Geography Territory and Territoriality
David Storey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0076


We live in a highly territorialized world, the most obvious manifestation of which is the political division of the earth into separate countries or states. However, this macroscale territorialization is accompanied by a myriad of much more microscale variants involving the staking of claims to geographic space, the “production” of territories, and the deployment of territorial strategies. In everyday usage, territory is usually taken to refer to a portion of geographic space that is claimed or occupied by a person or group of persons or by an institution. In this way it can be seen as an area of “bounded space.” Following from this, the process whereby individuals or groups lay claim to such territory can be referred to as “territoriality.” However, these somewhat simplified definitions mask considerable complexity. Territory involves particular ways of thinking about geographic space, and territories themselves can be seen as an outcome of territorial practices. Much discussion has occurred over the extent to which territorialization and territorial behavior should be seen as “natural” or “social” phenomena, debates echoing wider long-standing arguments over the relative influence of nature and nurture, a division that many see as somewhat artificial and itself a discursive construction. For all that it might appear that territory and territoriality should be central concepts within geography, it is perhaps surprising how relatively little explicit treatment the topics have received within the discipline. While being mindful of the complexity of ideas surrounding these concepts, it is clear that they reflect ways in which space is imagined and they serve useful political functions. Territoriality and the production of territories can be seen as devices that tend to reify power so that it appears to reside in the territory itself rather than in those who control it. Attention is thereby deflected away from the power relationships, ideologies, and processes underpinning the maintenance of territories and their boundaries. Territorial thinking, the production of territories, and the employment of territorial strategies are bound up with maintaining power or with resisting the imposition of power by a dominant group. Forms of exclusion can be consolidated and reinforced through territorial practices, yet they can also be resisted through similar means.

General Overviews

In the early 21st century there has been a more direct engagement with issues of territory and territoriality within human geography. Delaney 2005 and Storey 2012 provide useful overviews and critiques of issues of human territoriality within its social and political context, drawing on a wide range of examples across various spatial scales. Antonsich 2017 and Storey 2015 provide quite succinct commentaries on key issues. Dahlman 2009, in keeping with much of the literature, limits the focus to territory as the spatial extent of the state and territoriality as a strategy used by states. For all that territorialization and territoriality might appear central to political geography, few textbooks in that subject area deal with it explicitly, Cox 2002 being one of the few exceptions. Websites such as Exploring Geopolitics include sections devoted to the issue of territory.

  • Antonsich, Marco. “Territory and Territoriality.” In The International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment, and Technology. Edited by Douglas Richardson, Noel Castree, Michael F. Goodchild, Audrey Kobayashi, Weidong Liu, and Richard A. Marston. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2017.

    This is a useful drawing together of early-21st-century work on ideas of territory and territoriality.

  • Cox, Kevin. Political Geography: Territory, State, and Society. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470693629

    This is an introductory political-geography text that takes territory and territoriality as central elements within the subdiscipline and, from a political-economy perspective, uses these to examine the capitalist state and the politics of identity and difference.

  • Dahlman, Carl T. “Territory.” In Key Concepts in Political Geography. Edited by Carolyn Gallaher, Carl T. Dahlman, Mary Gilmartin, Alison Mountz, and Peter Shirlow, 77–86. London: SAGE, 2009.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781446279496.n9

    While this is a useful introduction, it is limited to a consideration of the state as a territorial actor.

  • Delaney, David. Territory: A Short Introduction. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470773925

    This is a useful introduction that argues that territoriality is deeply embedded in social relations and that territories result from social practices and processes. Delaney highlights how ideas of territory tend to obscure questions of power, ideology, and authority. He emphasizes the point that territories are more than just bounded spatial entities; they can be seen as a fusion of meaning, power, and space.

  • Exploring Geopolitics.

    Although it has a broader remit, the Exploring Geopolitics website contains a section specifically on territory. It also has sections on closely related themes such as nationalism and sovereignty. It includes interviews with leading political geographers and useful links to other sites.

  • Storey, David. Territories: The Claiming of Space. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2012.

    This revised second edition explores how territorial strategies can be used to assert, maintain, or resist power and how forms of exclusion can be consolidated, reinforced, or resisted through territorial practices, using examples drawn from a range of spatial scales and a variety of political and social contexts.

  • Storey, David. “Territoriality: Geographical.” In International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. 2d ed. Vol. 20, T. Edited by James D. Wright, 221–226. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2015.

    This is another useful overview of early-21st-century scholarship on this theme.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.