Geometrics

This is the second key point. Just as with biopower, biometrics and biopolitics, there is a threefold relation between geopower, geometrics and geopolitics. Geometrics can be understood in the traditional sense of the term, a measuring of the earth, as geometry. In Herodotus there is a description of the original earth-measurers, the Egyptians sent to remark the boundaries of fields after the Nile’s floodwaters had subsided.32 Heidegger claims that Thales is crucial here, as the first scientific philosopher and first mathematician. He took the Egyptian geometry of empirical measurement, and turned it into an abstract and deductive process.33 This originary, fundamental, sense became increasingly abstract in Aristotle and Euclid, and especially when fully mathematicized in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.34

An understanding of the politics of calculation in relation to the way the world is constructed might help us to track how mechanistic ways of rendering have become increasingly technocratic. These are something that we might call regimes of global calculation.35 To think the world of globalization forces us to realize that this is not a transcending of spatial or territorial problematics, but rather their reconfiguration. Territory— understood as the political corollary of calculative space, as a political technology—offers us insight into the world scale or the notion of the worldwide. In Henri Lefebvre’s terms, l’echelie mondiale is not the same as le niveau global; the world scale is distinct from the global or general level.36 The process of globalization is an acceleration of the understanding of space and time as coordinates on a three- and four-dimensional grid. The understanding of space and time as calculative, and extension as the primary characteristic of material nature, is to make it amenable to science through geometry and measure more generally. A difference of degree rather than an ontological transformation is thus the way to grasp the spatiality of globalization.

But there are traces in the tradition too—in my work on territory, I think about some of this in the argument that we can conceive of territory as a political technology. This, again following Foucault, thinks about the techniques used for measuring land and controlling terrain, rather than just territory as land or terrain. While recognizing that the material, the geophysical, is important, particular political strategies directed toward that are equally significant. In other words, looking at measure and control, as markers for the technical and the legal, is significant alongside economic and strategic concerns. Territory is a political question, but the political needs to be understood in multiple registers, as economic, strategic, legal and technical.

In the historical account of the emergence of the concept and practice of territory, I put some stress on what I called “the geometry of the political.” In this I looked at writings including those of the Roman land surveyors in the Corpus Agrimensorum Romanorum—literally, the work of the Roman field measurers, as well as the work of the 14th legal scholar Bartolus of Sassoferrato, who as well as writing legal texts that I think are crucial in the emergence of the relation between law and place, jurisdiction and territory, also wrote a text on the issues relating to rivers. There were three key questions for Bartolus: what happens to the possession of land if the river changes course? What about an island that emerges from a river? Who owns the land of a dried up riverbed? These legal questions can be traced back to Justinian’s Institutes in relation to property of farms on either side of the river, and are the same kinds of issues that concern international river boundaries today. But Bartolus is interesting because he makes use of a fairly rudimentary geometry to legislate on such cases—a founding text of legal geography, or legal geometry. So we might be able to retrieve the Egyptian sense of geometry to make sense of measures of the earth. But there are also a range of other ways geometrics might be thought today beyond the applied sense of land surveying; looking at the measuring of the yields of oil and gas, soil fertility and air quality.

 
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