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Doctoral Dissertation – Staging Facts on the Ground: On the Material Power of Sovereignty Markers in Contested Domains

This dissertation investigates material objects and compounds as sources of evidence for the projection of power, authority, and influence. By portraying nation-state borders as impermeable and easy to demarcate, scholars often fail to address the more porous and fluid realities of borders between politically organized communities across time. Still today, the world is fragmented into issue-related zones which materially surpass the seemingly continuous borders of the nation-state. Frontiers and boundaries are embodied by material objects and compounds. Sovereignty has never entirely been immaterial.

Sovereignty markers link authority, an immaterial force, to its claimed domain. Markers materialize social relations in space. As seemingly minor or banal objects, they can nevertheless have enormous territorial implications. Still, intercommunal relations’ actual material devices on the ground have rarely been subjected to theorizing throughout history. How has materiality been employed to legitimize techniques of empire-building through which bodies and spaces were made subjects? In their various historical appearances, sovereignty markers are subject and structure to this dissertation. This research hypothesizes the possibility of tracing seemingly contemporary practices back to their historical origination. Through case studies of select markers, this research explores the origins of ‘scenographical’ practice through ancient sanctuaries, ‘extraterritorial’ practice through medieval freeports, ‘geodetical’ practice through modern transmitters, and ‘detentional’ practice through checkpoints in recent times.

In its larger aim, this research seeks to define immaterial concepts through their material conditions, becoming apparent through human-made spatial facts on the ground in various types and scales. It seeks to interrogate the ability of architectural design practice to manifest power where stable and extensive means of control are challenged. This will ultimately allow the audience of this research to reconcile with a condition that has always been inherent but never fully untangled.