Agnew, Elden, Nelson review essay

In the International Studies Review, a thoughtful review essay by Thomas J. Rubeck of John Agnew’s Globalization and Sovereignty; my Terror and Territory; and Scott Nelson’s Sovereignty and the Limits of the Liberal Imagination. A few excerpts on Terror and Territory:

Although inspired by the war on terror, the book’s focus strays from the details of terrorism and counter-terrorism to a broader meditation on the role of geography in the contemporary security environment. The usual story—one of states trying to reassert a necessary connection between legitimate violence and sovereign territorial control against the threat of informal violence networks—is replaced with a more nuanced take… Elden’s text crystallizes a series of arguments that have too often been gestured toward without being made explicit.

One of the book’s great strengths is offering a fine-grained reading of the malleable relationship between sovereignty and territory… Some might bristle at the lack of a more definitive conclusion about the relationship between sovereignty and territory; nevertheless, it is Elden’s serious commitment to the problem that requires him to leave the reader in such ambiguous circumstances. Could it be that Elden, then, has found an altogether different way of speaking about sovereignty? 

It’s a generous and careful review. The book doesn’t provide easy answers, and the lack of clear definitions or typologies is deliberate. I don’t think that it’s a ‘altogether different’ way of speaking about sovereignty (or territory), but it is an attempt to suggest that these are terms that can only ever be understood historically, contextually, geographically. What I try to do in this book and elsewhere is both to trace the understanding and practice of such concepts in specific situations; and to try to open up the kinds of questions we would need to ask to grasp how they have been understood and practiced in different times and places.

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