Bodies and Structures

Boundaries

Boundaries, “a social form that is common to both consciousness and to society” (Ethington 2007, 480), figure at the core of place- and space-making. To Georg Simmel, “By virtue of the fact that we have boundaries everywhere and always, so accordingly we are boundaries” (Simmel 1971, 353, italics in original, quoted in Ethington 2007, 480; see also Certeau 1984, 127). Reflecting on this claim, Casey notes, “It points to a species of edge as inherent to human interaction, thereby suggesting that the most important arena of action is not in the center of the stage but at the periphery—or better, peripheries, as there is always more than one kind of edge in a given circumstance. Rather than being the zone in which human action gives out or comes to an end, the boundary is precisely where it intensifies: where it comes to happen in the most effective or significant sense.” He thus concludes that “boundaries act as events in their own right,” and that “the boundaries . . . of places serve as the matrix of historical action” (Casey 2007, 508-509).

Though Casey differentiates boundaries (porous, permitting crossing) from borders (fixed, prohibitive), critical border studies would suggest less need for such a firm distinction: borders connect as well as divide; they enable crossing as well as deflection; they are epistemological as well as material. Like the territory they purport to enclose, borders are not self-evident markers of sovereignty but “complex social institutions” (Mezzadra and Neilsen 2013, 3) and discursive constructions whose historical evolution is informed by the vagaries of state formation, imperialism, and economic integration (e.g., Agnew 2008, Paasi 2009, Parker and Vaughan-Williams 2009 and 2012; Nail 2016). Frontiers denote vectors and limits of expansion and lines of contact: place being (re)made and (re)spatialized through surveying, mapping, settlement, etc., and thus written into geographies of empire or nation. Borderlands, meanwhile, constitute ambivalent zones in which diverse spatialities contend and coexist, revealing the relationships among actors who are not only separated but also connected by borders. These zones, shaped by social ecologies that predate or emerge in tension with the formation of nation-states in the imperial and postcolonial world, offer alternative ways of conceptualizing the workings of power from the local to the global level (see, e.g. Baud and van Schendel 1997; van Schendel 2005).

While fear of the other may constitute "the true essence of borders, past and present, territorial or aspatial,” (Newman 2006, 177-78), borders, and other boundaries, also incite the desire for what lies beyond them: in an exotic or dangerous land, in the imperial metropole, through the lens of the camera, or across the threshold of the department store or drugstore (see, e.g., Kristeva 1982). Above all, any investigation of boundaries must attend to the specificities of the act of crossing (or inability to do so): material and discursive experiences where structure and agency produce events that are contingent, emplaced and embodied.
 

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