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Urban space and power: part 1

From animal territoriality to human territoriality


Territoriality is a recent concept, set for the first time by the English ornithologist H.E. Howard, in his book "Territory in bird life" ("The territory in the life of birds") of 1920. The concept of territoriality develops in fact in the context of those researches of animal ethology that studied the relationship between organisms and their own environments of life or habitat. For H.E. Howard the animal territoriality is the "characteristic conduct adopted by an organism to take possession of a territory and defend it against the members of its own species".

What emerges from ethological studies is a behavior, biologically determined, of occupation and defense of the territory for reproductive purposes.

The theories developed by these studies derive strictly from the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin.

In general, the mechanisms that govern animal territoriality are those of competition and aggression for territorial control, in a negative sum game in which one group wins and one loses.

For ethologists, the transition from animal to human territoriality does not give particular problems given that man is also interpreted as a simple territorial animal, human society the kingdom of the jungle like the animal one.

Far from being prey to genetic and hereditary instincts for territorial control, the processes of human territoriality are fortunately more complex and articulated.

In the field of environmental psychology research we have tried to highlight the definitions of territoriality in the field of animal ethology and social research to find points of contact, analogies, incompatibilities. Despite the diversity of approaches between ethology and social research, different points of contact emerge.

The main points in common between animal territoriality and human territoriality are those for which territoriality has to do with a form of territorial control through border control, for the achievement of personal or group needs.

If an analogy with animal behavior is appropriate, this seems to be more referable to the approach that looks at territoriality as a set of rituals whose purpose is that of avoiding conflict through multiple strategies of personal and social control of the space.

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