The Echoes of the Mind – Territory


“A man’s house is his castle.” ~ English jurist Edward Coke

Humans are territorial animals. Many sports and games are based upon territory.

Materialism is a votive mind-set intertwined with territoriality. Capitalism is a natural extension of this biological bent.

Possessive tendency falls into 3 categories, based upon the perceived nature of the immediate space: private, shared, or public.

Private territories are areas you call your own: your room and workspace. Cars act as mobile territory, as so do portable possessions, such as purses and cases.

People are naturally upset by police searches of private property, even when expected. Purse and suitcase searches at airports are unsettling in having to put aside the urge to control access to personal space.

Shared territories occur in spaces shared by a select population, such as a cohabiting home, office, or classroom. Even when sharing space, individuals may have a regular seat or spot they feel some possessiveness over.

Public spaces are open to all comers. Claim to public territory is infeasible. Yet privacy does happen when people behave in public as if they were by themselves. Others tend to shy away if 2 people are having a row or intense conversation. Conversely, a couple holding hands and showing each other romantic affection tends to have others reserve the immediate vicinity out of deference.

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When someone enters another person’s private territory the host often assumes a conversational leadership role. In negotiations there may be some home field advantage.


Offices are a commercial embodiment of modern human territoriality. Single-occupant offices convey 2 main messages: relative status within an organization, and a setting of expectations about how visitors should behave.

The most important signal is the desk, which divides an office into major zones: a private work realm and a public area where visitors are seated.

Visitors’ seating arrangement controls distance between the office holder and guests. A common ploy to reduce a visitor’s status is to place visiting chairs at considerable distance from the occupant’s desk.

Whereas educators tend to sit sideways to their office doors and deemphasize private space, businessmen and bureaucrats tend to arrange their rooms to maximize dominance, so as to give themselves an edge in negotiations.

Managerial and high-status workers typically position their desks to face the door. In contrast, clerical and secretarial staff often sit side-on to the door.

In partitioned or open offices, more modest markers serve as power symbols. Chair size conveys importance: the higher the back, the higher the status.

In allow changes in orientation, swivel chairs can signify power. They also allow freer movement when stressed, which can be useful in trying to cover anxiety.


Like other animals, humans mark their territory. People use 3 types of markers: central, boundary, and earmarkers.

Central markers are items placed in a territory to reserve it, such as a sweater over a library chair.

Boundary markers divide territories. Supermarket checkout lines use physical dividers for establishing different customers’ goods.

Earmarkers is a term taken from the practice of branding animals on their ears. Earmarkers are identifying marks that indicate possession, such as nameplates or initials on a briefcase.

Markers give a feeling of belonging. Students who personalize their college dorm rooms stay in school longer than those who do not.

People use territory to signal status as other animals do. Higher-status individuals have a “right” to invade the territory of a lower-status creature. A boss may barge into a subordinate’s office, but the converse would be quite imprudent. Some juveniles indicate – through graffiti – their appropriation for their own use someone else’s or public territory.