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This book explores the emerging forms and functions of contemporary mobile borders. It deals with issues of security, technology, migration and cooperation while addressing the epistemological and political questions that they raise. The 'borderities' approach illuminates the question of how borders can be the site of both power and counter-power.



Borderities: The Politics of Contemporary Mobile Borders

1. Borderities: The Politics of Contemporary Mobile Borders

After a long period of oblivion that lasted for much of the second half of the 20th century, border studies over the past 20 years have once again become a fertile topic of discussion and debate, as national and international politics have brought them to the forefront of our news media. While knowledge about borders is growing steadily, their constant evolution invites scholars and practitioners alike to continue to revise ideas about what they represent for us and what they do to our lives. Following historical attempts to draw a universal understanding of the international border (Ancel, 1938; Foucher, 1986; Guichonnet & Raffestin, 1974; Martinez, 1994; Prescott, 1978), the focus has been on border dynamics, essentially that of debordering and rebordering (Amilhat Szary & Fourny, 2006; Kaplan & Häkli, 2002; Newman & Paasi, 1998; Popescu, 2011). However, the multiplication of borders seems to induce a shift from fixity to multi-location (Balibar, 2009; Squire, 2011; Vaughan-Williams, 2008). Through these processes, what appeared to be a linear divide loses its traditional topography, symbolic power and function as it disseminates in a reticular and relational manner that is always renegotiated in a way that could lead us to envision the border as ‘mobile’. We have been calling for a research agenda on the mobile border since one of our research projects bore this expression in its title in 2008, which was soon followed by preparations for an important international conference, the XIth meeting of the ‘Border Regions in Transition’ (BRIT) network (Amilhat Szary & Giraut, 2011).

Anne-Laure Amilhat Szary, Frédéric Giraut

Controlling Mobility: The Normative Power of Borderities


2. Bordering Capabilities versus Borders: Implications for National Borders

State sovereignty is usually understood as the State’s monopoly of authority over a particular territory, demarcated by reasonably established geographic borders. Today, it is becoming evident that even as national territories remain bounded by traditional geographic borderlines, globalization is causing novel types of ‘borderings’ to multiply; these borderings range from regimes protecting firms’ trading rights (even when incompatible with domestic law in signatory countries) to emerging forms of protections for threatened species whose habitats comprise more than one country. These novel borderings cut across traditional borders and become evident both globally and inside national territory. Sovereignty remains a systemic property; that is to say, the interstate and supranational systems remain dependent on the presence and recognition of the mutually exclusive authority of national States over their territories, even when International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditionality, World Trade Organization (WTO) law, or the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) have chipped away at that exclusivity. The institutional space for sovereignty now includes specific functions and authorities of these global institutions. This, in turn, chips away at the State’s capacity to legitimate — through the legislature, the courts, and executive decree, or by signing on to international treaties.

Saskia Sassen

3. Nations Outside Their Borders: How Extraterritorial Concessions Reinforce Sovereignty

National borders are essential for the existence of every sovereign state, providing it with a territorial identity and giving order to the international system in which it participates. But a state is dynamic, and stable borders can be obstacles to its constantly evolving demographic, economic and political aspects. By freezing the geographic dimensions of a nation that is changing in all other respects, its borders honor a set of circumstances that existed only at a critical moment in its past. They profoundly influence the state’s evolution by defining the space where it happens, but they may become misaligned with the state’s perceived sovereign interests as this evolution continuously alters how its territory is employed.

Michael J. Strauss

4. The Politics of Eco-frontiers: When Environmentality Meets Borderities

A frontier is a space of material colonization drawing a mobile border between remaining ‘untouched nature’ and civilization (Guyot, 2011; Redclift, 2006). Following the same rhetoric, an ecological frontier — or eco-frontier — is a dynamic space where natural ecosystems are afforded the utmost consideration, marking thus a mobile and changing border between protected and unprotected nature (Arnauld de Sartre, et al. 2012; S. Guyot & Richard, 2009; Guyot, 2011; Héritier, et al., 2009). Eco-frontiers, a term first created by a greened civil society (Guyot, 2009) contains a geographical process that motivates humans to conquer a boundless, timeless and invaluable wilderness, in the name of plural ecologies, to serve their own interests of control and territory building (Guyot, 2011). Eco-frontiers are about diverse and evolving political strategies of protecting nature in time and space. This political dimension of this geographical appropriation of nature seems to be included in the very post-Foucauldian notions of ‘eco-governmentality’ and ‘environmentality’ (Hebden, 2006).

Sylvain Guyot

5. The Border in the Pocket: The Passport as a Boundary Object

Most routines reveal their taken-for-granted character only when disrupted unexpectedly. Border crossing is no exception to this, as Edward Snowden came to realize after he arrived in Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport on a flight from Hong Kong on June 23, 2013. What would, in normal circumstances, have been but a short transit visit on his way forward to Ecuador or Venezuela grew into an extended stay of 39 days at the airport’s transit zone. The background to Snowden’s involuntary detainment in the Moscow airport is, of course, now familiar to all. In deciding to disclose top-secret British and US government internet and telephone surveillance policies in May 2013, Snowden placed himself squarely in the position of a wanted person. While celebrated by many as a whistleblower and a dissident concerned with information privacy, this former CIA and NSA employee is viewed as a traitor and a threat to national security by the US government (Greenwald, et al., 2013).

Jouni Häkli

6. Controlling Mobility: Embodying Borders

The security function of borders is one of the oldest and most basic. Modern state borders were expected to provide security by facilitating the military defense of territory against external threats such as invasion from other states. The security of the nation was seen in territorially fixed terms as a primarily military and geopolitical issue that revolved around the protection of the institution of the state. To secure the nation was to defend the State’s territorial sovereignty. Then it was the task of the State to secure the daily life of the citizen. This division of work reflected the dual outside/inside distinction with which nation-states have long operated (Walker, 1993). National security was a matter of external concern and was assumed by the military, while personal security was a matter of domestic concern and was assumed by the police.

Gabriel Popescu

Biopolitics: Embodying the Mobile Border


7. Mobile and Fatal: The EU Borders

The tragedy of October 3, 2013, off the coast of Lampedusa (Italy), in which 306 men, women and children died while fleeing countries devastated by war or dictatorships (Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, among others) in search of a better life, reminds us of the cruel fate that has confronted tens of thousands of migrants each year — for the past two decades — in the Mediterranean region. However, few can remember the case of the 19-year-old Afghan migrant found dead on August 13, 2012, on the banks of the Evros (the river on the border between Greece and Turkey) in the region of Marasia,1 or the 22 Africans who fell overboard from their boat during heavy winds off the coast of Almeria2 in the south of Spain. The European Union and its member states with their warmongering practices are among those who are primarily responsible for such disasters that have led to the deaths of thousands of people in the Mediterranean Sea. However, in the Mediterranean region and beyond, the violence in a majority of cases leads to deaths, without there being any contact between the respective authorities responsible for border controls and their victims. Far from being a linear border that would separate an inside from an outside, this ‘migratory border’ is, by contrast, vague, mobile, reticular and asymmetrical. This is far more than an institutional separation between sovereign territories: what is under construction here is an intrinsically (geo)political border marked by the dominant relations between states and imposed by the EU on its neighbors.

Nicolas Lambert, Olivier Clochard

8. Mobile Euro/African Borderscapes: Migrant Communities and Shifting Urban Margins

The mobile border hypothesis highlights the idea that borders are more than demarcation lines dividing the territories of neatly bounded nation-states. As Étienne Balibar (2004) argues, borders and their various regimes increasingly disperse across different socio-political arenas and can no longer exclusively be connected to the physical limits of nation-state territoriality.

Chiara Brambilla

9. Ethnographic Notes on ‘Camp’: Centrifugality and Liminality on the Rainforest Frontier

As a set of ethnographic ‘notes on camp’ — a pun on Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay — the following paragraphs provide an ethnographically informed theoretical reflection on the nature of camps as specific spatial manifestations surfing on multiple mobile borders and, in their turn, producing characteristic border mobility from a contemporary African perspective. As a direct spatial consequence of current neo-liberal investment in African extractive industries, camps indeed seem to be, once more, on the rise. The following exercise in critical theorization therefore starts from a fine-grained ethnography of power and affect in an extra-territorial logging concession operated by a multinational timber company in the Congolese rainforest. Long-term ethnographic fieldwork in the labor camps of this company — which, for reasons of anonymity, I will refer to as CTI (Congolese Timber Industries) — sheds new light on the dynamics of foreign investment in seemingly ‘out-of-the-way’ places (Tsing, 1993) and on the affective ambiguities and dynamics of everyday camp life.1 As a place situated on a constantly shifting profitability frontier, the uncertainties and fluctuations of a global timber market directly affected people’s lives in the camp and produced particularly mobile borders that set it apart from its immediate environment while also entangling it in broader spatial constellations.

Thomas Hendriks

10. Smuggling: Power Networks, Moral Geographies and Norm Enforcement at Work at Southern Cone Borders

The act of smuggling is recognized as being one capable of moving very large amounts of goods, even if it is always a challenge to get a precise measurement of the scale involved. The World Customs Organization estimates the market value of merchandise smuggled in 2012 at 650 billion dollars. The value rises to 2 trillion dollars, if financial transactions are included (WCO, 2013). It is estimated that only two percent of the 420 million containers circulating around the world are inspected (UNODC, 2014), and at ports, borders and airports, between one-third and more than two-thirds of cargo inspected is found to be illegal in some way (Nordstrom, 2007). Although little studied, smuggling is pervasive.

Adriana Dorfman

Dispositifs: Interpreting Complex and Mobile Borders


11. Rethinking Borders in a Mobile World: An Alternative Model

The past decades have challenged the notion of a borderless world as it was imagined in the 1990s and have replaced it with an image of a gated world. In this gated world, the increase in trading exchanges upon which the idea of the borderless world was based has developed in parallel with a movement to securitize the most prosperous spaces (Brunet-Jailly, 2007). This evolution has led to important transformations in the forms and functions of borders, which must now guarantee security while also enabling migration and trade flows (Popescu, 2012).

Olivier J. Walther, Denis Retaillé

12. Mapping Mobile Borders: Critical Cartographies of Borders Based on Migration Experiences

Borders cannot be reduced to a linear and territorial definition. The field of border studies has largely been revitalized by studies on borderlands and border zones (Anzaldúa, 2012; Brunet-Jailly, 2007; Rosler & Wendl, 1999), which have added to the complexity of the nation-state conception of borders. Furthermore, over and above the study of borders themselves, the processes of bordering/debordering/rebordering have been analyzed (Popescu, 2011; van Houtum, Kramsch, & Ziefhofer, 2005). Contemporary border functions have been redefined with the help of migration and mobility studies, so that their role as a barrier or border interface is diffused in space and time, according to state policies, notably migration policies. Works on the externalization of borders (Audebert & Robin, 2009; Casas, Cobarrubias, & Pickles, 2011; Ferrer-Gallardo, 2008), have also contributed to a critique of the normative paradigm of the fixed borderline. As Perkins and Rumford explain, ‘bordering-as-process, coupled with a general interest in a range of mobilities, has led to the recognition that borders can be mobile to the same extent as those who seek to cross them’ (Perkins & Rumford, 2013, p. 268). Within the framework of the study of border politics, the notion of ‘borderities’, developed in this book, allows us to study the multiplication, transformation, and spatio-temporal mobility of contemporary border functions.

Sarah Mekdjian

13. Tangier, Mobile City: Re-making Borders in the Straits of Gibraltar

This chapter looks at some of the ways in which the city of Tangier is attempting to reconfigure itself as a ‘Euro-Mediterranean’ border metropolis and a key ‘gate’ to ‘EU’rope. It looks at the ways in which spatial metaphors and in particular metaphors relying on notions of openness, mobility and flow are invoked in order to re-imagine the city’s position and its relations (political, economic, cultural) to the European continent. What is of interest to the theme of this volume is how such evo- and invo-cations couple new ‘mobile’ forms of re-bordering, division and fracture, with new forms and modes of political and economic regionalization and connection. Drawing on ongoing field work in Tangier, Morocco as part of the research project ‘At the Gates of Europe: Re-mapping Tangier’ funded by the National Geographic Society’s Global Exploration Fund, the chapter draws attention to some of the ways in which current projects of constituting a single espace du détroit rely upon a play of selective mobilities and strategies of selective openness and closure in order to reconfigure the Straits of Gibraltar and the greater Tangier region both as a gate(way) to Europe and its wall. The chapter highlights how a variety of actors in this border-space attempt to engage the boundary, transgress and (partially) transcend it, in a series of strategic spaces and interventions, mobilizing the border as an outil spatial, a ‘spatial tool’, to use Piermay’s (2009) characterization, as, to cite the opening chapter (p. 6) of this volume, ‘a device that is permanently adapting to the flows it tries to control’.

Luiza Bialasiewicz

14. Territorial and Non-territorial: The Mobile Borders of Migration Controls

Migration is not only about people crossing or trying to cross territorial state borders. Migration is also about the immaterial, non-territorial borders embodied by the people that cross or try to cross territorial state borders. There would be no migration controls if there were no territorial borders to ‘protect’, but only non-territorial status borders make it possible to determine from whom territorial borders should be protected, and thus justify their very existence. The very concepts of international migration and migration controls are based on the existence of differences in the personal conditions and legal statuses of individuals on a global scale, determining who should be allowed or forced to cross territorial borders, and upon what conditions.

Paolo Cuttitta



15. Alternative Ways of Mapping the Wound or Symbolic Borderities

Maps have shaped my artistic creativity for over two decades, changing the way I relate to art in general. Moreover, during the Second Intifada they became both the tool for and the trigger to my perambulatory routes to Jerusalem’s borders.

Ariane Littman


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