Viadrina Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION

Borders aim to establish or maintain orders, be they specified in law, handed down through history, or expressed through symbols. Orders, in turn, cannot exist in the absence of border markings, whether in the form of lines on a map or as patterns for differentiation in people’s minds. The understanding that borders and orders must always be conceived of in dynamic interrelationships guides the work of the Viadrina Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION. As a key research institution of the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), the Center initiates and bundles analyses concerning these interrelationships in the social, cultural, economic, and legal sciences.

We see borders as laboratories in which societal developments are concentrated. By focusing our research on borders, societal dynamics can be observed, analyzed, and anticipated especially well. At the same time, we assume that besides nation-state orders and their borders, transnational and non-state configurations of borders and orders are relevant as well. For this reason, we investigate the diverse practices of marking, transgressing, dissolving, and reestablishing borders and the stabilization or transformation of political-legal, social, cultural, and economic orders which that entails.
We are convinced that this is a highly relevant topic for society: in our globalized world, seemingly contradictory processes of drawing and transcending borders, creating and dissolving orders take place simultaneously. Whereas calls are becoming ever louder for nation-state orders and their borders to limit people’s mobility, these nation-state borders are less significant for flows of goods and capital, technologies and knowledge. However, migrants too can invoke a human rights order in order to claim their rights within a nation-state. This makes clear that we find ourselves in various orders that overlap, but that can also conflict with each other. That is why it is questionable when and under which conditions the borders of these orders become important, how they transform themselves, and under which conditions conflicts around borders and orders arise. On which orders are borders based, and to what extent do borders create new orders? What is the effect on orders when borders are moved, and what features of borders change when orders are transformed?

Research approaches

We researchers at the Viadrina Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION consider borders to be institutionalized forms of creating difference which structure our social world and our orientation in time and space in a fundamental way, thus achieving important accomplishments in creating order. We consider order to be a system which structures our actions and has normative validity, and which is based on drawing borders. Orders and borders are therefore inseparably intertwined – the term B/ORDERS, which we coined, encapsulates this notion. By no means do we consider borders and orders to be natural and given, but rather the result of social practice and the production of meaning, which is constantly becoming, in transformation, IN MOTION. Our multidimensional approach is oriented toward capturing configurations of borders and orders in their dynamics.
By not limiting our work to examining nation-state borders and orders, but also including social, cultural, legal, economic, and knowledge-based B/ORDERS, we expand on approaches from classical border studies. This also enables us to avoid methodological nationalism and to do justice to the complexity of phenomena of borders and orders which become significant on the basis of global configurations of technology, knowledge, policies, and economic systems.
The interdisciplinary nature of the research conducted at the Center is particularly significant for accessing the development of patterns of borders and orders in innovative ways – including in methodological and theoretical terms – and for appropriately grasping the complex relationship of borders and orders. Besides basic research in the field of inquiry Borders and Boundaries, the Center brings together internationally established research priorities of the Viadrina in the fields of inquiry Migration, Work, and Conflict.
The research conducted at the Viadrina Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION links up with the founding mission of the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) and develops it further in thematic, methodological, and institutional respects. It simultaneously transfers it into current and future contexts of knowledge and society. Located in the midst of a European metropolitan region and on old national borders, the European University represents, so to speak, how the simultaneity of an overlap of center and periphery, of nation-statehood and transnationality, of drawing and dissolving borders are translated into an institutional form. The research priority “B/ORDERS IN MOTION”, which is indicated on the map of institutional research priorities at universities in Germany issued by the German Rectors’ Conference, is one of the key leitmotifs for further enhancing the European University Viadrina.

The four fields of inquiry at the Viadrina Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION


The field of inquiry Borders and Boundaries, which is situated at the 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 borders. In this context, we consider the merger 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, and they can also be transferred to the other fields of inquiry (Migration, Work, Conflict):

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

Firstly, it is a key perspective to take the ideas and systems of order behind the processes of drawing borders into account. 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 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 also 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 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.

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.

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.


The interdisciplinary research on migration at the Viadrina Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION explores the relationship, constituted by borders, between social orders and migration. The purpose is to gain a deeper understanding of the relevance of borders for regulating human mobility and for migrants’ agency, and the change of social order resulting from it.

We are interested in how borders are becoming a method for categorizing and classifying people – for example, in terms of their background, culture, ethnic group, gender, education, class, and utility to the labor market – in order to channel their mobility and to assign them specific spatial, social, and temporal positions within an order. In this way, state borders operate as semipermeable membranes that open up access and rights to some while refusing them to others.

In this context, borders are not to be understood solely in political-territorial terms. Instead, it is also about social and discursive borders as well as administrative or legal barriers that result in the inclusion and exclusion of migrants by the state and within society. Even if the function of controls on persons has ceased to exist within the EU and political-territorial borders seem to be less effective, migrants encounter multiple successive barriers even beyond the state borders, which can be localized.

For our approach, the question is particularly interesting how spatial, social, and temporal dimensions of borders are intertwined. For example, territorial borders can influence the speed of mobility in temporal terms and can mean that migrants have to wait. For political reasons, transit centers create different time-spaces for the various people housed there. Borders can also open up spaces of violence in which people are without rights for indeterminate periods. Other examples of borders that can be localized include urban and rural residential areas that differ in terms of their varying infrastructures or also the social status of their residents.

For our research, it is also of interest how borders between various orders either overlap or conflict with each other and how this can impact migrants and their positions in systems of order. This is the case, for example, when nation-states’ sovereign claims collide with universal human rights.


The interdisciplinary research on labor situated at the Viadrina Center B/ORDERS IN MOTION examines which borders and transgressions of boundaries determine (gainful) labor and to what extent they, in turn, constitute organizations, businesses, and companies, but also (cultural, legal, economic, social, and political) orders. This, in turn, raises the question how labor organization and order are interconnected, for example by regulations which define access to and exclusion from labor and the social rights linked to it.

The globalization of the economic system and capital across the territorial borders of states and the transnationalization of labor markets this entails, for example through labor migration, also raises the important research question about the impacts this interplay of transgressing and delineating borders has, and has had, on labor organization(s) and workers’ rights.

New forms of organizing gainful work in the age of globalization, digitalization, and changing gender orders are often described using the concept of the boundaryless workplace, be it in relation to the companies whose boundaries are blurred through the outsourcing of labor or also of the places where labor is performed, or in relation to work time and free time resulting from the disappearing delineation between private life and work life. Interdisciplinary perspectives on the organizational forms of labor as an order, on the limits of these orders, and on legal concepts as (re)constructions of such delineations can enable innovative insights here.

An important area of research in this context deals with the questions around the legal classification of salaried employment and self-employment. Further research areas are the examination of technological change, new management strategies, and the changes in societal values.

Research on the borders of private organizations, and here especially private businesses and companies that create order and vice versa is of particular interest. One example of this is the relationship between the orders of private businesses, which are constituted according to private law and contracts, and state or other legal orders. This refers to the development of borders between private businesses on the one hand and, on the other, different organizations of salaried employment in multilevel systems or in systems in which legal pluralism prevails and in which private, state, church, and/or international and supranational/European law are intertwined.


The interdisciplinary research on the subject of conflict situated at the Center has the goal of analyzing what happens when normative claims collide in particular situations and thus takes new perspectives on the interaction between negotiations of orders and of borders.

Conflicts escalate because certain red lines are transgressed in processes of negotiation between the parties to a conflict. This sheds light on the normative frameworks of order adopted by the parties to a conflict and by potential third parties which must be defined and negotiated (anew). The research project “Tough Choices. Dilemmas and Decisions in Peacemaking” identifies generalizable borders of acceptability whose transgression brings about an imbalance of individual orders or compromises them in their core principles.

The project also examines whether fundamental values and needs for action are placed in a hierarchy on the basis of a multilevel system, which may involve certain strategies for action or also a dilemma. Borders are always interactive and involve various actors in different roles: for example, governments, religious, moral, and political groupings, or international organizations. The purpose is to develop a better understanding of the various actors’ perspectives and to trace when and how borders are created within the course of a conflict, and when and how they become important or unimportant (again).