Human Territoriality

Sack, Robert D. 1986. Human Territoriality: Its Theory and History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Intro and Ch. 1]

Sack describes human territoriality as a specifically strategic process, departing instantly from the notion of territoriality as a biological human drive. He sees power as an inherent part of territoriality, even says “territoriality is the basis of power.” Proposing a definition, Sack writes, “In this book territoriality will be defined 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. This area will be called the territory” (19).

By creating territory, we are creating places, but these two concepts also need to be distinguished:

“Unlike many ordinary place, territories require constant effort to establish and maintain. They are the results of strategies to affect, influence, and control people, phenomena, and relation ships. Circumscribing things in space, or on a map, as when a geographer delimits an area to illustrate where corn is grown, or where industry is concentrated, identifies places, areas, or regions in the ordinary sense, but does not by itself create a territory. This delimitation becomes a territory only when its boundaries are used to affect behavior by controlling access” (19).

He repeatedly emphasizes this aspect of territory: its purpose is to include some things and people, while excluding others, meaning that some territories are more territorial than others (a jail cell vs. a halfway house). Sack says that this inclusion/exclusion aspect of territory shows very clearly that these are social-political constructions subject to human motivations, goals, and desires, and not some naturalistic impulse.

It’s interesting to think about what Sack notes regarding how territories are communicated: how are these territories made explicit in people’s everyday lives. Clearly, this is one reason researchers have focused so much on borders and boundaries in studying territory, because its at the interface of an inside/outside that territory is most legible in practice and in thought. But I’m again wondering about the internal production (and communication) of territory—that is, the multiform practices and material spaces that confer this same communication of territory. This is a much trickier thing to research.

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