The Birth of Territory introduction

I don’t like writing introductions, and The Birth of Territory was definitely no exception. I’d been struggling with working out how to shape this, but now have what I think is a good working version. One of the things I most dislike is to having to write the dreary stuff carving out a space for this work, paying due deferrence to previous work but saying why it is flawed, and so on. That doesn’t seem to me to be the most interesting way to begin a book, and frankly when words are precious I’m not overly inclined to spend some of them arguing why previous work on territory so often, it seems to me, begins from the wrong place.

I used the ‘Land, Terrain, Territory’ paper as a basis, but stripped out a lot of the specifics. That piece (itself c. 11,000 words) was derived from a much longer manuscript which I’d drafted in early 2008, and I’ve boiled it down to the essentials still further. The current draft is just less than 6,000 words. (There is another 1,800 words that provides a synopsis of the chapters to follow, but I can’t decide whether to include that or not.)

So it has a quick survey of the relative neglect of ‘territory’ (as opposed to work on specific territories) and some of the reasons for this; a critique of the notion of territoriality and especially why approaching territory through territoriality is at best misleading; and suggesting that a more conceptual, historical analysis is more helpful.

I then try to specify this a bit more through the distinction and relation between two sets of three terms. First, word, concept, practice, where I try to suggest the guiding methodological principles at stake in this work. Loosely it’s a genealogical study, but influenced by some of the claims of the Cambridge school of contextual history (Skinner, Pocock, etc.) and the German tradition of Begriffsgeschichte (Koselleck, et. al.). I hear a lot about how these are incompatible approaches, but I don’t really think the tensions are that serious. I use Koselleck’s somewhat cryptic suggestion that “through the alternation of semasiological and onamasiological questions, Begriffsgeschichte aims ultimately at Sachsgeschichte” to talk about the word/concept relation; use Skinner to discuss the text/context question; and then Foucault to show how this must be broadened to think of practices.

The next set of three terms is land, terrain, territory; suggesting that the first two terms, which loosely equate to political-economic and political-strategic approaches, need to be supplemented with more attention paid to the political-legal and the political-technical. That’s the argument of the ‘Land, Terrain, Territory’ paper, but here it’s briefer, simply because I think this is so much better demonstrated in the substantive chapters than argued in the abstract. I end with some clarifications of why this is a history of Western political thought, and does not claim to be universal.

The introduction begins with Rousseau, as did many of the lectures I gave in late 2010. The plan is to close that extended parenthesis with Rousseau again at the end of the conclusion.

This entry was posted in J.G.A. Pocock, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Michel Foucault, Quentin Skinnner, Reinhart Koselleck, The Birth of Territory. Bookmark the permalink.

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