Unbundling territoriality in the era of real time cyberspace

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006
11 Pages, Grade: 1.5


Relatifs, States, Globalization and the Movement of Pe°ple

Unbundling territoriality in the era of real time Cyberspace

‘This world exists on a deeper and more extended temporal plane, and its remaking involves a shift not in the play of power politics but of the stage on which that play is performed.’[1]

1993 when Ruggie termed the ‘unbundling of territoriality’ was a year in which knowledge and communication that is its accessibility and dissemination entered a new realm of space and time. On the 30th of April 1993 the World Wide Web and its underlying technology was made freely available to use by anyone.[2] Today over one billion people use the Internet, or every sixth person on the planet.[3] A collective brain one might say is forming in front of our eyes growing with every new person entering three W’s into a web browser.

While Ruggie aimed to search for, and investigate into, a fundamental transformation of the modern system of states, he emphasized that such an analysis would find a fruitful starting point in the [re]conceptualisation of territoriality.[4] This paper will utilize Ruggie’s concept, by applying its analysis to the emerging and manifesting space-time implosion driven by the Internet and other communication technologies. Therefore, it is argued that Cyberspace provides a practical sphere to investigate into the unbundling of territoriality in a postmodern world.

In the first section the impact on territoriality resulting from the emergence of the Cyberspace will be discussed. Ruggie’s model of differentiation between systems of rule and territory is applied to explain the transformation of territory in the postmodern era of Cyberspace. It is followed by an investigation into the consequences of Cyberspace on sovereignty. Showing that Cyberspace does indeed provide a new stage in Ruggie’s terms, facilitating an unbundling and relocation of sovereignty away from state territory. The third section discusses the implication of the virtual space on the rise and acceleration of globalisation. It is argued that globalisation, could not be perceived as a postmodern phenomenon without the Cyberspace revolution. The last part of the paper, proposes the need to rethink the notion of movement in the age of virtual and real spaces. Cyberspace allows ‘tourists’ in line with Bauman’s description to choose between virtual and real movement. The preceding discussion will finally lead to the conclusion that the conceptualisation of Cyberspace as one aspect responsible for the unbundling of territory provides an important explanatory insight into the transformation from modernity to postmodernity.

Cyberspace’s impact on territoriality

Ruggie noted, that politics is about rule, by adapting Giddens definition ‘the most generic attribute of any system of rule as comprising legitimate dominion over a spatial extension.’ By deliberately using the term spatial extension, Ruggie dissociated political rule away from bounded territorial space - the state. Ruggie suggests, at least three ways in which prior to the modern state system other system differed.[5] In the subsequent section, Cyberspace will be compared and possibly fitted into these segmentations, at the same time it is made obvious how the concept of spatial extension is a helpful context to explain global political movements that organise through the Internet. In this framework it is argued that knowledge and the access to it [in Cyberspace] is but one form of power or rule.

Firstly, Ruggie argues, there is no necessarily connection between systems of rule and territory. Ruggie uses the example of spatial extension ‘demarcated on the basis of kinship’. Territory was thus ‘occupied’ in kin-based systems, but such systems were not ‘defined’ by it. Secondly, systems of rule need not to be territorially fixed. Ruggie suggests the example of nomadic tribes in light of the ‘sovereign importance of movement’ and ‘the title to a cycle of migration’ of those tribes. Thirdly, even in the case in which systems of rule are territorial and relatively fixed, the ‘prevailing concept of territory need not entail mutual exclusion’. He gives the example of non­exclusive territorial rule of medieval Europe, in which an overlapping, superimposed and interwoven system of rule had been the prevailing condition.[6] How does Ruggie’s segmental differentiation of pre-modern political rule play out in real-time Cyberspace?

By abstracting kinship away from blood relationship to a more rudimentary level of common interests of a particular community, we are able to see how ‘virtual communities’ occupy the Cyberspace, but are by no means defined by it. The emergence and growing importance of global social and political movements are, but one example of how the Internet and its various components have facilitated virtual kinships of interests. The location or place of a single individual as well as physical distance amongst its members of such a community has lost importance. Capling and Nossal, for instance show how Cyberspace tools helped to organize and direct protestors from all over the globe at the 1999 anti-globalisation demonstrations in Seattle.[7] Kobrin goes even further by using ‘neo-medieval analogies’ to explain, at least temporarily, the change in the international system. Cyberspace, as Kobrin describes, is not physical, geometric or geographic, it ‘is at the same time in many places and no place’.[8] Deibert also concurs that a fundamental shift in world politics is occurring, given rise to ‘new post-modern configurations of political space’. The Cyberspace consists of flows in a ‘global non-territorial region’ of computer networks, in which ‘a space of flows’ is superseding ‘a space of places’.[9] If the Internet thus connects ‘virtual communities’, as Rowland says, in an anarchic borderless public space ‘that is owned and governed’ by its users, while the physical elements (i.e. computers, servers, phone lines) are located in sovereign state territory, a question comes to the fore: What are the impacts on world politics given the rise of Cyberspace as part of an unbundling of territoriality?

Two main and interlinked phenomena can be observed; on the one hand virtual communities unite to counter government and intergovernmental efforts and on the other some governments enacted various regulations trying to bring the anarchic Cyberspace under national control.

The major impact for social movements, as Rothkopf summarised, lies in the capacity ‘to amplify their concerns’ because the Internet enables virtual communities to ‘take their case to the international court of public opinion, whose influence over states has grown as it means to reach an ever greater audience has multiplied’.[10] The uprising of the Chiapas in Mexico or the Moviemento revolucionario Tupac Amaru (MRTA) in Peru act as prime examples confirming the impact of Internet technologies to push public protest onto another level. Similarly, as Danitz and Strobel show, how ‘cyberactivists’ had a significant impact to alter US foreign policy towards Burma, as well as putting the issue on the agenda of the World Trade Organization (WTO) pointing towards the human rights violations of the South East Asian country. They noted: ‘Without the Internet, it would have been virtually impossible.. .for activists to co-ordinate and bring the pressure to bear that they did’.[11] The Cyberspace thus offers a forum for quick, co-ordinated, non-territorial lobbying, scrutinizing, opposing and protesting in which citizen can radically alter political outcomes, impossible to achieve by any other political space known.

Governments have realized the potential of the Internet as a threat to state control reaching in excess of its boundaries. Both democratic and undemocratic countries try to censor, filter and regulate the flow of information over the Internet. For example, in Cuba Internet access is primarily granted to trusted elites, in government, journalism and academia. All Internet traffic in Cuba is routed through the states service provider, which blocks content. China, Iran, Saudi Arabia are other undemocratic countries in which Internet access is highly regulated and/or censored. But constrained and regulated access can also be found in democratic countries such as France, Germany, Japan, Spain and Italy. The French and German government have for example enacted legislation against information and material, which they consider offensive.[12] These developments give reason to be cautious to see the Internet leading to a “borderless world” quite yet. State control over the Internet, Deibert argues, will at least in the medium to short-term remain continue to be significant.[13] However, the actual success of governments to restrict the inflow and outflow of information over the Internet becomes increasingly difficult as new forms of encryption and private networks are deployed.

In summary, the spatial extension of political rule of ‘virtual citizen’ in Cyberspace can be compared to a mix of kinship based, nomadic and medieval notions of territoriality. Cyberspace is neither a territorial nor territorial fixed system of rule; it is conditionally inclusive (given an access to the network) and anarchic. While the World Wide Web was virtually unknown a decade ago it has grown and continues to grow into political space of magnitude and scale.


[1] Ruggie G. John, “Territoriality and beyond: Problematizing Modernity in International Relations”, International Organization, vol.47, No.1, 1993, page 139-140

[2] Official document of CERN accessed online on the 7th of June 2006 at http://tenyears-www.web.cern.ch/tenyears- www/Declaration/Page2.html

The World Wide Web and the Internet are not synonymous, as the one represents the network of Data and the later of hardware. To be inclusive of both, but also other forms which are transferred over the Internet such as email, voiceIP, Peer to Peer Filesharing etc. the term Cyberspace is suggested. The term itself can be traced back to William Gibson’s Novel “Burning Chrome” published in 1982.

[3] See for detailed statistical account accessed online on the 7th of June 2006 at http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

[4] Ruggie, 1993, page 171

[5] Ruggie, 1993, page 148-149

[6] Ruggie, 1993, page 149

[7] Capling Ann, Nossal R. Kim, “Death of distance or tyranny of distance? The Internet, deterritorialization, and the anti­globalisation movement in Australia”, The Pacific Review, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2001, page 444

[8] Kobrin, J. Stephen, “Back to the Future: Neomedievalism and the Postmodern digital World Economy”, Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 51, No. 2, 1998, page 365 and 369

[9] Deibert J. Ronald, “International plug ‘n play? Citizen activism, the Internet, and global public policy”, International Studies Perspectives, Vol. 1, 2000, page 255-72

[10] Rothkopf, David J., “Cyberpolitik: the changing nature of power in the information age”, Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 51, No. 2, 1998, page 329

[11] Danitz, Tiffany and Strobel, Warren, “Networking dissent: cyber-activists use the Internet to promote democracy in Burma”, United States Institute for Peace, accessed online on the 7th of June 2006 at http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1382/MR1382.ch5.pdf

[12] Deibert, Ronald J., “The Internet and the “Borderless” World”, ISUMA, Vol. 3, No. 1, 2002, page 2

[13] Ibid

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Unbundling territoriality in the era of real time cyberspace
The Australian National University
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Jan Lüdert (Author), 2006, Unbundling territoriality in the era of real time cyberspace, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/90025


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