PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2022, Vol. 41 ›› Issue (8): 1492-1503.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2022.08.012

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Territory versus sovereignty: A review of the “territorial trap” studies in political geography

LIU Yungang1,2,3(), LIU Xuanyu4, WANG Fenglong3,*(), HU Xunxun1   

  1. 1. School of Geography & The Center for Asian Geographical Studies, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
    2. The Center of Administrative Division and Spatial Governance, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
    3. Beidou Research Institute, South China Normal University, Foshan 528225, Guangdong, China
    4. School of Geography and Planning, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
  • Received:2021-11-19 Revised:2022-05-05 Online:2022-08-28 Published:2022-10-25
  • Contact: WANG Fenglong;
  • Supported by:
    National Natural Science Foundation of China(42142028);National Natural Science Foundation of China(42071187);National Natural Science Foundation of China(42171225);National Social Science Foundation of China(20VHQ002)


Territory is the key concept in political geography, and territorial trap is one of the most classical theories in political geography. This article systematically reviewed the literature on territorial traps, summarized the origin, development, and research progress of the territorial trap theory, and discussed its significance in Chinese political geographical studies. The theory of territorial trap proposed by Agnew is based on three geographical assumptions: the "trinity" of territory-state-sovereignty, the "dichotomy" of domestic-foreign, and the state as a social container. The territorial trap theory refutes the existing state-centric view of territory and emphasizes various effective forms of sovereignty besides the state's territory, such as extraterritorial sovereignty, graduated sovereignty, and social sovereignty. The extensive application of the territorial trap theory reflects its strong explanatory power in global governance, non-traditional security, cross-border migration control, cross-border resource protection, cross-border water politics, and so forth. This article argued that territorial issues should be understood from the complex interaction between territorial control and effective sovereignty and the perspectives from the center and periphery, and be examined by combining rationality and historical emotion. It has important implications for China to effectively resolve territorial issues, promote the realization of the Belt and Road Initiative, and establish the "community with a shared future for mankind".

Key words: territorial trap, territoriality, territorial state, effective sovereignty, political geography