1. From ‘Salvation Lurks Around’ to ‘The Foreigner’
Born in a small Balkan city, he grows up in Africa, lives in India, settles down in Germany. The family is Orthodox; he converts to Islam. His mother tongue is Bulgarian, yet for the language of his art, he chooses German. A life worthy of a novel or a movie. What will be examined here, however, is not his (Ilija Trojanow’s) life as a novel or a movie, but his novel and movie ‘The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner’.
In a car accident a young German loses his parents and his memory. A grandfather appears out of nowhere. Fallen into utter apathy, the young man wants to know nothing, wants to do nothing. The grandfather pushes him to move on. A long journey follows, on bikes, though the whole of Europe, from Germany to Bulgaria. Returning to the places of exile, diving into the painful temporality of an escape. A voyage through space, a voyage through time.
During the Communist period the father is a talented engineer, free-minded and rebellious, constantly challenging the party secretary. His unruliness is not forgiven and, in order to discipline him, it is decided that he should be made an informant for the secret services. An impossible choice: to yield and stop being himself or to find an elsewhere where remaining himself would be possible. He grabs his young son and leaves, his wife unwillingly joins this escape into the unknown. They cross the border in the night. A soldier sees them, yet pretends he does not – he is giving them a second life. A second life of vicissitudes in refugee camps, hardships, broken professional and personal life ensues. Finally, the young man recovers his memory and, most importantly, rediscovers and reinvents himself. Reconciled with his past, he liberates himself from the existential worry of the lost, of those who do not belong, to find confidence and balance, love, the capacity to choose for himself, to decide, to act. The World is big and salvation lurks around the corner by Ilija Trojanow and Stephan Komandarev won several international awards and the hearts of Bulgarian spectators.
The Foreigner by Niki Iliev tells a different story: the instant a young Frenchman lands in Sofia he falls in love with a young Bulgarian, and to find her goes from one end of Bulgaria to the other, carrying with him with a ton of intercultural misunderstandings. He does not succeed and leaves. She then goes to try to find him through whole of Europe, again with a ton of intercultural baggage. Relatives of the two characters then become part of the comic mix of mirrored stereotypes, misunderstandings, in which the liking of the exotic foreign precedes mutual understanding. The genre being what it is, love stems from each frame, and the final frame can barely contain it. This romantic comedy of interculturality did not become an art phenomenon, but a sociological one – Bulgarian families went together with foreign friends, to laugh together, to enjoy the strangeness not as drama, but as fun, mobility not as an escape or trauma, but as searching and finding.
Those films tell two opposing tales of borders. In the first migration is the forced crossing of a forbidden border, an escape from a life-in-impossibility; in the second, migration is playfully replaced by light mobility and free movement. In the communist narrative the state, represented by the party secretary and the soldier, is personified not only in the Weberian terms of legitimate violence, but also as Foucauldi’s panopticon, of omnipresent surveillance and punishment. In the new tale the state has faded, it is present through the topos of the airport as a border, but a border that does not divide categorically and dramatically, but promises cultural surprises and new encounters. Europe is desired as the promised land, but happens as refugee camps in the communist story; in the new narrative it appears as unity in diversity – for the joy of European institutions, an almost literal and truly comical film translation of their normative image of charming and entirely complementary mix of cultures, identities, personalities: the femme fatale character speaks Bulgarian in a dialect, yet other European languages such as Italian are no hurdle. The political coercion and identity quests are intimately and traumatically entangled in the first case; in the second the existential quests are entirely autonomous from politics, which the comedy joyfully overlooks.
Between the border as barbed wire and mortal danger and the border as an airport for meetings, between the metaphors of the salvation and love – the road from the traumatic communist migration experience of borders to European mobility is a long one. Those two tales mark the initial and the present point in the transformations of the borders, as well as of their imaginaries.
They also introduce two perspectives through which this chapter analyzes borders – those of politics and poetry. We confront the political logic of the state and the micro-strategies of the actors with a highlight on the innovativeness of the latter in escaping the snare of the former; the political ‘heaviness’ of the narratives of surveillance and punishment and the individualised ‘lightness’, rich with symbolism of representations, images and imaginaries.
The two approaches refer to different images of the crossing of borders: arrows and spaghetti (Herzlich 2004), the first refers to flows, the latter – to the individual paths. The arrow expresses the continuity and the typical; the spaghetti are the image of individualization, unpredictability, change. The former refers to control, the latter – to affectivity. The analysis is structured in three parts. The first follows the road of social sciences to space as a social construct, the fascination of space in contemporary art, and the spatial turn in social sciences. The second part examines the emergence of a new discipline – anthropology of lines, the gendered connotations of lines and the obsession of modernity with the straight line. The focus of the study is on the conceptualizations of borders as bordering, ordering, othering; the diversification of borders and the overproduction of symbols, images and imaginaries.
The global has replaced the universal; space has replaced time (Therborn 2000).
As oppositional as globalization and borders might appear be, they are both expressions of the same transition – from one established understanding of the social to a new one. The first – has time as its cornerstone, the second – space. This epistemological change does not aim to turn its back on temporality or duration. Its ambitions are pointed in two other directions: relativizing determinism, which is an inherent part of historicism, and, most of all, giving contingency a chance (Krasteva 2004).
Space becomes a strong metaphor. The Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes describes the flamboyant characters of Columbian artist Fernando Bottero not in terms of beauty, but of space: “The women of Bottero are not fat. They are space. They are not insatiable for cakes and pastries. They are hungry for space” (quote from Haralampiev: 2013).
The spatial turn, which marked the social sciences in the 1990s, expresses the radical character of this theoretical transition and its ambition to offer an active understanding of space:
Space is not only a passive reflection of social and cultural trends, but an active participant, i.e. geography is constitutive as well as representative (Warf and Arias 2008: 8)
Space as social construction is the second theoretical insight. Being situated in space acquires more complex and deep meaning, the theoretical emphasis being put increasingly not only on multiple scales, but rather on multiple agencies: “Foundational is the insight that space is socially produced; rather than a mere physical container for the play of social forces and temporal relations, space is conceived at once as both the medium and presupposition for sociality and historicity” (Houtum, Kramsch, Zierhofer 2005: 4).
The road of the social sciences to arrive at space as a social construction has been already paved by philosophy. In “Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence” Emanuel Levinas asks: Would proximity be a certain measure of the interval narrowing between two points or two sectors of space, toward a limit of contiguity and even coincidence? He gives two answers: “(…) the term proximity would have a relative meaning. Its absolute and proper meaning presupposes ‘humanity’” (Levinas 2009: 81). E. Levinas is representative of the passage, brilliantly elaborated by modern philosophy, from Euclidean conception of geometrical space and Descartes’s understanding of space as attribute of things to 20th century phenomenology- As Heidegger claims, we cannot not ask what time/space is, we can only ask how time/space comes to us.
Two pieces of contemporary art can illustrate this passage from the classic to the new understanding of space: the famous “Balzac” of August Rodin and the “Post-Balzac” of Judith Shea. Rodin’s sculpture made the illustrious writer appear larger than life, a creative genius rising above ordinary events. The contemporary reading of J. Shea depicts the writer’s robe without the man inside it. In the former case, we admire the plenitude, in the second the coat is empty, we see the contours of nothingness. The original expressivity of Rodin’s sculpture provokes us to admire or reject, the empty robe of Shea expects from us to continue the artist’s work, to fill in the coat, to invent the content. And because of the multitude of spectators’ looks, the contents will be legion.
Space more and more sheds its secondary role of a passive place in which a piece of art is to be positioned. It begins to play first violin. This new role is declared in the definition “work in situ” – key to the art of Daniel Buren: “a piece of art is born the space in which it is inscribed.” Works are exhibited in a museum, yet their creation unfolds in the parallel space of the atelier. The relations between the work and the museum can be tense, the messages of one and the other – conflicting. D. Buren reverses this relation: both the thought, and the realisation of the work of art are deduced and produced in the place of the exhibition, inspired by the place, inextricably linked to the place. This radical gesture confirms the primacy of the place: the piece of art exists only in the place and is destroyed, when it is to release it.
The primacy of the location, produced as creative rethinking of the place – art begins, more and more, with this challenge. The Museum of Modern Art in Paris gives all of the vast spaces of Palais de Tokyo to Philippe Parreno, who inhabits it with videoart, pianos, machine reproducing the author’s signature, object enchanting with lights, all poetically mixed under the title “Anywhere, Anywhere Out of the World.” “Architecture does not exist anymore before the exhibition, but the exhibition projects its own space.” The exhibited space does not accommodate ready works of art, but ‘creates’ them through the form that inspires, orientates, and stimulates.
‘Concepts of space’ consolidates the attention to the reconceptualizations of space. It could be the title of an academic work, but it is the title of a rich series of paintings, sculptures, compositions by Lucio Fontana, which he created in the long period between 1950 and 1965. The rethinking of space intrigues to an equal extent artists and scholars. The new vision is perceived as so revolutionizing, it requires a fundamental document, which Lucio Fontana creates in 1951: “The Manifest of Spatial Art”. While debating the space shift in Begramo, we visit Bergamo’s Museum of Modern Art which welcomes us with the book ‘Negative Space.’
The classic understanding of space is clearly defined in terms of geography and politics, the constructivist one is open and demands a more complex understanding. Etienne Piguet reads space through social inequalities:
Space does not diminish in the same way for everyone. In the domain of migrations, all changes in accordance with who you are. For a university professor or an IT expert, barriers to outside Europe immigration would dissolve, allowing him, with his family, to settle down in Switzerland without delay. For an asylum seeker, those barriers will stay perhaps uncrossable. For a cabaret dancer coming from Eastern Europe, it would be possible to earn in Switzerland, but for eight months only, without any members of her family, not even a child, and without any hope of ever having the right to practice a job other than this very specific one for which her permit has been granted (Piguet 2004: 8).
The social construction of space invalidates some classical laws, i.e. the one of Ravenstein of end 19th century that the number of migrants diminishes with the distance (Piguet ibid.). The explanatory weight of distance is downgraded. Proximity/distance are not so much spatial variables in the interpretation of social processes, rather they could be but explained by social factors. The location and geographical distribution of social groups such as refugees becomes exclusively a function of governmental policies and strategies of individuals to resist them. The relevant concepts are not distance/proximity, but politically regulated closeness and socially defined inequalities:
This geography is also of the one of world inequality (Piguet ibid :8).
Space shrinks like a peau de chagrin. Geographers such as Etienne Piguet illustrate this devolution in a series of images of the globe as in a modern art installation: a big one in 1840, considerably decreased in 1930 after the trains and massification of ships, shrinking even more from 30ies to 60ies after the first long distance flights, already very small in 80ies with regular and cheaper flights. What’s the globe image in the spatial imaginary of 21st century? No materiality any more, just a question mark – ‘?’ – in Piguet’s scheme (Piguet ibid). Social sciences know more of what space used to be than what it’s becoming.
The space shift produces a new cluster of interferential concepts. Key amongst them is the line. The production and meaning of lines have gained such theoretical weight that a new science has been created created to take on the new research queries – the anthropological archaeology of lines. Tim Ingold is the pioneer of this new discipline, whose foundations he lays down in “Lines: A Brief history” (Inglod: 2007). Euroborders’ Bergamo conference showed us the film Closed tracing refugee roads. It links to Tim Ingold’s conceptual distinction between traces and threads. The traces of refugees are fundamental for building memory for justice: from Ariana’s thread to the refugee networks and the global network world of M. Castells– all illustrating how key threads are.
The first paradox, that western reflection on lines faces is the large variety of lines and the domination of one line. Opposition in Chinese thought -Yin and Yang – are complementary, they form a circle; oppositions in Western thought are poles, two extremes of a line. Temporalities also follow different lines: the vision of the rise and fall of civilizations fits into the circle; the vision of development, progress, and change follows the straight line of the arrow. Nothing intrinsic in the line makes it straight. Why and how does the line become straight? Why is western modernity so obsessed with the straight line of the arrow, ponders Tim Ingold, аnd seeks in answer in three directions: the straight arrow is the image of space, which synthesises the three pillars of the western world view: progress; order, separation, classifications; linearity, rationality, civility, moral rectitude (Ingold 2007:152 – 3). The civilizational preferences for one line or another are supplemented by gender specificities: the straight line is associated with masculinity, the curved line – with femininity. Furthermore, different types of societies refer to different lines: the traditional to topian, modernity to utopian, postmodernity todystopian:
The line of wayfaring, accomplished through the practices of dwelling and circuitous movements they entail, is topian; the straight line of modernity, driven by a grand narrative of progressive advance, is utopian; the fragmented line of postmodernity is dystopian (Ingold 2007: 167).
Theoretical efforts strive to overcome the oppositions: Kenet Olwing urges us to move beyond modernism’s utopianism and postmodernism’s dystopianism to a topianism of human beings, who as creatures of history, consciously and unconsciously create places (Ingold 2007: 167).
For my analysis of borders as lines, the distinction between the straight line of modernity (from one step to another, from one destination to another, step by step) and the fragmented line of post-modernity (through, from one rupture point to another, open passages) is relevant. The current study’s hypothesis is that politics prefer the linear utopian line, whereas imaginaries and theories – the dystopian and topian lines.
The great wall – the great symbol of borders as line – expresses the eternal ambiguity of borders. The first element of the three dimensional paradox is the obsession with borders: the first emperor of the Qin dynasty (223 BC) built 1.5 km per day; obsession does not mean efficiency – the Great Wall has never secured great protection from enemies; but the Great Wall is the only human construction visible from space and till today is perceived as a symbol of Chinese greatness. The ambiguity of borders – political, theoretical, symbolic, will be analyzed from the double perspective of overactivity of borders and of overporoduction of images, representations, symbols.
‘Bordering, ordering, othering’, the title of Henk van Houtum and Ton van Naerssen’s study (2002), insightfully synthesizes border politics. I’ll articulate three of its main characteristics: the ambition of this new field to express and affirm itself as one of the leaders of the spatial turn in social sciences; the determination of borderland studies to address the crucial concepts of power, sovereignty, de/re/territorialization, difference, alterity; the constructivist pathos of this new vision, in which borders lose their geographical grammar and political solidity, and become sites of competition and fights for meaning, signification, and power. All three are crucial for my analysis, situated at the crossing of the overproduction of borders, on one side, and the overproduction of representations, meanings, imaginaries of boundaries, on another. The Balkans – the location of the author’s theoretical perspective – are among the loci of intensive whirlpool of politics of bordering, ordering, and othering.
The paradox of borders is that the concept emerges at the same moment as its opposite, and affirms itself in front of a huge wave, a real theoretical hurricane, which presumably should completely erase it. Globalization – the indisputable theoretical fashion of the 1990-ies to the 2010-ies – describes the debordization of the world, the end of the realm of territorially defined and grounded power in the form of nation state, and the emergence of the world-system which has an hierarchy and structure – centre and periphery – but this structure is completely deterritorialized, it’s economic, political, and symbolic:
The world society created by globalization cut across national boundaries, not only economically, but through a multiplicity of social circles, communications’ networks, market relations and lifestyles, more of them specific to any particular locality (Beck 1999).
New metaphors express this de-territorialized world – liquidity, fluidity, flows, networks. While scholars de-solidify the world and the places, artists experiment with new forms, passing sinuously from one to another, or several in one, as in Jean Arp’s sculpture Evocation of a form, which is ‘human, lunar, spectral’. Boundaries are downgraded as symbols of the past, of the fixed world of space of places to be increasingly replaced by a dynamic world of space of flows (Castells 1999).
‘Le roi est mort! Vive le roi!’ The new century starts with two radical claims: the death of distance and the birth of the borderless world. The ‘when’ and the ‘where’ of the new world’s proclamation are anything but coincidental: in 2001 The Economist published ‘The death of distance’. Both the diagnosis – borderless world – and the ideological label – revolution – are provided:
Wireless is killing location, putting the world in our pockets. The communication revolution is profoundly democratic and liberating, leveling the imbalance between large and small, rich and poor. The death of distance, overall, should be welcomed and enjoyed (Caincross 2001: 2, Piguet 2004: 6.)
Symptomatically, the problematization and critique of globalization do not rehabilitate borders as they share the globalization’s spatial metaphors, but attack the concept from different perspectives such as the new inequalities of Zygmunt Bauman (1998). David and Goliath illustrate the distribution of forces between borderland studies and globalization. As in the biblical story, David proves to be inventive and vital, and substantiates his position by three main arguments:
• What is remarkable in the current situation is not so much the vanishing of state borders, but the explosion of new borders, their multiplication and diversification – biometrical, internal, functional, time borders, borders beyond borders, smart borders, symbolic boundaries…
• Globalization reshapes the world economically through institutions ‘without frontiers’ (multinational corporations, international NGOs) and globally harmonized financial techniques. In this increasingly economized world borders are even more needed for their impact on identity formation. Borders both delineate and order – b/ordering. They frame identities and define alterity: “The material inscription of borders constitutes a strong act of imagination in the world. Producing a safe interior, borders create a membrane or buffer zone linking both in a particular way, projecting the imagination of a larger, encompassing reality on the ground” (Paasi 1996).
• The third argument is rather original in its self-referentiality –borders do exist, because there are borderland studies: “Increasing academic interest in boundaries suggests they exist very firmly on the research agenda” (Paasi 2005: 24).
Overproduction of borders
Overproduction and overactivity, the fragmentation and integration of territories, the opening and closing spaces as well as the dynamics of borders are intense and expressed in diverse, often contradictory tendencies. Overproduction and overactivity is the first pair. The overproduction of borders has affirmed itself as a favorite political activity during the past century, enlarging its scope and accelerating its rhythm. The number of states tripled in one hundred years: from 55 at the beginning of the 20th century, to 80 around 1960, to 193 nowadays. “Particularly significant has been the post-World War II period, during which almost 120 new states have emerged on the world map as a result of decolonization (95 states), federal disintegration (20) and secessionism” (Paasi 2005).
The post-communist geopolitical area has been particularly productive: 20 of the 36 new UN members after 1990 are from Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe. The Balkans are illustrative of the trend to conceive of borders as strong, because they are at the core of the key priorities – state building, legitimacy, security, democracy:
Currently, SEE is the only region where the situation with the state borders is markedly different from the rest of Europe. Here borders still matter. They are hard rather than soft and exclusionary rather than inclusionary. To paraphrase George Orwell, if all borders in Europe will become obsolete one day, some borders might become obsolete more slowly than others (Andreev 2004: 382).
The potential for new states is not exhausted: the 200 states today are much fewer than the 400-600 ‘nations’, many of which are seeking states of their own. A. Paasi reinforces this argument with another observation: only a few conflicts between states have taken place each year since the mid-1990s, whereas the number of internal conflicts has been 26-28 per year (Paasi 2005).
Few scholars dare to predictthe emergence of new states. Christopher suggests that the current potential for placing new states on the world political map is on the order of 10-20 units (Christopher 1999, quoted in Paasi 2005). The number of borders exceeds that of states: the present 193 states are divided by more than 300 land boundaries, each of which has a unique history (Paasi 2005).
The EU is an emblematic example of overactivity on borders: traditional state borders fade, while new borders like Shengen are constructed. This overactivity is expressed also in the intense institutionalization of the new borders: Frontex – EU Agency for data security; Eurodac – European database of fingerprints of asylum seekers, Eurosur – European border surveillance system. Operational from 2005, Shengen is in charge of border control management and is responsible for ensuring that the same high standards of efficiency are respected and applied by all member states. Symbolically important, this is the first EU agency headquartered in a new member state (Warsaw, Poland). Criticized by the NGOs for excessive securitization, supported by governments, Frontex does not limit its activities to coordination. Special European forces of rapidly deployable border guards, called Rapid Border Intervention Teams (RABIT), were created in 2007 to assist in border control, particularly in Europe’s southern coastlines. Frontex’s European Patrols Network began work in the Canary Islands in May 2007, while armed officers were deployed to the Greco-Turkish border in October 2010.
The second pair of opposite trends encompasses the integration of territories, exemplified in the EU, on one side, and the fragmentation of small territorial units, on the other. The Balkans are hyperactive in fragmenting the region into small, and ever smaller, territorial units. Former Yugoslavia disintegrated into five states in the 1990s, and this disintegration continues today with the creation of Montenegro in 2006, and Kosovo in 2008. The same year Montenegro became a member of the UN. Titled ‘Europe’, Kosovo’s anthem declares loud and clear the country’s desire for integration.
Opening vs closing space is the third pair of the border’s dialectic. My students do not even know the concept of ‘exit visa’; they are born and live in a world where there may still be a problem of entry into your destination country, but not exit from your country of origin. But exit visas were abolished in Bulgaria, as well as in China, only a little more than two decades ago. In the same period when we witness the opening of Russia, China, Central and Eastern Europe, we see the closing of other geopolitical areas, like the Mediterranean region.
Borders, boundaries, frontiers – the proliferation of concepts illustrates the multiplication and diversification of borders and theoretical tools to problematize and analyze them. Two objectives guide the new field: forging new notions and new approaches, on one side, and decentering and, destabilizing existing concepts, on the other.
‘Hard’ vs ‘soft’ borders is the main opposition that structures the typology of borders. It refers to the distinction between the new-Westphalian state and the new-medieval empire. In the first case, the borders are high and fixed; there is a high degree of socio-economic and cultural homogeneity and one type of citizenship. In the neo-medieval empire , the borders are soft zones in flux. Socio-economic discrepancies persist and cultural identities co-exist, and there is interpenetration between different types of political units and loyalties and diversified kinds of citizenship with different sets of rights and duties (Andreev 2004).
The conceptualization of borders follows three different lines: the first is focused on new types of borders such as Schengen (Hayrynen 2009); the second ‘reconciles’ and ‘compacts’ time and space in ‘time borders’ (Palang, Semm, Versstraete 2009); the third emphasizes the emergence of technologically constructed borders, such as the biometric ones. The biometric border condenses a huge symbolic potential and challenges imaginaries, representations, images. It has a successful art career, ‘playing’ the main ‘personage’ in films (Children of Men), novels (Surveillance), and dance theatre performances (A cure for surveillance) (Duran 2010).
The Schengen border and the Eurozone are interesting cases of new borders, cutting across the lines of traditional ones. The Schengen border is a European initiative, but does not coincide with the EU: some members states are excluded – UK, Ireland, Romania and Bulgaria , while non-members states are included, such as Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland. “Each of these borders functions in a different way, so that the coincidence of legislative, economic, military and ideological boundaries typical of nation states does not occur as such” (Hayrynen 2009: 58). As different from the nation state’s frontier as the Schengen border might look, both share a fundamental characteristic – a ‘teleological narrative’, an ambitious ideological message. In the Schengen case this is freedom: dismantling the redundant border infrastructure within the Schengen space and modernizing surveillance technologies against external threats to protect the ‘free’ countries.
One image of the border is particularly attractive, seducing novelists, scholars, and the public imagination. Arthur Hailey’s bestseller (1967) Airport presents it as a microcosm of a society where high technologies, management of complex systems, human will, determination, and strong leadership intermingle. The past decades have only reinforced the symbolic weight of the airport, which has left the sphere of the imaginary to become a source and object of a new policy – politics at the airport (Salter 2008):
Few sites are more iconographic of both the opportunities and vulnerabilities of contemporary globalization than the international airport. The popular imagination is filled with images of postmodern hubs that cater to the contemporary road warriors and global nomads that philosopher Peter Sloterdijk and architect Rem Koolhaus have dubbed the ‘kinetic elites’. Cities unto themselves – with all attendant institutions, social forces, policies, and anxieties – airports are both an exception to and paradigmatic of present-day life. Using a Foucauldian frame, they can be understood as ‘heterotopias’, social spaces that are ‘in relation with all other sites, but in such a way to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect. Airports are national spaces that connect to international spaces, frontiers that are not at the territorial limit, but are grounded sites that embody mobility (Salter 2008: IX).
Airports illustrate Marc Auge’s idea of supermodern ‘nonplaces’ in which social relations are based on mobility rather than fixity (Auge 1995, Salter 2008). Airport as a new border is a recent theoretical invention, and scholars are still divided how to conceptualize and judge it. One interpretation thinks of them in Foucauldian terms and deduces that airports are ‘bad news’, because they are “a stress laboratory, a no man’s land between the nation and the world, a surveillance machine for automated bodies, shepherded from control station to control state” (Lofgren 1999: 17, quoted in Salter 2008: X). The second interpretation is enthusiastic about mobility and fluidity, in which airport are champions: “Airports have become a new kind of discontinuous city, whose vast populations, measured by annual passenger throughputs, are entirely transient, purposeful, and for most part happy. Above all, airports are places of good news” (Ballard 1997, quoted in Salter 2008: IX).
What does a border mean? Among the variety of answers, five are central:
• Death is the most terrifying and the most visible impact of borders. Africans in the Mediterranean, Mexicans at the US-Mexico border, the victims of crossing the state borders are numerous and increasing. The reasons and their geography are mapped by critical geographers (MigreEurope 2010) and international organisations (IOM 2014). How to count the uncountable (IOM 2014)? More than 3000 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranen for only 2014 (IOM 2014), this macabre statistics keeps increasing.
• IDPs and refugees. The centrality of borders determines classifications. One and the same type of migrant fleeing for the same reasons are classified differently in regard to their (in)capacity for crossing the borders: refugees are those who succeed, and internally displaced persons are those who don’t. Like to the former, the latter also leave their place of residence escaping wars, ethnic cleansing, violence, etc., however, they are blocked within the territory of the state.
• Business. The border economy is flourishing, taking a large variety of forms, both illegal (trafficking, smuggling), and legal (cross border commerce, ‘suitcase trade’, commuting workers living in their own country and working in a neighboring one).
• Politics. This is what the whole study is all about. Here, I will mention the multiplication of border controls at non-border places: they start far away from the borders in the country of origin in the consulates, are severe and systematic at airports, continue within the country with regular checks, especially of representatives of visible minorities and penetrate even ‘in the bed’ – the intimate part of the private sphere with the inspection to discover fake marriages.
• Identities. They are always defined by the interplay of belonging and exclusion, sameness and otherness, ‘Us’ and ‘Others’.
Overproduction of constructions, meanings, interpretations
Decentering, destabilizing existing concepts and forging new concepts and approaches – this is the twofold ambition of the new field. Border studies are “mushrooming all around the world” to borrow the nice expression of A. Paasi (2005: 667). The spatial turn has produced not only new emphasis and insights, but also new fields of research. Its visibilization and institutionalization are most manifestly expressed in the new and rapidly developing field of border studies. Here again we face the paradox that the less relevant the borders become in international relations the more intense the research on them is. The frontiers have been downgraded in Western and Central Europe “from causae belli to irritating and minor distractions” (Anderson 233, p. 233). Most writings prior to 1960s, concludes M. Anderson “therefore apply to situations and refer to events which make the arguments they contain of little relevance to contemporary debates” (Anderson 233: 233).
New but ambitious, the borderlands studies affirm themselves as a fully-fledged field equipped with all the attributes of scientific institutionalization. The Association of borderlands studies created in 1976 comprises members from all the social sciences and all areas of the globe; the Journal of borderlands studies, first published in 1986, already has a respectable legacy of more than twenty years, and offers a theoretical tribune for a variety of approaches, concepts, theories, and empirical studies. A significant achievement of the field of borderlands research is genuine multi- and interdisciplinarity, with 40 distinct disciplines presented in the pages of its journal, primary among them being economics, political science, and sociology, with geography coming fourth (Pisani, Reyes, Garcia 2009)]. The articulation of borders is an impressive list of subjects clustered around four main dimensions – political, economic, cultural, regional . The idea of boundaries has been associated with such diverse topics as cognition, social and collective identities, commensuration, census categories, cultural capital, cultural membership, racial and ethnic groups positioning, hegemonic masculinity, scientific controversies, group rights, and immigration and contentious politics (Lamon and Molnar 2022, quoted in Houtum, Kramsch and Zierhofer 2005).
Two views map the border studies’ scene. The first diachronically and theoretically defines boundaries as concrete empirical phenomena, whereas the second shifts the focus onto the construction, uses and meaning of borders: “what matters is function and process rather than form and location” (Paasi 2005: 664). The former mobilizes the strong argument that “any union which does not encompass the world implies a differentiation from its environment and hence is characterized like any system or organization by its borders” (Hassner 2002: 41, quoted in Andreev 2004: 379). It looks at the real problems and structural conditions that determine the nature of borders (Andreev 2004). The new approach emphasizes social practices, narratives, symbolism. The same distinction could be labeled positivist versus post-positivist approaches with their preferences for objective issues in the first case and representations, discursive production and bordering processes in the second. Objectivity does not evaporate, but it vanishes as in Sol Lewit’s painting, “Objectivity”, where initially it is visible and emphasized, but at each step fades further, becoming eventually distant and vague.
Each conception has a specific political and historic temporality. A. Paasi delineates the geopolitical context these interpretations stem from and draws their political implications. The idea of fixed borders is the theoretical ‘translation’ of a world ‘fixed’ by the Cold War. The constructivist approach refers to a post-Iron curtain globalizing world, which almost doubled the number of states and created regional integration and blocs such as the EU, NAFTA, etc. The theoretical ambitions also vary between the two conceptual frameworks. Every border is unique in the first understanding; empirical research is valued. The second approach is tempted by conceptualizations and the interplay between contextualizations and abstractions.
Both approaches share Max Weber’s understanding that borders are not casual demarcation lines between states, but real political institutions, and both are equally, yet differently, equipped theoretically for applying it.
Implicitly inspired by a postmodern epistemology, A. Paasi explains the differences between the two perspectives by a double sense of location: location of borders, but also location of biographies of border scholars , thus distinguishing generations in the development of border studies (Paasi 2005). This is very apparent in Balkan studies, which were focused on and even ‘obsessed’ by objectivity during communism. It was only after the democratic changes and increased academic mobility that the constructivist poststructuralist approach became an intellectual fashion.
Summarizing the displacement of the border from the border, A. Paasi synthesizes the border studies achievements in this complex interpretation of boundaries as:
…not merely border lines in ‘border regions’. Boundaries are hence to be found not only on border areas but in wider social practices and discourses all around societies; they are impregnated with social power that manifests itself not only in politics, but also in economics, culture, education/socialization and governance. Boundaries are part of the material and discursive practices/processes by which the territorialities of societies are produced and reproduced (Paasi 2005: 669).
The traditional approach emphasizing objectivity is criticized by the new poststructuralist or postmodern conception for being “ideological discourse or means of creating ‘normality’ rather than a genuine field of scientific research” (Tamminen 2004: 402). The poststructuralist critical approach does not examine spatial localizations as reality per se. “They find it more interesting to analyze geopolitical practices: How are different spaces and territories given meaning in the network of power and knowledge? How are ‘geographical realities’ constructed and mobilized in various political games and through multiple discursive practices, such as narratives of national origins or textual documents on national security” (Tamminen 2004: 402).
One can only be full of admiration for the theoretical project of border studies, which aims not only to explore new territories and look at space, territoriality and border through new lenses, but also to attack the conceptual hierarchies of the social sciences for decentering, reconfiguring and remapping them:
The ‘border’ has been mobilized as a strategy among those wishing to destabilize bounded categories of class, race and gender in the service of a new cultural and spatial politics attuned to multiplicity and ‘difference’ (Houtum, Kramsch, Zierhofer 2005: 4).
Territorial order as political order
Two streams of thought – the understanding of border as “spatialization of identities, nation and danger” (Paassi 2005a: 18) and the Foucaudian idea of a society dominated by the technology of security and the microphysics of power, incorporating the social control inside the individual himself – converge and interfere to substantiate the idea of ordering as the theoretical, political and civic core of border studies. B/ordering is the term forged for emphasizing their unity and mutual reinforcement. I will articulate the concept in two new developments and three interpretations.
The first new trend expresses the deterritorialization of borders in two different ways: by displacing both the border and its institutionalization, and by relativizing borders by focusing attention on the flows crossing or not crossing them. Frontex – the EU transnational border management agency – is a typical instance of security-focused political practice, illustrating the claim that borders are not necessarily at the border (Vaughan and William 2009). The second development concerns crossing borders in a high-tech globalizing world. Border crossing has become such an intensive practice that new concepts have been forged for conceptualizing this diversification of flows: ‘fast geography’ (flows such as telecommunications), and ‘slow geography’ (transport of goods or flows of migrants and refugees) (Paassi 2005: 24).
Ordering the interpretations of ordering is a mission impossible, which I will attempt by distinguishing three approaches: the radical critique of the normalization of exceptional biometric procedures; the concept of ‘e-gates’ differentiating the access to space and security; and the theatralization of biometrics and security.
Giorgio Agamben, the vanguard representative of the conception of the generalized biometric border explains his refusal to travel to the USA, because of the attempts to:
accustom citizens to supposedly normal and humane procedures and practices that had always been considered to be exceptional and inhumane. Today’s electronically enhanced possibilities of the state to exercise control over its citizens […] were unimaginable in the past. But there is one threshold in the control and manipulation of bodies, the transgression of which would […] equal a next step towards what Foucault has referred to as the progressive animalization of man through extremely refined techniques. The electronic registration of finger prints, the subcutaneous tatoo [sic] and other such practices must be located on that threshold (Agamben 2004, p.1, quoted in Maguire 2010: 31).
In the same vein of thought, but replacing radical criticism by historically informed and comparative discussion of biometric security, Maguire develops the idea of a series of graduated e-gates, which differentiate access to spaces and privileges, and ensure that you do not have any people you do not want in a particular area (Maguire 2011). The marriage of security and biometric technologies give birth to biometric citizenship.
The same idea of virtual borders, Foucauldian power, and obsession with security is formulated in the original perspective of public ritual and spectacle. Illegal immigration is a case in point. The real place of law enforcement should be the employers, who hire cheap illegal migrant labor force. This ‘place’ however, is too invisible, too hidden, too incapable of exciting public imagination. Politics faces the challenge to make visible, to catch public attention, to produce affectivity and satisfaction from a strong and efficient government. Here come the borders with their ‘materiality’ and imaginary potential, ready to be transformed into a scene of a performance. Migration policy becomes symbolic politics:
Immigration enforcement is a ‘public spectacle’ where actual enforcement becomes a highly visible display of authoritarian maneuvers by uniformed personnel (De Genova 2005). This spectacle gives the impression that the state is indeed in control of the border (Duran 2010: 221).
Anssi Paasi gives another example of border performance. It takes place regularly in the border area of India and Pakistan, where the “border guards organize a flag-lowering ceremony every day and behave like peacocks in front of their applauding national audiences” (Paasi 2005: 669). This theatralization expresses the affective charge of borders, their double aesthetic and emotional dimension, the intensity of perceptions. Paasi’s example creates a bridge between ordering and the other crucial function of borders: othering.
Spatial/national order/disorder vs identity/otherness order/disorder
When Frederic Barthes defined ethnic boundaries, he emphasized that the cultural content (language, religion, ethnicity) is less important than the relations between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’, and in fact is actualized in them. What counts is the encounter, where ‘We’ meet the ‘Other’ in conflict, competition, cooperation.
Bordering is othering in three senses:
• Political and mental definitions of borders frame identity politics;
• By deciding whom to include and whom to exclude, bordering spatializes sameness and otherness, assigning them different legal and political status: “Those ‘inside’ have different possibilities of action than those ‘outside’” (Tamminen 2004: 403);
• Bordering defines, but does not determine othering. Borders show a Janus-face, “poised between openness and closure, inclusion and exclusion, fear and desire” (Houtum, Kramsch and Zierhofer 2005: 12).
Symbolic politics (producing othering by bordering) and real politic (producing borders) interfere. The Balkans are a case in point: the Balkan borders and the Balkans as border are almost mirror images mutually reinforcing each other. „The idea that there exists some radically other Europe in the East is one of the most enduring myths in Europe’s imaginative geography” (Hammond 2010: 19). Because transformed by the West into a border, the Balkan East overproduces borders.
Malcolm Anderson distinguishes four figures of border persons. The first refers to the frontiersman as the tough, resourceful guardian of the imperium, ready to confront the dangers from across the border. The second is that of the brigand, rustler or smuggler, “whose values are at odds with the rest of the population, partly because the law of the state was not effectively enforced in remote regions” (Anderson 2010: 235). The third is the metis, or cultural hybrid. The last image he offers of frontier population is of the forgotten people of the periphery. The four portraits are present in the Balkan experiences and imaginaries. Communism liked the heroic halo of the first, and frontier policemen were involved in several initiation rituals, such as, for instance, membership in the Komsomol or the communist organization for children. Post-communism spectacularly developed the second figure – paradoxically, the mafia and smugglers’ networks built up the most efficient mechanisms in crossing Balkan borders. The third case is applicable to some minorities that share characteristics with the majority populations of both sides of the border, i.e. Karakachans, who live in Bulgaria, but speak in a Greek dialect. The communist state was very centralized and the periphery used to be in an asymmetrical position with more limited access to resources – economic, political, and symbolic. It’s not coincidental that border regions are among the strongest supporters of ‘Europe of regions’, and the ones that hope most to profit from opening the borders, developing crossborder cooperation, and building transborder regions.
To this portrait gallery, the Balkan have added one more figure – the gurbetchia, the man who lives in the country of origin, but works abroad, who earns during summer and comes back home during winter. The post-communist migrations with their shift from permanent to temporary migration revitalize the gourbet tradition.
If the borders did not exist, spaces and lines would have created them. I paraphrase Sartre’s paradox of the invention of the Jew by anti-Semitism for emphasizing the construction of a large theoretical field with intense production of interferential concepts. The theoretical, cultural and artistic sensibility for spaces and lines looks for reifications of the spatial imaginaries and the border is an excellent candidate being meaning-making and meaning-carrying (H. Donnan and T. Wilson ), mixture of territory, power, symbols, identities, imaginaries. The de-bordization of states as an implication of globalization and new technologies is counterbalanced by a spectacular flowering and diversification of borders. Territoriality as a foundation for statehood does not seem to be losing its significance and even is getting strengthened (Tamminem 2004).
Several authors compete for the authorship on the definition of borders. The states – in both Westphalian and post-Westphalian order – are determined to play the main role. Their authorship is disputed by a legion of other authors – intellectuals, NGOs, civic actors contribute to the toolkit of concepts, interpretations and practices for bridging, crossing and opening borders; artists deconstruct and soften borders in artistic experimentations. The two constructions of borders differ in political logic: top-down and bottom-up. The second distinction refers to the different conceptual clouds: power, sovereignty, security in the first constellation; identities, symbols, imaginaries in the second.
The various authors privilege different images of borders: politics thinks in topian terms, theory and poetry prefer topian and dystopian imaginaries. The two clusters of imaginaries reproduce and reinforce two different conceptions of politics: at the utopian pole, border politics is defined in Karl Schmidt’s terms and rimes with geopolitics and security politics. At the topian and dystopian pole border politics is symbolic politics.
Borders are as old as sates and especially nation states, but re/de/bordering, scaling, ordering, othering appear still fresh and inspire experimentation, creativity, innovation.
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