Territory, Place, Scale, Network

Jessop, Bob, Neil Brenner, and Martin Jones. 2008. “Theorizing Sociospatial Relations.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 26(3): 389-401.

This is an important article—short and to the point. The authors claim that thinking around sociospatial relations has tended to emphasize one dimension of sociospatial relations, while ignoring others. These dimensions are territory, place, scale, and network. When one dimension is emphasized—manifested by the various “(insert dimension)-turns” in human geography—concrete analyses and theorization turn one-sided, static, or that single dimension is ontologized. Sometimes the emphasis on concepts and terms ends up ignoring the empirical altogether. The authors argue that a more strategic-relational approach (SRA) would hold these four dimensions to be dialectical, mutually constitutive, and intertwined.

They provide quick, but useful, critiques of literature that essentializes territory, place, scale, or network (TPSN) in non-relational ways. The one-dimensionality leads to “bad abstractions” in Andrew Sayer’s words: “A rational abstraction is one which isolates a significant element of the world which has some unity and autonomous force, such as a structure. A bad abstraction arbitrarily divides the indivisible and/or lumps together the unrelated and the inessential, thereby ‘carving up’ the object of study with little or no regard for its structure and form” (1992: 183). They are not saying these are the only spatial morphologies of importance, but rather that they are particularly important for analyzing the social-political-economic-cultural-ecological (etc etc) spatial processes of capitalist development and restructuring. For them, taking TPSN together means moving from the abstract-simple to the concrete-complex in historical-geographical analysis. That is, the precise configuration and weight of these sociospatial dimensions (individually and together) is a key facet of geographically attuned social research.

This research approach, they argue, is just as relevant for studying processes of global capitalism, state power, and hegemony, but also the growing field of contentious politics in its geographical guise. In fact, these two research agendas would merge: “For, given the emphasis on the dialectic of path-dependency and path-shaping within the spatialized SRA, we would expect the relative importance and effectiveness of different geographies of contentious politics to be systemically intertwined with evolving TPSN configurations associated with the changing historical geographies of capitalism and the state, their crisis tendencies and their contradictions” (398).


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