Unbounded territoriality: territorial control, settler colonialism, and Israel/Palestine

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Settler colonialism is premised on the replacement of an indigenous population with an exogenous one on the land. Therefore, territoriality, or territorial control, is its irreducible element. As it is traditionally conceived, the exercise of territoriality requires that the territorial extent of control be clearly bounded and communicated. But in settler colonial contexts the frontier is a mobile index of expansion – though not yet fully inhabited or annexed, it would eventually and inevitably be part of the settler polity. Therefore, the form of territorial control operating in the frontier of settler colonial formations is unbounded territoriality, a strategy of territorial control best exercised by not delimiting boundaries, by not making clear the extent of sovereign authority. Because settlers are ‘founders’ of political orders who carry their sovereignty with them into the frontier, the territorial limits of settler sovereignty are liminal – indeterminate, ambiguous, and pending – at least until the frontier is closed and final borders are established. Israel, though, has been unable to close the frontier and delimit final territorial borders, which has resulted in the indefinite character of the ‘occupation’ and the continued exercise of unbounded territoriality, particularly in the West Bank.
Original languageAmerican English
JournalSettler Colonial Studies
StatePublished - Mar 23 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Borders
  • Israel/Palestine
  • occupation
  • sovereignty
  • territoriality


  • Political Science
  • Social and Cultural Anthropology

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