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Borders & Boundaries

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The field of inquiry Borders and Boundaries, which is situated at the Viadrina Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION, is concerned with researching political-territorial borders, in particular nation-state borders, as well as the borders drawn between (business) organizations, social groups, ethnic groups, generations, and genders, and also knowledge and normative borders. In this context, we consider the merging of classical Border Studies – focusing on political-territorial borders – with sociocultural Boundary Studies particularly relevant, especially as international research has paid far too little attention to connecting these two lines of research.

Three key perspectives for research and analysis appear especially productive for examining the relationship between border and order:

a) Borders, notions of order, and constellations of borders

Firstly, it is a key perspective to take into account the ideas and systems of order behind the processes of drawing borders. This enables us to develop a deeper understanding of the borders and orders in question. Borders are not only functions of orders, but are also ordered in themselves. This also raises the question about the quality of the borders themselves, for example their durability and permeability.

Analyzing borders from a perspective of order reveals the multidimensional processes of ordering, categorizing, and delineating through which objects, persons, or periods of time are differentiated and often placed in a hierarchy. These processes are based on a complex interplay of practices, discourses, networks, and infrastructures. If the formation and (re-)creation of orders is to be made accessible to experience and analysis, it is useful to take processes of negotiation and transfer, even conflicts, into account and to ask how various actors are involved in guiding and experiencing them. A heterogeneous constellation of state, private, and corporate actors plays a role at nation-state borders, for example in the area of border security; this constellation constitutes the nation-state’s order of borders on the basis of various discourses on security as well as material and immaterial practices and infrastructures. In the field of conflict studies, the analysis of the limits of acceptability can shed light on the normative orders of conflicting parties, which become unbalanced or compromised in their core principles when these limitations are transgressed.

b) The interplay of various dynamics of bordering and ordering

Secondly, we are interested in the interplay of bordering and ordering, which can overlap, intensify, or also dissolve each other. Based on the insight that we refer to various orders and borders in our social world simultaneously – besides the national systems of order also the European and global ones, and besides political-territorial borders also legal, economic, and cultural ones – we pose the question as to the relationship between these various orders and their borders. For example, we can ask to what extent various orders meet at borders and are placed in a relationship – be it hierarchical or otherwise – to each other. It may be relevant whether a political-territorial border is coded in multiple ways. A border may not only define the territory of a nation-state, but may also establish the external border of the EU. In order to adopt new perspectives on the interaction between order and border/boundary negotiations, the interdisciplinary research situated at the Center also analyzes the situational collision of normative claims as well as the hierarchization of normative orders. In the field of labor research, for example, we inquire into the formation of order-creating boundaries and boundary-forming orders of private-sector enterprises and other organizations of gainful employment in ‘multi-level’ or legally pluralistic systems where private, state, ecclesiastical and/or international and supranational/European law intertwine.

c) The liminality of borders and the re-creation of orders

Thirdly, we are interested in the liminality of borders. As borders are created by various actors and institutions, it is noteworthy that they are not always unambiguous. Contradictions and conflicts can emerge if orders overlap or if borders are unclear – if, for example, the political-territorial border is not (unambiguously) identical to a language boundary or if globalized business relationships and transnational social interlinkages run counter to national rights and social orders. When systems of orders overlap, this may bring about borderlands or intermediate spaces or liminal spaces – at times unintentionally. They are ambivalent: on the one hand, they may engender insecurities, disempowerment, and precariousness. On the other, they are productive spaces of opportunity from which new orders – or also third orders, hybrid orders – may emerge. These processes of reordering, of (re-)shaping and creating orders can be analyzed employing a perspective of borders. Since new orders that emerge in liminal border zones can also become relevant for the centers, examining these zones makes it possible to anticipate developments of general importance.


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