Historical and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Borders

Workshop | 30 September – 1 October 2011, St Andrews

Although placed at the fringes of territorial or social bodies, borders are central sites of identity negotiation, power relations, and the regulation of flows of people, ideas, or goods. Steering connections to the outside world, borders in a way constitute the entities they delimit. In the past two decades, scholars across academic disciplines have become increasingly interested in these phenomena at the margins. In an ever more flexible and pluralistic world of constant “transitions” and “transgressions”, the study of borders moves the analytical focus to the multiple hinges of individual and social experiences: inclusion and exclusion, identity formation, and movement.

Today, there are well-developed but still only loosely interconnected approaches on borders and border regions in fields as diverse as anthropology, sociology, law, history, economics, or literature. Borders, it derives from these debates, are intermittent spaces of both distinction and connection. They can take territorial as well as social, political, geographic, or economic shapes. As borderlands they can see one unit fading into the other, or as boundaries they can sharply separate the two sides. Borders can be sources of creativity and innovation as they can be experienced as dead ends.

The aim of the workshop is to bring together different strands of academic thought on borders. From their particular perspective, participants could raise the following larger questions: what is the form of the border (territorial, material / imaginary, social, cultural, etc)? Which actions are directed towards the border and to which effect (e.g. border-crossings, control, avoidance or ignorance of the border)? Who defines the border and how? Which impulses emanate from the border for the local groups and ‘centres’ involved (innovation, costs, danger, enrichment, etc.)? Participants are also encouraged to think of the chances and difficulties for a “theory” on borders in relation to neighbouring approaches (e.g. transnational / comparative frameworks, centre / periphery, international relations).

The workshop will take place at St Andrews University on 30 September and 1 October 2011 with PhD students from St Andrews, the EUI and partner institutions. Participants will give presentations of 15-20 minutes and have time to discuss their work as well as comment on the other papers.