Territories, Peoples & States

Term: Fall 2010

Subject Code: GPOL

Course Number: 6447

For the past four hundred years, the modern state has defined itself in terms of the exclusive control of a clearly demarcated territory. It has claimed the right not only to defend its territory against the incursions of other states, but also to control the movement of people – its own citizens and others – across its borders. Outsiders (‘foreigners’) can become residents only with the permission of the state; and that permission is not easily given.   

In this course, we will examine assumptions about the territorial nature of politics, especially of liberal and democratic politics. We will begin by looking at the imperatives and technologies (economic, political, administrative, military, cartographic, etc.) that made the modern conception of territorial sovereignty possible; and also at recent developments (‘globalization’) that undermine it. But our main concern will be with certain normative questions: 

What gives a particular state the right to control a particular part of the world? Under what conditions can that right be overridden?

What is the relationship between territory and democracy?

How do we resolve territorial disputes?

When does a group have the right to secede?

How should we resolve questions about movement across borders, immigration, and the claims of refugees?   

Though the main focus of the course is on theoretical questions, students will be encouraged to engage with specific examples of territorial politics. While case studies will reflect the particular interests of students, they might include:  the Palestinian/Israeli conflict; the claims of indigenous peoples in post-colonial (‘settler’) societies;  border politics and immigration ‘reform’ in the United States; recent secessionist movements (e.g. Quebec, Chechnya, etc.).


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