Conference Paper: Theorizing Borders in a ‘Borderless World’: Globalization, Territory and Identity

21 10 2009

Alexander C. Diener
(Pepperdine University)
Joshua Hagen
(Marshall University)

To read this article and its associated commentaries for free just click on the PDF links below.

Diener & Hagen PDF

Commentary 1 PDF – Carl Grundy‐Warr (National University of Singapore)

Commentary 2 PDF – Victor Konrad (Carleton University)

In order to post your comment and response, please use the comments box at the bottom of this post. All comments are moderated and will appear shortly after they are submitted.



Although declarations or predictions of a borderless world have become somewhat ubiquitous over the last twenty years, state borders remain one of the most basic and visible features of the international system. While it is true that a range of issues, like environmental change, migration, or international trade, highlight the growing interaction and interdependence between different places around the world, borders continue to play a central role in shaping, dividing, and uniting the world’s societies, economies, and ecosystems. Reflecting their significance for scholars across the social sciences, a growing body of multidisciplinary research has investigated the continuing power of borders in our supposedly borderless world. This article examines some of the main lines of inquiry, research, and theory in this emerging field of border studies.



5 responses

21 10 2009
Joshua Hagen and Alexander Diener

We would like to begin by thanking Professors Grundy-Warr and Konrad for their comments. They raise a number of interesting points concerning our article, as well as avenues for future discussion and research.

For practical reasons concerning the format and intended audience of the journal (Geography Compass), we structured the article around four general ‘lines’ of border research with an emphasis on geography scholarship (we are both political geographers). Grundy-Warr and Konrad expand on this nicely by highlighting the greater breadth and interdisciplinarity found in current border research and theory. Both also emphasize the contradictory forces of opening and closing that seem to characterize so much of contemporary borders. Their comments on issues of borders – ecological issues (Grundy-Warr) and borders – indigenous/extra-territoriality (Konrad) are well taken. Both were discussed in passing in the article but have the potential to emerge as major focal points for border research alongside more established topics like sovereignty and migration.

We were especially appreciative of the commentators’ calls for greater attention to “a more historical informed political geography” (Grundy-Warr) and the interaction between borders and “the role of transitional zones, of borderlands” (Konrad). Incidentally, we are nearing completion of an edited volume, titled Borderlines and Borderlands: Political Oddities at the Edge of the Nation-State, which explores many of these issues (due out by December from Rowman & Littlefield, sorry for the self-promotion!).

The book discusses the historical formation and contemporary impact of several ‘oddly-shaped’ borders, including states with exclaves, narrow appendages, or areas of uncertain sovereignty around the world. Chapters on the Israeli-Palestinian ‘Green Line’, Namibia’s Caprivi Strip, or the Afghani Wakhan Corridor highlight Grundy-Warr’s insight that mobility often existed before border demarcation turned these movements into cross-border actions. Konrad’s description of borders as places capable of demonstrating the permanence and vulnerability of the nation/state was evident in discussions on Argentina’s Misiones Province, Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave, and the confused Uzbek-Kyrgy-Tajik border. Others chapter focused on areas challenging notions of clear sovereignty or state belonging, such the Indian-Bangladeshi enclaves, the America’s Point Roberts exclave, and Liechtenstein’s role as a international financial center.

22 10 2009
Carl Grundy-Warr

Dear Joshua and Alexander, there is one additional comment that I think is essential but I did not address the matter in my previous response. There is a need to think about examining international comparative “regional” influences on boundaries, functions, mobility and trade. A few years ago I was invited to comment on a paper (for Polity and Society, I think) discussing the Euregio initiatives and borderlands within the European Union. I decided that the only “new” insight I may offer, not being a specialist on EU matters, was to compare and contrast forms of regionalism and functions of borders in the paper compared with the different geopolitical, political economic and cultural processes affecting cross-border relations within Southeast Asia. Of particular interest here has been the way different regional developmentalist visions and neo-liberal reforms, since the end of the Cold War, have begun to open up previously geopolitically closed borders, particularly between the enlarged ASEAN states (with Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia included in the 1990s). A prime example of new geoeconomic imaginings has been the Asian Development Bank’s Greater Mekong Sub-Region initiatives, including major infrastructure, such as road links, and the encouragement of re regional hydro-power energy grid. However, even within this broad pattern, many of the borderlands remain problematic spaces due to national anxieties concerning political identity, displaced people (sometimes from the kinds of mega-projects noted above), ongoing insurgencies, undocumented migration and all manner of so-called “illicit” and “illegal” trade (see van Schendel and Abrahams). Indeed, this also shows the value of finely-grained ethnographic political geography agendas which help to reveal the contradictions and de facto politics and complex cultural politics over space, identity and resources. Thank you and peaceful vibes. CGW

22 10 2009
Victor Konrad

I am pleased with the thoughtful response to my commentary, and the commentary offered by Carl Grundy-Warr. Clearly, as border scholars engaged in a rapidly evolving and exciting field of inquiry and research, we share the awe and fascination of discovering insights about the borders and borderlands so long taken for granted, and evaluating their meaning in the context of ‘orders’ and ‘understandings’ of the world.

In my commentary, I agreed with Alexander Diener and Joshua Hagen in their suggestion that the exploration of how borders relate to identity and belonging constitutes the cutting edge of border theory. I emphasized that as geographers we need to consider especially the nature and role of borderlands and spaces in between. I raised some questions, namely: “How do these ‘spaces’ and the ‘line’ work together and independently to produce otherness, and construct and maintain state-based identities and belonging while they generate hybrid identities and shared heritages? Who are border stakeholders, and what role do they play in border contestation, mediation and re-imagination? Is the meaning of the border apparent only to the group imagining it?” I raised these questions to underline the importance of addressing and attempting to understand ‘borderlands culture’, and to insert ‘culture’ in our emerging theories of borders and borderlands. How do we situate culture, viewed more broadly as socially constructed in the context of the new cultural geography, into our thinking about borders and borderlands? Is it a local lense as suggested by Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly? Is it that elusive, shape-shifting component of border dynamics as described by Barbara Morehouse? Our colleagues in the humanities have originated some revealing perspectives as well. I would welcome your thoughts on this.

Best regards, VK

22 10 2009

Absolutely right! In fact, our perception of the need for the finely-grained ethnographic political geography of borderlands was the impetus behind our edited volume. We had considered writing this book ourselves but decided that true regional expertise was needed to appropriately address the complexity of the evolving geopolitical, cultural, and resource conditions in the variety of settings we wanted to address. The work of Nick Megoran is particularly useful here as he applies the very ethnographic lens you call for in his study of the thickening of the Uzbekistani/Kyrgyzstani borderland. I might also add that I (Alex) have recently started a project relating to the construction of Mongolia’s Millennium Highway (the first trans-state highway in the country). Envisioned to be a major artery of trade in Northeast Asia, this road (once finished) will constitute the type of mega-project that Carl mentions in his follow-up comment. Like the Greater Mekong Sub-Region initiatives and the Euregion initiatives, it will have profound impacts on “regional” boundaries, functions, mobility and trade. Through this project, I am delving into the competing developmentalist visions and neo-liberal reforms that have emerged since the end of the Cold War era in an attempt to understand how they will alter Mongolia’s role in Northeast Asia, Asia more broadly, and the world. As Carl rightly point out, often lost in these discussions are the sub-state regional formations that can and do affect many lives. This directs us to the important points made in both commentaries relating to evolution of the concept of ‘borderlands’ and how this idea compels a deep and textured application of scholarly attention in light of changing notions of sovereignty, globalization, development, and culture. The contributions of humanities scholars to this field, as well as well as those working in the realm of law, finance, and the full spectrum of social sciences attests to the complexity of the topic and vast horizon for future research. Much thanks. ACD/JH

30 10 2009

Greetings from The Management. We’re thrilled that you’ve found such fruitful grounds for discussion and exchange. You’re welcome to continue here after today.

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