Welcome to The Mantle's sixth virtual roundtable. For this installment, we have brought together a group of experts to discuss borders, their purpose, and who they serve. With the ongoing global refugee crisis, Trump clamoring for his border wall, European countries struggling to respond to the continual influx of refugees, and rising nationalist sentiment in Europe and North America, there is a growing need to understand how borders function, and how they impact the lives of those bound by them.
Adding their voices to this discussion are Joan Cocks, a political theorist from Mount Holyoke University specializing in nationalism, sovereignty and questions of landscape and place, Michael Forman of the University of Washington, Tacoma, a professor of social and political theory and human rights whose research focuses on human rights, globalization and transformations of the state, and Elisabeth Vallet of Université du Québec à Montréal, adjunct professor of geography and Scientific Director of the Raoul-Dandurand Chair of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies.
To follow the roundtable, see my introductory remarks below, then click each of the participants to read their essays and responses. At the bottom of this page you can read my concluding remarks.
- Corrie Hulse
September 4, 2017
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The train that crosses the Oresund from Copenhagen to Malmö was nearly at its destination. As it pulled into the first stop, the doors stayed closed; gendarmes boarded and proceeded to check documents. For locals, used to a half-hour ride, the commute has more than doubled in duration. For the unfortunates pulled off the train, the ordeal would continue. The checks, new and broadly unpopular in Malmö, respond to the hostile reaction against refugees from Swedes who live far from the area. Both Denmark and Sweden are parties to the Schengen Agreement (1985) which allows for the free movement of their citizens as if they were in a single country. There are no checks on the way to Copenhagen.
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While “border” is the specific concept of a delineating, separating, and adjacency-creating edge, there’s a fundamental sense in which every concept has edges that help distinguish it from every other. Some of those other concepts will be similar to it but not identical, most will be incommensurable, and a few will be diametrically opposed. Thus, the concept of border is similar but not identical to “periphery” and “margin,” incommensurable with “forest” or “justice” or “appetite,” and diametrically opposed to “the center” on the one side and “unboundedness” on the other. Linguistic distinctions, in short, are made by drawing conceptual and hence mental dividing lines between x and y that also relate the entities they distinguish in different ways.
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After the fall of the Berlin Wall it was believed that the reconfiguration of international relations was opening an age of globalization in which states, borders, and sovereignties would become obsolete. September 11, however, signaled the end of this Western-centered utopia and the beginning of an era where border barriers and walls were becoming central to a re-fortified world. Borders were seen as open, soft, and purposely porous. They have become more and more closed, hard, and seemingly impassable.