12 May, 2017 – Workshop on Territory in Indeterminate and Changing Environments (Amsterdam)

Workshop on Territory in Indeterminate and Changing Environments

Territory Subproject

12 May 2017, at The ACCESS EUROPE Research Centre, University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

This workshop critically examines the extent to which political-legal concepts of territory depend upon an assumption of a stable and dry land. How are these complicated by indeterminate and changing environments? Such environments include oceans, sea-ice, glaciers, rivers, the submarine and the subterranean. While commonly understood as a bounded space under the control of a group of people, territory embodies a complex bundle of relations – political, geographical, economic, strategic, legal and technical. Questions of the materiality of territory – what might be called the question of terrain – remain underexplored. While the question of ice is at the heart of this project’s concerns, many of the issues raised apply to other parts of the Earth, and indeed to an adequate political-legal theory of territory more generally. Essentially the key aim of this workshop is to begin thinking how theories of territory can better account for the complexities of the geophysical.

Participants include Luiza Bialasiewicz, Johanne Bruun, Stuart Elden, Juliet Fall, Marieke de Goede, Moriel Ram, Isobel Roele, Rachael Squire, Phil Steinberg and Darshan Vigneswaran.

This workshop is co-organised between the ICE-LAW project and ACCESS Europe at the University of Amsterdam


12noon – Arrival and lunch

1pm – Welcome (Stuart Elden)

1.10pm – Session 1 (chaired by Marieke de Goede)

Juliet Fall (University of Geneva) – Biosecure Territories

Phil Steinberg (Durham University) – The Territory of Sea Ice

Rachael Squire (Royal Holloway) – Sub-marine Territory and Terrain

2.40pm – Coffee/Tea

3.10pm – Session 2 (chaired by Luiza Bialasiewicz)

Johanne Bruun (Durham University) – Militarising the Greenland ice sheet

Moriel Ram (SOAS/UCL) – Snow matters: The Geopolitics of Snow in the Golan Heights

4.10pm – Break

4.20pm – Roundtable (chaired by Stuart Elden):

Isobel Roele (Queen Mary), Marieke de Goede (Amsterdam), Darshan Vigneswaran (Amsterdam)

5.30pm – Close



Juliet Fall – Biosecure Territoires

Biopolitical anxieties around the uncontrolled vitality of living organisms takes many forms, and has been institutionally expressed in many ways. Biopolitical public policies ordering control, extermination, quarantine and surveillance abound, and have been studied. That the uncontrolled circulations of this unwanted lively matter – plants, animals, pathogens and so on – can pose an environmental and social challenge has been studied both by social and natural sciences, and has been the subject of often emotional debates on both sides. Debates have specifically focussed on the implicit and explicit racialization, militarization and xenophobia that underpin some of these discourses. In this paper, I am specifically interested in how these so-called invasive (alien) species are made into a collective object of government, policed and governed in specific ways, notwithstanding very specific and context-dependent individual biographies. How does the biopolitical imperative to create identifiable objects to be governed link up to the often messy and paradoxical nature of these species that are only identified as problematic because of their location? How does the rhetorical and strategic creation of a category of ‘invasive species’ link up to debates on scales of governance? How do these vital geographies serve to redraft, reground and naturalise the scale of the nation as the appropriate scale at which to control and kill?

Phil Steinberg – The Territory of Sea Ice

As Carl Schmitt has elaborated, the practice of territory is founded upon an assumed permanent division of Earth into two surfaces: land and sea. Land is understood as solid and stable, a differentiated series of points that are settled, developed, and bounded into states. Water, by contrast, and in particular salt water, historically has been perceived in the Western legal-political tradition as liquid and mobile, an undifferentiated surface or an unmanageable volume: a space of flows that is fundamentally external to social life and state territory. While this binary division is contestable everywhere, this is particularly the case in frigid regions, most notably the Arctic. There, frozen water is a central space of habitation, and frozen land provides only limited opportunities for investment, development, and state control (at least as these are typically conceived in more temperate capitals); the physical state of land and water is highly variable, both seasonally and in the longer term due to climate change; the boundary between land and water is often not immediately evident; and the entire environment is characterised by exceptional dynamism and mobility, in both time and space. As the imprint of state institutions intensifies at the ice-land-water interface, ruptures are emerging between the idealised geophysical environment that underpins notions of territory and Arctic space as it is actually encountered by those who would control, live in, invest in, or pass through it. This paper investigates this problematic through a study of recent efforts to define, locate, and map the extent of sea ice, and by critiquing how these efforts apply discursive notions of stabilisation and categorisation to a complex and indeterminate marine environment.

Rachael Squire – Sub-marine Territory and Terrain

From 1964-1969, the US Navy conducted a series of pioneering undersea living experiments. Known as Sealab I, II, III, the projects, under the leadership of Dr George Bond, sought to establish the feasibility of living and working on the seafloor for extended periods of time without surfacing. In the process, men, or ‘aquanauts’ as they were known, spent days or weeks at a time beneath the sea, taking refuge in an undersea habitat when not completing work in the water. The projects were an extraordinary demonstration of a Cold War mentality that sought to free the American man from the constraints of ‘terra’. This process, however, was not straightforward. Mediated by various technologies, it involved negotiating complex entanglements of ocean pressures, recalcitrant silt, human physiologies, volumes and air(s).

This paper seeks to explore some of these entanglements to interrogate the engineering of sub-marine territory and the interrelated implications this has for thinking on ‘terrain’. It will put forward the idea of ‘cyborg territory’ to account for the enmeshing of technology, bodies, and elements in the extreme space of the sea floor, before moving to suggest that our understandings of terrain should also account for the materialities of the body as they relate to and come into contact with extreme or unusual external environments.

Johanne M. Bruun – Militarising the Greenland ice sheet

This paper examines how the materialities and practices of motion in/of a fluid and fast-changing environment was captured and instrumentalised by US military scientists traversing the Greenland ice sheet in the early 1950s. The objective of this traverse was to gather the necessary intelligence to recast the ice sheet as a viable terrain: a space of dwelling and concealment, a relation of survival and preservation, and a space of mobility. Constructing terrain from an environment informed by ice meant accounting for the dynamic patterns of matters’ own movement to provide stability and texture to a geography of underlying instability (Steinberg and Peters 2015). Any strategic relation between the ice sheet and the US military was by necessity mediated through the matter of the ice itself, and the scientists performed the task of ‘mediators’ rendering matter expressive. This paper suggests that the functional geometry of this terrain was a direct function of scientific enactments of ice sheet geo-metrics which underpinned the ice sheet as a space of set (im)possibilities. By exploring the overlapping geographies and corpographies of the scientific field practices on the ice sheet, this paper offers an empirical account of how terrain emerged through direct physical encounters between human, rock, and ice.

Moriel Ram – Snow Matters: The Geopolitics of Snow in the Golan Heights

Snow is a political matter. The volume, duration and extent of snow are determined by altitude, terrain, and climate. These variables affect armed conflict, redraw international borders and produce financial opportunities. Snow, in other words, matters. The complexities it generates pose a central challenge: How should we study the politics of snow? My presentation will explore these issues through the case study of the heavily militarised Hermon ski site in the Golan Heights that Israel occupied from Syria in the June 1967 war and sought to shape into an “ordinary” ski resort in the style of the Swiss Alps, through actions such as population removal and spatial destruction. My talk will explore how the appearance and disappearance of snow constantly undermined the attempt to reconstruct the territorial identity of the colonized Golan by generating various forms of slippage, excess and ambivalence. I will particularly focus on two themes that characterise the geopolitics of snow in Israel-Palestine and beyond. First, the transformation of snow from a military challenge to a financial opportunity. Second, the construction of snow as a spatial category of whiteness that moves beyond racial identification to secure a new political order.

About our speakers

Luiza Bialasiewicz is Jean Monnet Professor of EU External Relations at the University of Amsterdam. She works on the political geographies of European integration and European borders. She is the editor of Europe in the World: EU Geopolitics and the Making of European Space (Ashgate 2011) and co-author of Spazio e Politica: Riflessioni di geografia critica (CEDAM 2004).

Johanne Bruun is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography, Durham University. Her thesis explores the role of science in constructing territory across a range of geologic volumes in Greenland during the Cold War. The specific focus is Danish explorations, which focused on digging down to obtain extractible resources, and US activities which were much more concerned with exploring how an icy environment can be interpreted and constructed as terrain. Her work has been published in Polar Geography and Geography Compass.

Stuart Elden is Professor of Political Theory and Geography at the University of Warwick. He works on various historical, political and conceptual aspects of the question of territory, and on twentieth-century French thought, especially Michel Foucault and Henri Lefebvre. Among his books are Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) and The Birth of Territory (University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Juliet Fall is a Professor of Geography at the University of Geneva. She is a political and environmental geographer working within political geography on political boundaries and nature; in political ecology on protected areas, biosecurity, invasive species, and ecosystem services; in visual studies on filmmaking and on comic books; and in the history of ideas within geography and social science. She is the author of Drawing the Line: Nature, Hybridity and Politics in Transboundary Spaces (Ashgate, 2005).

Marieke de Goede is Professor of Politics at the University of Amsterdam, with a focus on ‘Europe in a Global Order’. She is currently working on funded projects concerning data, risk and terror, and on art and cultural politics in post 9/11 Europe. She is the author of Virtue, Fortune, and Faith: A Genealogy of Finance (University of Minnesota Press, 2005) and Speculative Security: The Politics of Pursuing Terrorist Monies (University of Minnesota Press, 2012).

Moriel Ram is a Teaching Fellow in the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS, University of London, and a Visiting Research Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London. His research interests lie at the intersection of militaristic geographies of death, urban geopolitics of faith and medical spatialities of health. His work on Israel and Northern Cyprus has been published in Antipode and Political Geography.

Isobel Roele is Lecturer in Property Law at Queen Mary, University of London, and deputy director of QMUL’s Centre for Law and Society in a Global Context. She works on themes including public international law, global governance and institutions, and collective security and the United Nations. She is currently writing a book for Cambridge University Press entitled Collective Security and its Infra-Law.

Rachael Squire is a Lecturer in Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, where she is completing her PhD. She works on a critical geopolitics of undersea spaces, exploring the function of concepts like territory and terrain beyond terra, the interplay between the human body and extreme environments, and the role of the non-human in characterising territorial volumes. Her work has been published in Area, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space and the Routledge Handbook of International Political Sociology.

Phil Steinberg is Professor of Geography and Director of IBRU: Centre for Borders Research at Durham University. His research focuses on the historical, ongoing, and, at times, imaginary projection of social power onto spaces whose geophysical and geographic characteristics make them resistant to state territorialization. These spaces include the world-ocean, the Arctic, and the universe of electronic communications. Among other books he is the co-author of Managing the Infosphere: Governance, Technology, and Cultural Practice in Motion (Temple University Press, 2008) and Contesting the Arctic: Politics and Imaginaries in the Circumpolar North (I.B. Tauris, 2015).

Darshan Vigneswaran is Co-Director of the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies and Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, University of Amsterdam. He is one of the editors of Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, author of Territory, Migration and the Evolution of the International System (Palgrave, 2013), and co-editor of Mobility Makes States: Migration and Power in Africa (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015) and Slavery, Migration and Contemporary Bondage in Africa (Africa World Press, 2013).