My ‘Land, Terrain, Territory’ paper is coming out in Hebrew translation. It will be in issue 4 of Mafte’akh: Lexical Review of Political Thought – a project based out of the Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University. It will appear under a title that would simply translate back into English as ‘Territory’ – territoria. I’ve been told that the Hebrew words chosen for land, terrain, territory are karka, shetakh, territoria. When I’ve given this talk in different places I’ve often asked how ‘Land, Terrain, Territory’ would translate into different languages. The etymological relation between the terms is interesting – some languages such as French are clearly related in all three: Terre, terrain, territoire. Others are related between two. English has two Latin-based words, through Norman roots; and one Old English. But what is interesting is that most Indo-European languages, even with Germanic or other roots, use the Latin word territorium as the basis of their term for ‘territory’. This is the case, for instance, in Danish and Finnish. With German there is the word Territorium, but a complicated set of interrelated terms such as Gebiet (the word used by Max Weber in his famous definition of the state), Land (which sometimes has territorial connotations such as in Landeshoheit) and Flächenstaat. As with English, the word ‘territory’ is a relatively late intrusion into the conceptual vocabulary in many languages.
Translation is therefore a political question. While I’m obviously generally pleased to have my work translated, and appreciate the intellectual labour of the process, had I been asked in advance I’d have suggested something rather different. I’ve given a few talks on territory in Israel (indeed, a version of this paper was given at Ben Gurion University) but I’ve always made my analyses explicitly political and engaged directly with issues in Israel/Palestine when doing that. The Ben Gurion paper was part of three linked talks – one conceptual (this paper); one political (based on the intro and conclusion to Terror and Territory) and one historical (pulling some key themes from The Birth of Territory). Given the politics of knowledge and the charged nature of the academy in Israel, to present this single piece as an objective or definitive take on territory (even just ‘my’ view on it) for a lexicon is, I think, rather misleading. I complained to the publisher and to the original publisher, and apparently this is within the bounds of what they can do, given the contributor agreement I signed.
I’ve expressed my unhappiness about this, which the translator and the editors of Mafte’akh understand. Their argument is that the project has as one of its aims to show the contested, political nature of many seemingly unproblematic terms. (The preface to the project is freely available in English translation here, and is worth a look for those interested in conceptual history.) I am sympathetic to this aim, as you might expect, but I just wish that I’d been able to contribute something that was more political than simply historical/conceptual. As a compromise we’ve agreed that the piece comes with a contextualising statement from me.
This paper was written at the beginning of a three year research fellowhip to write a history of the concept of territory. The book that resulted from this work, The Birth of Territory, is forthcoming in 2012. It is a development of work that was begun in Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty, which was a attempt to understand contemporary territorial formations, challenges and changes, especially in the context of the ‘Global War on Terror’. The piece translated here attempts to provide an outline of how we might begin to understand territory historically and conceptually. While it stresses the various political dimensions of this category, it does so without reference to contemporary political examples. For analyses that trade on the arguments here, but also engage directly with political issues, especially within Israel/Palestine and other contested territories, I would urge interested readers to look at Terror and Territory and Neil Brenner and Stuart Elden, “Henri Lefebvre on State, Space, Territory”, International Political Sociology, Vol 3, No 3, pp. 353-77.