November 28th: Omar Dahbour, “On the Ecological Blindspot in the Territorial Rights Debate”

On the Ecological Blindspot in the Territorial Rights Debate

Omar Dahbour, Hunter College & The Graduate Center, CUNY

Monday, November 28, 4-5:30pm

Location: Room 5409

This paper summarizes and criticizes four conceptions of territorial rights. A right to territory is understood as a legitimate claim to jurisdictional authority over a contiguous land area, the ecosystem(s) it contains, and its human inhabitants. The four conceptions I designate as the cosmopolitan, nationalist, proprietary, and populist. Each is discussed in terms of one or two recent theorists who have espoused these conceptions. In particular, I discuss Arash Abizadeh and Lea Ypi as exponents of the cosmopolitan conception, Tamar Meisels and David Miller as exponents of the nationalist conception, John Simmons and Cara Nine as exponents of the proprietary conception, and Margaret Moore as an exponent of the populist conception. Additionally, I consider the work of Avery Kolers, who argues for a conception of territorial rights that incorporates an ecological dimension.

The distinctive conception of a right to territory that I advocate also includes this ecological dimension in two ways. First, it highlights the view that the normative significance of territory lies in its importance for the securing of the material necessities for human life. Second, it is a specific relation to territory—the use of it to achieve ecological sustainability—that alone justifies territorial claims. The right that I advocate as a result of the inadequacies of the prior conceptions that I criticize can therefore be stated as follows: A people inhabiting a territory comprising an ecosystem has the right to jurisdictional authority over that territory sufficient to maintain the goods and services of that ecosystem. Rather than arguing directly for this conception in what follows, I will attempt to show how it, or some amended version of it, provides a needed corrective to the deficiencies of the four (plus) conceptions that I discuss.