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Special thanks are due to Ersie Leria for her help with this volume.

[…] Tell me, my daughters,
(Since now we shall divest us of both of rule,
Interest of territory, cares of state)
Which of you shall we say doth love us most.
(Shakespeare, King Lear, I, 1)

1King Lear’s test of filial obedience at the beginning of the play connects territory with ruling and organizing space into a geographic and political entity.

  • 1 Les mots de la géographie. Dictionnaire critique, Reclus, La Documentation française, 1993.
  • 2 Antoine Bailly, Robert Ferras, Denise Pumain (dir.), 1995, “Territoires,” Encyclopédie de géographi (...)
  • 3 Yves Jean et Christian Calenge (dir.), 2002, “La notion de territoire : entre polysémie, analyses c (...)

2The notion of territory is generally admitted to articulate the concept of space with that of its appropriation by a community (the Latin word territorium links the idea of space to that of jurisdiction: Varron’s “Ager Romanus”, Lingua latina, V, § 55, defines the territory that all Roman tribes owned in common). In Pour une géographie du pouvoir (Paris, Librairies Techniques, 1980) for instance, the French geographer Claude Raffestin states that territories are being generated from space through the actions of an actor who territorializes space. In French geographical historiography, a remarkable expansion of the use of the concept of territory since the 1980s has led to its acquiring a nearly hegemonic status in the field. The reasons for such success lie in the very broad definitions territory has received in Francophone contexts. Brunet and Théry for instance note that “the notion of territory always includes legal, social and cultural, and even emotional dimensions. Territory differs from space in that it always implies a form of appropriation of space.”1 Maryvonne Le Berre also notes that “everything leads to discussing the idea of territory. Anything can be a territory,”2 while Yves Jean (2002) stresses that geographers sometimes define territory as “an imaginary and real space” or as “signs, symbols and images inscribed in time.”3 Using ethological notions of territory, Deleuze and Guattari have produced philosophical concepts of territory, territorialization and deterritorialization that are used in extremely varied research contexts. The fields of geography, history, anthropology, law, urbanism and social sciences have resorted to the concept, which is often used metaphorically as well.

  • 4  See for instance Margaret Moore, 2015, A Political Theory of Territory, New York, Oxford, Oxford U (...)

3By contrast, Anglophone historiography seems to restrict the use of the word territory to more explicitly political contexts. In a seminal publication about The Significance of Territory (Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1973), Jean Gottman thus argued that “territory is a political organization of space that defines the relationships between the community and its habitat,” and many Anglophone publications resorting to the concept of territory endorse that primacy given to the political dimension of the notion.4 Explorations of other ways of appropriating territories (social, personal, emotional, literary, artistic…) resort, perhaps more often than in French, to the word ‘space,’ associated to various forms of qualification.

4To analyze territory is to examine the negotiations and collaborations, sometimes the rivalries, in order to produce forms of space appropriation, ranging from adaptation to domination. Territorializing means naming and identifying space both in communal and personal terms, resorting to the projections of collective or more individual identities. Territory embraces such issues as social, local, regional, national, ethnic, religious, or linguistic identities in relation to the notion of otherness. Whether it be a geographic, or political entity, territory constructs, and is constructed by discourse.

5This volume explores the notion of territory from multiple perspectives in various geographical and historical contexts. It is divided into three chapters.

Territories and Identities

6In “Memory of Earth and Ocean: Territories of Shakespeare’s Islands,” Monica Matei- Chesnoiu shows that Crete, Cyprus, Venice, Colchis, and the Canary Islands, although shaped by early modern geography and travel narratives, are primarily fictive territories still dependent on mythological discourses and fantasized representations. As literary constructs blurring the distinction between real and imaginary, Shakespeare’s islands are utopian and dystopian spaces that locate contradictory meanings and interrogate a shifting sense of self.

7The relationship between territory and self is also explored by Shankar Raman in “Checking IDs in The Tempest.” Shakespeare’s play is about crossing borders (be they geographical or social), but it is also about the self as a space requiring identification. According to Raman, the individuals in the play can only authenticate themselves within a network of interrelationships, and among the mechanisms used to display who one is are badges, prints and names. Unfortunately, it seems that none of these devices can fully reveal the alien within.

8In her paper on two adaptations of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, “‘Th’ unaching scars which I should hide’: The monstrous war-machine in Coriolanus,” Lianne Habinek considers Coriolanus’s body as territory shaped by the concept of state apparatus developed by Deleuze and Guattari, among others. Whereas in Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus doggedly refuses to show his scars to the plebs, the wounds are explicitly visible in both adaptations and function as blatant signs that Coriolanus has become the state’s machine of war. However, the audience is left with an unanswered question: who or what is really Coriolanus?

Dividing, Reclaiming, Gendering Territory

9Agnes Trouillet’s paper entitled “‘Chikhansink’: cartographie européenne et contre-cartographie amérindienne dans la vallée du Delaware au xviie siècle” analyzes the differences between Indian maps and European maps produced at the time when William Penn obtained his charter to establish the Province of Pennsylvania (1861). Contrary to European habits, Indian maps described the social and political relations between the inhabitants and showed no interest in the concept of property. The Indians conceived of territory as land to be worked and cultivated in common, not as space to be divided amongst individual owners. Despite this, it appears that William Penn’s relationship with the Lennape Indians was peaceful.

10Indian territory versus US jurisdiction (and the concepts of ownership and occupancy) is one of the major themes of Louise Erdrich’s novels analyzed by Flore Coulouma in “Territory, sovereignty, and the law: defining Indian Country in Louise Erdrich’s fiction.” Erdrich’s novels illustrate how state law was used to justify the dispossession of Indian territories by white colonizers. Because Indians had no idea of individual land ownership, the allotment system established by the whites facilitated the land-grabbing process, even though some Indians were able to utilize the enemy’s own tools of subjugation (the law, the use of English, university degrees) to salvage some of their territory. Erdrich eventually admits that it is through the stories in (her) books that land is symbolically reclaimed.

11In “‘The gaping cut in the wire’: Transvaluing and Transgressing the Territory in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony,” Pauline Boisgerauld addresses the issues of deterritorialisation and trauma in Marmon Silko’s first novel (2006). Tayo, a mixed race veteran of World War II, is traumatized upon his return to his Laguna Pueblo as his home bears the stigmas of colonization by the white man. The shifts between present and past on which the novel’s narrative structure is based reflect the way the protagonist’s experience awakens the trauma of past displacements. The novel rejects the colonizer’s idea of territory as a place of containment, and Tayo’s cutting the fence, an act of spatial and political transgression, functions as a symbolic attempt to create connections between white and Indian cultures.

12In “Precarious Territorializing, Contingent Territories in Michael Crummey’s The Innocents (2019),” Anne-Sophie Letessier returns to the relationship between territory and identity. Crummey’s novel is the story of two Newfounland sibligs negotiating passage to adulthood. According to Crummey, territory is not a strategy for controlling space but involves ways of being in the world and the characters must find their selves not in an authentic relation with nature but by gendering a space that has been territorialized by commercial practices and economic structures.

Territory-Territories: A Fresh Approach

13In “La Libération territoriale, Pistes pour les sciences territoriales, l’urbanisme et l’architecture,” Romain Lajarge and Stéphane Sadoux show how the concept of territory inherited from the early modern period (imposition of fixed borders in the seventeenth century) comes into conflict with a more contemporary meaning linked to social, economic and ecological transformations. Territories are defined as arrangements of material resources allowing the organization of social life. They induce the idea of change, metamorphosis and adaptability. This raises the question of the relationship between a centralized conception of territory (and the feeling of belonging to a national community that it engenders) and an atomization of territories, as well as the articulation between governance emanating from the centre and a form of localism in the decision-making process.

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1 Les mots de la géographie. Dictionnaire critique, Reclus, La Documentation française, 1993.

2 Antoine Bailly, Robert Ferras, Denise Pumain (dir.), 1995, “Territoires,” Encyclopédie de géographie, Paris, Economica.

3 Yves Jean et Christian Calenge (dir.), 2002, “La notion de territoire : entre polysémie, analyses critiques et intérêt,” Lire les territoires, Tours, Presses Universitaires François-Rabelais, coll. Perspectives Villes et Territoires, 3.

4  See for instance Margaret Moore, 2015, A Political Theory of Territory, New York, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

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Bibliographical reference

Jean-Jacques Chardin, “Preface”Recherches anglaises et nord-américaines, 57 | 2023, 5-8.

Electronic reference

Jean-Jacques Chardin, “Preface”Recherches anglaises et nord-américaines [Online], 57 | 2023, Online since 01 February 2024, connection on 29 May 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Jean-Jacques Chardin

Université de Strasbourg

By this author

  • In Memoriam [Full text]
    Christian Auer 1956-2020
    Published in Recherches anglaises et nord-américaines, 54 | 2021
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