"When we speak about politics of space," says Rohee Dasgupta, our instructor at Saint Paul University, "we're talking about how land is connected to, or emerges as a factor in, identity-based conflict. Especially ethnic conflicts."
Examples include contested cities
, like Jerusalem or Istanbul, which play very different roles in the mind of, Israelis and Palestinians (not to mention Christians and Muslims), or Greeks and Turks. These spaces have complex histories that figure in important cultural narratives
inside and outside their respective states.
There are also narratives that are connected to geography, especially when particular groups claim a land belongs to them. Then there are the discourses of whether a land is seen as divisible
, and what strategies for sharing contested land have legitimacy among the peoples involved.
Then there's the issue of what's considered the center
and what's considered the periphery
, and what relationship both have toward the other. Does a state see itself as entirely in control of all its territory, or is there a gradual melding into other states the further one goes from the capital? This is also an issue of borders: which states benefit from strict border demarcation, and which prefer porous boundaries or even undemarcated space?
These are all major questions when it comes to the politics of space – the main question is how territory is divided or administered, and what narratives of legitimization are used to consolidate those divisions or acts of governance. Since we're looking at things in the context of conflict studies, we're focusing in particular on what happens when division, unification, administration or legitimization become contested, either from groups inside the country or from forces outside of it.
Even more – the course this lecture finds itself in is identity-based conflict
, and so there's the added dimension of what happens when territorial claims aren't only made in legal terms, but using narratives of identity. To what extent is the use of space connected to who we say we are, and what we claim we are entitled to?
One of the main concepts here is legitimization
, or the process by which a given claim is accepted, or tries to be accepted, as a basis for action. The 'action' here could mean governance (who owns the land?), use (who has rights to extract, settle or build?), partition (who has the right to create new borders?), succession (which groups have the right to separate, and under what circumstances?).
Different groups, depending on the circumstances, will back up their different legitimization claims using competing factors. Groups might frame land claims using religion, primacy (who was here first?), development (who put the work in), legal frameworks (local/international law), conquest, history, nationalism or the right of return.
These different claims are often the subject of negotiations, and then re-negotiations through time as circumstances change. The most dramatic examples of re-negotiation are when large, multi-ethnic states like the USSR or Yugoslavia collapse. But there are plenty of less-dramatic examples of land, or even the mere political use of land, being re-negotiated – the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese governance (and the establishment of the "one country, two systems" framework), the creation of an open border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the island or negotiations over collective water use in Central Asia or along the Nile are some.