Sovereignty, Territory, and the Mapping of Mobility: A View from the Outside

Philip E. Steinberg

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Theorists within and beyond the discipline of geography increasingly realize that boundaries are not simply lines that enclose and define territories. Boundaries also regulate and are reproduced by acts of movement. Movement, beyond and across, as well as within a bounded territory, serves to reproduce the territory that is being bounded. It follows that to understand the history of a territorial entity one must go beyond tracing the spatially fixed activities that occur within that territory or the discursive strategies through which the territory is made to appear natural. One must also trace the acts of movement that occur within, across, and outside the territory’s boundaries and the designation of specific spaces of movement as beyond territorial control. In short, one cannot understand the construction of “inside” space as a series of territories of fixity, society, modernization, and development without simultaneously understanding the construction of “outside” space as an arena of mobility that is deemed
unsuitable for territorial control.

In this article, this perspective is applied to the preeminent normative territory of modernity—the sovereign state—and attention is directed specifically to the designation of the world-ocean as a space of mobility outside the boundaries of the state-society units that purportedly constitute the modern world. Through an analysis of representations of marine space on 591 world maps printed in Europe and the Americas between 1501 and 1800, this article traces the construction of the ocean as an external space of mobility, antithetical to the norm of the territorial state that also was emerging during this era.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)467-495
Number of pages29
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2009

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