A community is always more than the sum of its parts, more than its political ideals. You go about your life, taking part in meetings and harvests, banquets and maintaining the land, and before you know it, you have grown attached by innumerable and inescapable threads to people, to the trees, to the light over the mist in the morning, to the secret paths that you were shown once while escaping cops, to the arguments and the reconciliations, to the honey and the bread and the vegetables that your friends share, to the wild parties until dawn, to the doubts and the certainties . . . You find yourself having grown a new subjectivity, one that is inherently rooted in and emerging from the territory. The more you inhabit a place, the more it inhabits you.
–Jay Jordan and Isabelle Fremeaux, We Are Nature Defending Itself.
A territory is an area delimited by borders that separate inside from outside. Historically, it referred to the land that fell under the jurisdiction of a town or city. Today, sovereign states have a clearly marked territory where their language is the official language and their laws apply. But humans are not the only beings that draw borders: territorial animals feed themselves on the resources they find in their territory, mark its borders with scent and sound, and defend it from intruders. While their borders are invisible to the human eye, they know precisely where they belong and what does not belong there. For both humans and animals, territory orders space and defines identity.
In the nation-state paradigm, the construction of a state’s territory is tied up with the construction of a national identity: each country has its own language, culture and legal system, which function as a territorial code that subjectivates the inhabitants of that territory. While territory has a lot to do with property – “this land belongs to me” – it is never a straightforward possession. An apex predator may control an ecosystem it sees as its own, but it also belongs to that ecosystem. Likewise, nationalism is based on the idea that the inhabitants of a country belong to that country as much as that country belongs to them. This two-sided construction of belonging uncomfortably sits between conservative nationalism and political radicalism; an attachment to the land has motivated liberation movements as well as genocides.
The flows of global capital and the immaterial nature of our digital world increasingly detach us from territory; capitalism deterritorializes, or, as Marx said, all that is solid melts into air. Borders stop those without visa or passport, while capital, information and endless amounts of stuff flow across the planet. The dynamic uniformity of the global cosmopolis hinders territorial attachment: London looks just like Tokyo and New York, and if gentrification makes the rent of our neighbourhood go up, we simply move elsewhere, rather than defending the territory we inhabit. While we are witnessing a troubling resurgence of nationalisms on the right, one may ask whether these cultivate territorial attachment or simply mobilize fears of globalization for political gain.
Can we reclaim territory as a political term, outside of the legal and national meanings that dominate it? Freeing space from state and capital has been one of the aims of the Foundry (see freeingspace.com), and cultivating a sense of territorial attachment that does not rely on property or identity has been central to that aim. In this one week encounter, we will try to understand what this attachment to territory consists in, both practically and theoretically; we will work on our food forest, rid the common lands of invasive tree species, discuss rural gentrification, present the Sindicato de la Tierra, and try to understand what it means to inhabit a territory.
We especially want to invite the groups that hosted the Zapatistas during the Gira por la Vida in 2021 in the hope of reactivating some of these networks. This post will be updated as we fix the date and the program becomes more clear. If you want to take part in shaping the event, feel free to get in touch.
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