Political philosophy has recently seen an increased interest in the justification of territorial rights. For a long time, political philosophy, which has had a great deal to say about the relationship between state and citizen, largely ignored territory as a distinct normative question. It was assumed that whatever justifies the state’s coercive power also justifies the state’s control over its territory. Recent developments in the literature on territorial rights, however, reveal that the normative issues surrounding territory are numerous and complex and that we lack a coherent and unified theory of territory.
Despite much recent talk about trends toward globalization and de-territorialization, the fact remains that the entire face of our planet is divided into distinct, mutually exclusive, territorial and political units, and the process may not be complete, as states continue to attempt to extend their sphere of control beneath the seabed, to the frozen Arctic, and perhaps even beyond the atmosphere.
Yet, even as the territorial imperative remains stubbornly in force, territorial rights are under-theorized. Some cosmopolitan theorists challenge the idea that the world should be divided into territorial states: they ask what entitles a state, or the people it represents, to assume monopoly control over a particular piece of the Earth’s surface. Even if one accepts the idea of the territorial state, a number of pressing political and philosophical questions still arise, which the traditional view that any state is entitled to exercise control over its territory leaves unanswered. What if a state’s or a group’s territory was acquired unjustly: are there remedial rights to territory in light of historical injustice? Do rights of jurisdiction or rights of self-determination entail rights to control borders and natural resources? What principles ought to determine who should have territorial rights in the case of unoccupied islands, Antarctica, or disputed boundaries?
These normative questions are central to a number of pressing issues facing us today, all of which involve territory and territorial rights: the aftermath of colonialism and decolonization; indigenous land claims; corrective demands rooted in historical injustice; disputes over natural resources; competing claims over the oceans, the Arctic, and Antarctica; questions of secession and annexation; as well as debates about immigration.
This conference brings together specialists from political theory, philosophy, law, public affairs, and international relations to address these issues and to explore new directions and challenges in both the conceptual and the applied dimensions of territory and territorial rights.