Preface by Bertrand Badie

The major debate about territory, about what it once was and no longer really is, is partly settled today. As globalization has become part of our lives, it has substantiated the idea that distance is no longer an obstacle, that borders no longer block very much and that interdependency has divested the juxtaposition of states of an essential part of its meaning. The world is thus less and less Westphalian and no longer resembles the mosaic it once did: sovereignty has lost some of its territorial strength, while national interest has been reconfigured around a complex rationale of transaction and co-management – however timid and selective – concerning the common goods of humanity.

At the same time, people are still dying for territory, not so much anymore in conquering or expanding it, but in attempting to materialize that essential aspect of identity that it tends to bestow. While territory has lost its material value, at least in part, it retains its symbolic significance and its expressive form. This is contradictory only in appearance: territory no longer has the instrumental scope of yore, but it retains its declarative force. Thus the “end of territories” must not be confused with the end of any reference to space. Space remains more than ever at the very center of the social sciences: action remains tied in with space, but space is less and less material or limited by set boundaries.

The notion that space has thus been “liberated” is borne out in many aspects that make up today’s world, as this atlas aptly describes. Individual and social action now operate on many planes, which form multiple levels of analysis – and while the national space these actions reference is less and less foregrounded, the local, the supranational regional and increasingly the transregional levels are acquiring an importance that is constantly reassessed. Identity itself is ever more distinct from the national framework, referring to multiple levels of spatialization that are moving further and further away from the territorial format. As ties with the structured nation slacken, territory becomes less and less suited to identitarian ambitions. What’s more, such ambitions tend to destroy territoriality as they dispute the legitimacy of constructed forms and, unable to counter these forms with others, may be tempted to resort to horrific extremes – ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Expanded by diasporas and migratory networks, dilated by communications advances, increasingly flexible in a world where issues themselves have become more mobile, spaces of identification now intersect and overlap. They appear multiple and fragmented, whereas they are actually tentacular and networked. Any attempt to confine these spaces behind walls or barriers, or with gatekeepers is effectively chasing shadows and of necessity involves coercion: it is an act that contravenes the very nature of globalization, a failure to understand that networks, mobility, population displacement and the like are quite simply part of our world and will remain so.

The soaring importance of the network concept attests to this: social relationships (and therefore political or economic ones) become more efficient the more they are informal, scarcely visible, and meta-institutional. It negates territorial geometry, defies distances, frontiers and closures. It reinterprets connections of solidarity and becomes the vehicle for new forms of violence and new identities. For some, it creates an invisible enemy; for others, it guarantees that incredibly sophisticated regulations. Networks, as the new sinews of exchange, at the same time drain the life out of conventional confrontation.

The disintegration of territorial constraints does not abolish inequality : on the contrary, it brings it even more into relief. Where the logic of the nation-state once imposed political boundaries, modern (or postmodern) spatialization processes offer up the unadulterated truth of disparities. To use a term coined by Scalapino in discussing Asia, “natural economic territories” now have greater relevance than political territories: growth triangles, special economic zones, an incredible densification of flows and exchanges on either side of the Formosa Strait contribute more to the understanding of East Asia than the old geopolitics.

And it’s only natural: everyone is tending to be more and more in everyone else’s space. Because new communication technologies make it possible, because interests are increasingly interdependent and not confined to sectors, because space means flows and relationships, not closed communities anymore. The logic of boundary-setting has given way to the logic of transaction: “space” thus refers to the dimension of an exchange, and no longer that of an encampment. This is a huge change – one that comprehensively reconstructs the concept of security and, further upstream, even that of conflict. Individual security no longer exactly coincides with the security of one’s territory – inhabited, formerly, like a kind of comfortable and impregnable fortress. It now is played out at a distance, depending on multiple levels of spatialization. There can be no security at home without security for others, no political stability at home without health or food security for others.

In this new order, national security has lost its relevance in favor of collective security, which quickly became global. It yields to the idea of integration : when it is too weak, it provokes tension and violence, but not in the form of head-on political clashes that Hobbes, Clausewitz, Weber and Morgenthau described.

This new international social violence instead calls to mind Durkheim and Merton, and phenomena of anomie and deviance: it is a new brand of conflict, using playing cards that no longer resemble those used before, but instead arising out of frustration, exclusion and humiliation.

At the same time, these conflicts affect everyone: they are closely tied to the invasion of the international arena by multiple actors who no longer respect the state-constructed monopoly. Each must then contribute to successful international social integration, as the idea of global governance imperfectly suggests. Yet, in this more Durkheimian than Weberian world, where solidarity proves more effective than going it alone, where social relations are more constructive than unilateral acts, multilateralism becomes useful once again, offering a new way of conceptualizing the world. By concluding this Atlas on that theme, its authors wisely lead us to an entirely different representation of space, in which open and inclusive societies prevail over logics of closure and exclusion and in which collective processes take the place of unilateral acts. A world probably shaped by contestation instead of being held together by power.

The idea of a world space is thus gradually being theorized, in contrast to the “international system” idea by rejecting the hypothesis of a mere juxtaposition of nation-states, by refusing to view them as a universal, permanent fact or a fixed point in history, by reinserting societies in the game of world politics, by nuancing their strict compliance with the logics of borders, by banking on the importance of mobility and transnational flows. Most of all, positing a world space amounts to emphasizing the gradual replacement of sovereignty with interdependence as a primary feature.

In a world where everyone depends on everyone else and everyone can see everyone else, competition does not explain everything. Most of all, it overlooks the main pathologies plaguing the world order today: the lack of international social integration has become a source not only of new outbreaks of violence, but also of frustration and humiliation, provoking all manner of destabilization as well as making states unable to fulfill their traditional role of promoting public goods. As a space striving for integration, the world space is becoming the custodian of global public goods.

As its structure is hypothetical and necessarily incomplete, in concrete terms the world space contains a clearly vibrant, resilient inter-state system, with norms and institutions, but a system that has lost its monopoly on everything that classical analysis once pigeonholed in the “external” category. This world space also contains a complex system of identity references that does not hew to either the contours of states or to its own integrative mode. This combination of tensions between systems that intellectually exclude one another while being condemned to coexist explains the instability of our world order.

Continual instability, uncertainty, wrangling, even improvisation, are thus routine in an international system that we are no longer even able to name, to qualify, or to take at face value. It emerged from bipolarity, which was its last refuge, and it is now being replaced by the concept of world space, at once more inclusive in terms of actors and issues, and less confined by an event or sequence of events. Relations that were once qualified as international in the world space are now increasingly intersocial: diplomacy – which purports to be “the science and arts of managing relations

between those who regard themselves as separate and different” (Paul Sharp) – is no longer the prerogative of states and their embassies alone but now also pertains to societies. This Intersocial diplomacy has issues to deal with (separation, inequality and divisions between societies), actors (states that are engaged in it and non-state actors that are reassessed by it) and loci (social fora, mobilizations, even new forms of world conflict). The mutual interference and exploitation of these two diplomacies are constantly restructuring the world space – to the point of giving it a sedimentary thickness at variance with the strictly horizontal theories inspired by realism.

In paying close attention to these issues, then, the present Atlas is itself part of a radical renewal of international analysis and aptly expresses what is arguably a distinctively French approach to international relations. More sociological than strictly political, open to the multiplicity of actors, to social forms of violence and conflict, giving priority to solidarity and integration over classical war and power politics that are currently ailing, this approach fully embraces a vision of space that is no longer one of classical geopolitics or territory-based orthodoxy.

It is clear that this new situation requires a radical intellectual, academic and pedagogical transformation. Intellectually, we must learn to conceive the world in terms of its mobility, its interdependency and its integration. This may be entirely at odds with a political class raised on national deliberation and sensitivity to immediate interests. From an academic standpoint, we must learn not only how to represent this fluidity but also conceptualize it, leaving the tropes of enemy, border and identity behind; we must learn how to examine the social beyond the political; we need the (rare) courage to renegotiate disciplinary boundaries and their gatekeepers. Pedagogically, it is time to propose a new offering, which will naturally go beyond the geopolitics of yesteryear or what remains of it, but strive also to go beyond more recent international relations theories, and thus not limit consideration solely to relations between nation-states, but highlight societies, social actors and mere individuals fully participating – on a daily basis, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously – in the world space. This offering, then, will look to the future, highlighting its hopes and its uncertainties.

That does not mean history is linear. It harbors plenty of surprises and has always taught us how robust the various forms of conservatism can be, especially when they are united with fear. Among the surprises, it is increasingly clear how the disappearance of old territorial codes is challenging spatial divisions that were fixed under the Westphalian system. While this system had sanctified national spatializations, today its weaknesses suddenly leave national boundaries once thought to be eternal open to discussion. In Scotland or in Quebec, Catalonia or in Belgium – in other words, in the Westphalian fiefdoms – new national aspirations have emerged that once would have been taboo. Yesterday’s absolute nation is yielding to a new movement, one that is inventing a nation born of a conjunction of circumstances or crises: what would once have been seen as divorce, and therefore sacrilegious, is viewed as a parting of the ways, co-existence if no longer co-habitation. And why, after all, shouldn’t Isabella the Catholic and Ferdinand II of Aragon not each go their separate ways after a half-millennium of virtual loyalty? The clash of beliefs here is brutal and will make headlines: that, too, is globalization.

As regards forms of conservatism, we cannot overlook the neonationalism developing in places all over the world, North as well as South, East as well as West, reflecting a political will to reinforce, against the grain, the old principles of territoriality and sovereignty. In the name of fears aroused by globalization and its consequences, with migration at the top of the list, old nationalist schemas are being reactivated – not, this time, around the conquest of new rights, but instead focused on exclusion and confinement, symbolized in the rise of ethnicism and materialized in the celebration of walls.

As in a systolic movement, globalization brings its own contradictory, changing experiences with it, expansions and contractions, changes and fears, projections and reactions. Whether temporary or bound to endure, this aspect remains central today.

Bertrand Badie

Professor, Sciences Po

To quote this article

" From International to Global " World Atlas of Global Issues, 2018, [online], accessed on Mar 15 2021, URL:

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