Landscapes of Power: Rationalizing Nature and Envisioning Resources in the 20th-Century World
Based on studies of Uganda, Egypt, Peru, and the Soviet Union, this panel offers a transnational evaluation of the ecology of nation and state making in an age of globalizing trends throughout the countryside. Examining the shared experiences of societies and spaces experiencing questions over decolonization, population resettlement, remaking of national borders, internal colonization, and territorial integration, our conversation dissects the mechanisms by which state powers have perceived, rationalized, refashioned, and represented environmental challenges as assertions of ecological sovereignty.
One of the foundational principles of legitimization for imperial and state powers has been their capability to exert authority over sovereign territories. The rise of cartography and map-making served to define the physical boundaries of political sovereignty, and to otherwise appease a bureaucratic anxiety over spatial delimitation. As empires contracted and nation-states asserted new principles of sovereignty, challenges against territorial control emerged. The quest over territoriality in the twentieth century has been framed by the creation of a spatiality that favors assimilation, appropriation, and accumulation. Through myriad devices of governmentality, rising and consolidating state powers projected ideals of spatiality over unruly environmental settings. Whether connecting regions through railway building, socially engineering human resettlement, unveiling the economic potential of rural regions, or facilitating tourism in seemingly peripheral provinces, state power targeted environmental rule as a pivotal component of its muscle. In turn, nature became a critical arena for affirming the centralizing prerogatives of states.
This panel aims to provide a space for discussing the role that territory, nature and resources have played in producing landscapes of power – legible environments that amalgamated human and physical geography, enabling them to be merged into the body politic– as a pivotal component of nations and states. In doing so, our conversation engages an ongoing discussion about the question of territoriality, environmental challenges, and ecological sovereignty in the midst of globalizing political and economic trends. In spite of a strong focus on de-territorializing our understanding of nation-state narratives, state territoriality – and its manifold internal aspects – remain as a key driving force of nation, state, and global politics. The territoriality of nation and state making processes is often understood as a primarily political development. Nevertheless, emerging bureaucratic apparatuses, state governmentality, and fiscal rationalities also required an appraisal of environmental conditions that framed rising and contesting notions of territoriality. Such appraisals – sometimes conducted through institutional means, others in less centralized ways – were typically followed by a reassessment that intended to refashion nature and space in order to produce landscapes. These landscapes of power required a simplification of natural settings and a reevaluation of physical and human geography, processes that presented both opportunities and challenges while at the same time also reinforcing the agency of local environments in shaping ongoing processes such as borderline delimitation, industrialization, population resettlement, rural developmentalism, and nation-state making at large.