College Board: Political Organization of Space Unit Outline

IV. Political Organization of Space

A. Territorial dimensions of politics
  1. The concept of territoriality
  2. The nature and meaning of boundaries
  3. Influences of boundaries on identity, interaction, and exchange

B. Evolution of the contemporary political pattern
  1. The nation-state concept
  2. Colonialism and imperialism
  3. Federal and unitary states

C. Challenges to inherited political–territorial arrangements
  1. Changing nature of sovereignty
  2. Fragmentation, unification, alliance
  3. Spatial relationships between political patterns and patterns of ethnicity, economy, and environment
  4. Electoral geography, including gerrymandering

Territorial Dimensions of Politics


  • Territoriality is typically defined as a state attempting to influence or control people, events, and relationships by asserting their dominance over an area.
  • The concept of territoriality is closely intertwined with sovereignty.
  • Territoriality implies that the state has control over a territory. With this control, it can affect everything that occurs in the area.


  • A boundary is an imaginary barrier that separates territory.
  • A boundary can result from an imaginary line, or from natural features like rivers or valleys.
  • A boundary is actually recognized as a vertical plane dividing the territory. It extends into the airspace and below the rocks (a.k.a. subsoil).

Spatial relationships

  • The relationships between spaces is one of the most important relationships that human geographers examine.
  • Boundaries between ethnicities and social classes can cause tension and conflict.
  • The division of the world into independent states has affected the globe's ability to tackle problems like hunger, disease, and environmental decay.
  • The independent states are focused on their own agendas and this diminishes the possibilities of borders more open to trade and immigration.

Evolution of the concept

Nation-State Concept

  • A nation-state is a independent state where a nation of people and the politically recognized state are occupying the same area.
  • This concept derived from the European model of the independent state. It inspired nations around the globe to aspire toward the goal of a nation-state.

Colonialism and Imperialism

  • During the 18th and 19th century, dominating European powers forced their concepts of sovereignty onto weaker countries around the globe.
  • These European countries established colonies in less developed areas of the world, and typically tried to exploit its people.
  • Even 200 years into the future, the imprints of European Colonialism still are apparent today, because of the superimposed boundaries that still exist.


  • Democratization is the process of changing a state's government into a more democratic variation.
  • Causes can include revolution and civilian unrest, and even desire for a more equal distribution of rights.
  • An effective representation of this concept would be the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1991.

Changes to contemporary political arrangements

Changing the nature of sovereignty

  • Over the past couple of centuries, the definition of a sovereign state has evolved.
  • Developments at various scales within a country is undermining the traditional state-territorial system.
  • The increasing influence of multinational and global corporations is reducing a governments ability to control it's own domestic economy.
  • Eventually the private sector and the governments of these sovereign nations could engage in a power struggle, forever changing the state-territorial system.

Fragmentation, Unification and Alliances

  • The changing political climate in recent years has affected the make up of political geography.
  • Supranational organizations or alliances like the European Union have changed the traditional world economy.
  • States with superimposed boundaries set in place by the UN or imperial powers are fragmenting into regions and states with one dominant ethnic group (nation-states).european_union2.jpg
  • Areas that have been divided into multistate nations in the past have been unified into a single nation-state in recent years.

Supranationalism and Devolution

  • Devolution is the migration of power from a central government to various regional governments.
  • Occasionally devolution can be permanent because of a reworking of the states constitution and it's recognition of regional offices.
  • Supranationalism is the process of decision making in multinational communities. During this process, power is transmitted to another authority by the member states.

Electoral Geography

  • Electoral Geography is the final piece of the spatial organization of a government.
  • Electoral geographers study the distribution of the districts and voting patterns.Map%20of%20Senate%20Districts.gif
  • Reapportionment is the process of moving districts according to population shifts.
  • Sometimes Majority-minority districts can form. This is when the majority of the population in the district is a minority.
  • Sometimes these districts can be corrupted to favor a particular political group. This is typically called gerrymandering.

Shapes of States

Prorupted- A state that exhibits a narrow, elongated land extension, leading away from the main territory.
Compact- A state that possess a roughly circular from which geometric center is relatively equidistant.
Elongated- A state with a long and narrow shape.
Perforated- A state that completely encompasses another independent state.
Enclave- A state that is surrounded by another independent state.
Exclave- An area that is under a state's control and influence, but is separated from it.

Vocab Links and Pictures


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Case Studies

Compact State Case Study
Elongated State Case Study
Enclave State Case Study

Citations and Sources

Political Organization of Space Citations

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