In the Space of Theory

Sparke’s aptly titled book interrogates how contemporary global affairs have stretched, unglued, glued, reconfigured, and (re)invented the presumed ties between states and their “respective” nations both within their putative borders and across/beyond them. He builds each chapter of the book around a particular, grounded problem-space and a contemporary theorist. His goal is for each of these post-foundational theorists, who in one way or another encompass thinking on deterritorialization, to touch ground.

Sparke has a lot to say about the problem-spaces he explores—the politics of maps and First Nations in Canada or the transnational neoliberal playground of Cascadia—but he also wants to show how the geographically rooted problems he’s looking at forces the boundaries of each theorist’s framework in important ways, particularly since space is so often used only metaphorically by these thinkers. The move is important for two reasons: First, yes, of course, geography matters. But secondly because most of the theorists, despite their anti-essentialist and deterritorial arguments, end up smuggling the nation-state back into their arguments, even if in unstated ways.

The first two chapters were by far my favorite and seemed the ones best accomplished the goals of the books. In my opinion they raised the most interesting questions. The first chapter gives a contrapuntal reading of indigenous maps and Canada’s Historical Atlas, revealing the political geographies of origins stories and national belonging. He wrings these examples through Homi Bhaba’s “narration of the nation” and national pedagogies. The indigenous maps raised a host of ontological and epistemological “losts in translation” to the courtroom proceedings of their territorial claims, exemplified most eloquently by the “map that roars.”

Interesting questions were raised in this chapter, particularly around indigenous people having to play the legal game in order to change it, calling central aspects of the state into question in the process. Meanwhile, the indigenous claimants were able to put the state on the defensive, forcing it to admit (ingenously) that a treaty signed didn’t apply to their territories because that part of the country had not yet been mapped. They were beyond the Crown’s “epistemic empire” (25).

The second chapter explores the politics of “Cascadia,” a borderless transnational region spanning the northwest regions of Canada and the United States, economically, multicultural, and ecologically conjured by corporate and government boosters of the reterritorializing project. He shows how Arjun Appadurai’s ideas about transnational scapes as potentially liberatory projects can also be leveraged toward the making of a trans-border neoliberal gated community country club—indigenous people in the brochure need not apply.

My main question about the text relate to his conceptions of nation and state and how he sees territory itself fitting into this equation. He’s by no means caught in a territorial trap à la John Agnew, but there is a strong state-centrism to his idea of territory—however complex a form it takes nationally or transnationally. His idea of nation is—rightfully so—strongly bound up with identity and ethnicity. For instance, the NAFTA chapter shows how the economic discourses of the nations involved were formative in debates about the trade deal. Still, the national became most strongly articulated by Canadians being “not the U.S.” and the U.S. scapegoating Mexicans. The way the debate was cast in masculinist terms is also telling.

This entry was posted in Boundaries, Historical-Geographies, Maps, Nation/Nationalism, Post-Colonial, Spatiality, Territory, The State. Bookmark the permalink.

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