Theory and Society

, Volume 45, Issue 2, pp 169–201 | Cite as

Territoriality, map-mindedness, and the politics of place

  • Camilo Arturo LeslieEmail author


Political sociologists have paid closer attention of late to the territoriality of political communities, and have even begun theorizing the theme of territoriality’s legitimation. To date, however, the field has mostly overlooked the topic of maps, the quintessential territorial tool. Thus, we know little regarding maps’ crucial role in shaping modern subjects’ relationship to territory. This article argues that “map-mindedness”—i.e., the effects of map imagery on how subjects experience territory—can be productively theorized by working through the social-scientific concept of “place.” Using a range of modern and contemporary examples, I illustrate how maps can draw on and manipulate political subjects’ experience of place. Maps, I submit, allow political communities to render themselves more place-like, thus bridging the phenomenological distance between these abstract, territorially vast units and their “emplaced” subjects. More specifically, maps solve this “problem of distance” through three ideal-typical processes: 1) they render the political community as a proximate “object in the world”; 2) they present the political community as a body-like target for cathexis and identification; and 3) they mediate the traffic of meaning between the local and the national to produce a multi-scalar sense of place that can be harnessed in the service of the political community. Maps are a potent means of “re-personalizing” politics; their study suggests that territoriality is not only a form of “impersonal rule,” as recent works have observed, but always also implicated in the production of political subjects.


Territory Cartography Cognitive mapping Place-affect Legitimacy Political sociology 



For their suggestions on previous drafts of this work, I thank Mariana Crăciun, Raymond Craib, Mathieu Desan, Fiona Greenland, Kim Greenwell, Robert Jansen, Matthew H. McLeskey, Sumathi Ramaswamy, Hiro Saito, Peggy Somers, George Steinmetz, Geneviève Zubrzycki, and participants in Michigan Sociology’s Power, History, and Social Change workshop. For their insightful comments on my submission, I also thank the Theory and Society reviewers and Editors. Finally, I wish to thank the American Bar Foundation, where I wrote much of this piece while in residence as a Law and Social Science Fellow


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Baldy Center for Law & Social PolicyState University of New York BuffaloBuffaloUSA

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