Thirteen years ago, Kenichi Ohmae proclaimed that the world had become “borderless,” and the nation-state nothing more than a “bit actor” in a globalised economy. Around the same time, “interdisciplinarity” appeared as the prime strategy for breaking down the rigid stratifications of traditional disciplines, promising an equivalently borderless academe. However, despite the rhetoric of globalisation and interdisciplinarity, territorial boundaries—both physical and conceptual—remain in evidence and under contention.
We chose Christy Collis’s article, “Australia’s Antartic Turf,” as our feature article because it foregrounds what we were most interested in: the collaboration between the physical and representational aspects of territory in the creation of “turf.” Ironically, as Collis notes, the territory she maps out—the Australian Antarctic Territory—is, in a physical sense, a “turfless space,” though it is one that is legally claimed as Australian turf. In this space, once again, we can see the collapsing of the literal and conceptual aspects of turf. Collis’s “anatomy” of Australia’s Antarctican space is exciting reading for questions of territorial claims and territorial representations and their implications. She informs us about the often forgotten complex geopolitical and legal aspects involved in such territory-making, and shows how these aspects, together with certain cultural spatialising technologies, have transformed vast areas of Antarctica into Australian sovereign space.
As Collis’s article shows, the territories these practices mark out are not neutral spaces, but highly politicised turfs, themselves fragmented by conflicting interests and agendas. Eric D. Mason’s article, “Border-Building: Cultural Turf and the Maintenance of Hybridity,” examines the way in which, in the context of international capitalism, the border-eliding practice of hybridity is, paradoxically, fostered through the “strategic reinforcement of national and cultural borders.” The problems of this paradox are exemplified in “the idealistic American view of culture as a ‘melting pot’” in which disparate cultural identities are subsumed into a “greater national identity.” However, as Mason argues, the 9/11 attacks have shattered this homogeneous hybridity and “prompted a host of culturally-focused turf disputes ranging from the bombing of mosques to the deliberate dumping of French champagne.”
In “Allegiance and Renunciation at the Border,” Brian J. Norman also addresses changes to U.S. immigration and citizenship policies post-9/11, but from a rhetorical standpoint. He examines the way in which the Bush administration responded to the attacks “with vigorous efforts to shore up national borders within a language of terrorism, evildoers, and the dire need for domestic security.” The Oath of Allegiance, he argues, is one such example of how rhetoric creates new political realities. Norman’s article, in this way, rethinks the figure of the immigrant and questions of citizenship within the context of state procedures, and considers these shifts as a result of newly inflamed discourses of terrorism and national security.
This theme of the production and circulation of nationalism through language continues to run through Terrence Maybury’s article, “The Literacy Control Complex.” This article examines the literate domain and some of the changes it has experienced throughout the new media communications revolution. Maybury ultimately relates questions of literacy and its control to the concepts of sovereignty, territoriality, and nationalism.
New media technologies are among the most effective and pervasive means for circulating and maintaining such politicised turfs, and, in “Transformations: A Nation State Responds,” Tim Dwyer looks specifically at these technologies in an Australian context. Dwyer addresses issues of “turf” as part of national debates about the institutional reshaping of media regulation at times of rapid changes within communications media. Using debates in Australia about how to merge the functions of the Australian Communications Authority and the Australian Broadcasting Authority as an example, he discusses social, technological, and politico-economic dimensions of regulatory policies.
From these more geo-political and mediatised aspects of turf, our articles take a turn towards academic questions of disciplinary turf. Fred Mason’s story of his personal experiences of the academic “turf protection” maintained by traditional disciplines offers thoughts about interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity—those much-touted new prime strategies in cultural research.
For Zach Whalen, games studies is a new field of cultural research at the edges of academe that must deal with the issues surrounding interdisciplinarity and multidisciplinarity raised by Fred Mason. He poses the question as to whether “ludology is sufficiently robust as a hypothetical academic discipline” to firmly establish games studies within the confines of the traditional university. He argues that the study of video games has been the subject of “a quiet disciplinary turf war between scholars who attempt to bring games into existing academic discourse communities and scholars who see games as an entirely unique medium warranting independent academic infrastructures.” Whalen’s conclusion is that, at present, ludology may not be able to resolve this turf war and, instead, games studies may be better considered as a “melting pot” of competing methodologies.
Laurie Taylor’s article on the spaces of video games can be considered a telling counterpoint to Whalen’s for two reasons. First, Taylor shifts the focus from the disciplinary turf war of games studies to the internal turf spaces and violent turf wars within video games themselves. Second, her article exemplifies the way in which new fields of study carve out ideological territories that delimit critical language, critical practice, and the object of study. Taylor maintains that what has been lacking in the debate over violence in video games is an awareness of the relationship between the virtual game space and the physical space of play. She argues that “the internal game space of a video game cannot be examined outside of the space of play because the space of play dictates how the game is played and how the game space is to be read.”
In some way, each of these articles portrays a “turf war,” which, by definition, relies upon competing claims for cultural, spatial, or intellectual exclusivity. However, the word “turf” itself is intrinsically transcultural, sharing an Indo-European root with the Sanskrit darbha or “tuft of grass.” Moreover, in this sense of the word, turf can be carved up and exploited, burned for fuel; however, as a living network of roots and soil, it is also resilient and transplantable. It is this aspect of “turf” that Michelle Dicinoski’s poem “Golf” draws out. Dicinoski’s poem gives us a living image of one such cultural grafting as she opens the geopolitics of “turf” up to the everyday, the tangible, the local, and the familial.
In her humorous and personal way, Dicinoski distils the genealogy of “culture” that Raymond Williams maps out in Keywords. In the same way, we need to cultivate an attentiveness to the spatial metaphors we (and these articles) use to talk about knowledge. Traditional epistemology has been consistently defined in geographical terms—knowledge is surveyed and divided into fields, topics (from topos, or place), provinces, domains, realms, and spheres. Implied in this subdivision of epistemological territory is a mastery or dominance over knowledge, as the terms “subject” and “discipline” make evident. An awareness of these metaphors alerts us to the fact that the language we use is not neutral, apolitical, or simply academic. Critical encounters with “turf” are not mere rhetoric: they at once establish, erase, or contest borders both of knowledge and physical territory.