Fixing Territory: Socionatures and Bodies in Flux (CFP for AAA 2018)

Amanda Hilton (University of Arizona) and I are organizing a panel for the 2018 American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting that looks to reinvigorate anthropological approaches to territory. Please see the call below and don’t hesitate to get in touch with questions.


Panel title: Fixing territory: bodies and socionatures in flux

Co-organizers: Amanda Hilton (University of Arizona); Emma McDonell (Indiana University)

Discussant:  Sarah Besky (Brown University)


In the context of increased economic, ecological, and social precarity (Tsing 2015), efforts to fix meaning and value abound. Territorialization represents one such effort to fix—in the sense of locate, link to, arrest, but perhaps also in the sense of to make right—dynamic processes of movement. Existing research suggests that places and cultures should not essentialized, but instead understood as open entities that are constituted through dynamic networks of social relations and ideas (Gibson-Graham 2006; Wolf 1982). Entire socio-natural systems are moving in space or changing beyond recognition at the hands of climate change, human and non-human migratory flows are shifting course and speed, and global connections of various kinds are intensifying or disintegrating. Yet territorial projects that seek to limit, contain, and manage this fluidity and complexity with the end goals of control and legibility abound. How, we ask, does territory and territoriality work amidst movement and change – and how can thinking about diverse projects through a lens of territoriality help us see otherwise obscured dynamics?

This panel asks how territory and territory-making work is characterized by relations of collaboration and conflict, and how the various actors involved both imagine and materialize resistance, resilience, and adaptation. What are anthropologists to make of the seemingly contradictory but potentially dialectical dynamic of increased rates of environmental (and otherwise) change and intensifying efforts to fix territory?

Territory has often been understood in terms of the state’s attempt at exerting its power over space (Lefebvre 1991, Scott 1998), exercising its claims to sovereignty. Yet we can understand diverse sorts of projects as territorial. Anthropological work on geographic indications for place-based products, wildlife or natural conservation areas, ethno-states, migration, and ecological nationalism all deal with issues of territoriality and overlapping territorial projects, and the entailed dynamics of legibility, surveillance, classification, border-making, and boundary work. However, these literatures have mostly been treated as separate objects of inquiry and the concept of territory itself remains undertheorized (Besky and Padwe 2016). In this panel we will think about these and other related projects together through the rubric of territoriality, asking whether and how territory brings together diverse kinds of phenomena in a productive way.


We are interested in papers dealing with territoriality in its diverse manifestations, including, but certainly not limited to, work on conservation areas, mapping, geographic indications, and migrations of various kinds. Possible questions or topics to address include:

  • What work does “territory” do that theories of place, place-making, and space do not do?
  • In what ways is territory invoked – and what sorts of symbolic and material work does it do in the world?
  • How do overlapping territorial projects interact, and what sorts of relations characterize their interactions?
  • Who do efforts to “fix” territory include, and who do they exclude, with what resistance and repercussions?
  • What forms does resistance to territorial projects take, and what can this reveal about how territory works and the limits of territorial power?
  • Does the “multi-species turn” push us to see territory differently, and what does thinking through multi-species relations through the lens of territory and territorialization reveal that’s otherwise obscured? In what ways do the territorial projects of humans and non-humans overlap – and what are the results?

Besky, Sarah, and Jonathan Padwe. 2016. “Placing Plants in Territory.” Environment and Society 7 (1): 9–28.

Gibson-Graham, Julie Katherine. 2006. A Postcapitalist Politics. University of Minnesota Press.

Lefebvre, Henri. 1991. The production of space. Cambridge, Mass., USA; Oxford, OX, UK: Blackwell.

Scott, James C. 1998. Seeing like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. Yale University Press.

Tsing, Anna Lowenhaupt. 2015. The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins. Princeton University Press.

Wolf, Eric R. 2010 [1982]. Europe and the People without History. University of California Press.


Please send abstracts (250 words max) with paper title and presenter information to Amanda Hilton ( and Emma McDonell ( by the end of the day on Friday, April 6. We will notify selected participants by Monday, April 9. Session participants must be registered AAA members and registered for the meeting by April 16.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close