constrains, various military-strategic projects.

All attempts at fixing and defending territorial boundaries are complicated by dynamic features of the Earth, includ- ing rivers, oceans, polar-regions, glaciers, airspace and the sub-surface, both the sub-soil and the sub-marine. These questions are crucial for a political-legal theory of territory more generally. Essentially the key question is: how can theories of territory better account for the complexities of the geophysical and the built environment?

Bio: Stuart Elden is Professor of Political Theory and Geography at University of Warwick and Monash-Warwick Professor at Monash University. He is the author of five books including The Birth of Territory (University of Chicago Press, 2013). He has been involved in editing several collections of Henri Lefebvre’s writings, and has edit- ed or co-edited books on Kant, Foucault and Sloterdijk. His next book is Foucault’s Last Decade (Polity Press, forthcoming 2016), and he is now working on its prequel, Foucault: The Birth of Power, as well as a project on territory in Shakespeare’s plays.


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