Blogpost by Andreas Faludi

Chipping Away on Territorialism

03 February 2023
Image by Niek Lurling

Previously from the University of Luxemburg and now hailing from the University of Erlangen, Tobias Chilla (2022) has published a chapter on ‘Die flexible Region‘ (The flexible region). It reviews texts in the Anglo-Saxon literature on ’soft spaces’, relating the concept to German situations with glimpses also of the EU. Amongst others, Chilla refers to my critique of ‘territorialism’. (Faludi 2013)


It is not often that positions I take are labelled ‘extreme’, but this is what Chilla does as regards my claim ‘…that a more-and-more integrated Europe could only function by transcending the classic understandings of territory [and] in so doing conceiving of soft planning as an essential building block in overcoming “territorialism” fuelled by the interests of nation states.’ (Own translation)

Now, it should be evident from that paper that in criticising territorialism I am in very good company. More importantly, its adherents are radicals themselves! So, as the saying (which as a German speaker Chilla himself will understand) goes: ‘Auf einen groben Klotz gehört ein grober Keil’ (On a coarse block belongs a coarse wedge.) Stronger still, since territorialism represents the radical position that states must have the monopoly on the use of force both within and without their borders, a firm response is not only justified, but clearly called for: Territorialism – and its associated, what might be called sovereignism – are on shaky ground: States are not what their apologists make them to be: subject only to laws that they accept of their own volition. And, where they try to live up to this ideal, they do much harm.

Should we then do away with states? Maybe, but not in one sweep, please! Recognising that they are no longer – have never really been – sovereign in fact, and that now they approximate sovereignty less and less would be a good start.

I have criticised territorialism-cum-sovereignism stemming from the French monarch identifying himself with the State before. In the French Revolution, ‘the People’ took his robe as if it were an actor, which it is plainly not. But the French Revolution sustained the idea of a one-to-one relation between the sovereign and his/her territory as if he/she were in a manner of speaking owning it. Which required tortuous constructs as if ‘the nation’ had personality and was managing its estate. Which has taken us – as under populism – to identifying the people with a chosen leader – chosen in the dual sense of elected, but also anointed and speaking for the people as if they were one.

Now, recognising that the people acting in unison is untenable is one thing, but doing away with the state and its territoriality in one swoop is quite another. How else than by invoking it could the authorities engage in planning, Chilla (2022, 88) is saying. True, but whilst recognising this uncomfortable truth, we also need to chip away at the idea until the tree falls in a more-or-less controlled manner.

It is here where soft spaces have a crucial role to play. They make us realise that insisting on hard borders, on tough controls, on ‘right or wrong: my country’ is a dead. But we must also accept that the medicine agencies need time to pass their verdicts on the cures on offer. In doing so, they need to take in multilateralism, pay attention to overlapping concerns, the need for compromises, in short: engage in soft planning for soft places.



Chilla, T. (2022) ‘Die flexible Region’, in: Ermann, U., Häfner, M., Hostniker, S., Preininger, E.M., Simic, D, (eds.) Die Region – eind Begriffserkundung, De Gruyter, Berlin.

Faludi, A. (2013) Territorial cohesion, territorialism, territoriality, and soft planning: A critical review’, Environment and Planning A, 45(6), 1302-1317.