Bordering: migration, belonging and new forms of social control

JVL Introduction

An important new book, recently published by Polity Press, has the deceptively simple title Bordering.

AS the extract from the Introduction below shows, controlling national borders is increasingly contested today and takes a multiplicity of new forms, some at the edges of states – and beyond – but increasingly everywhere within, in workplaces, school, hospitals and elsewhere with more and more sections of the wider public encouraged to act as unpaid, untrained border guards.

At the same time, more and more members of the public are constructed as suspected illegals, or at least illegitimate border crossers.

It is essential that any serious antiracist commitment understands and incorporates the new frameworks, locations and processes by means of which race is constructed – and contested – today.

This book arises out of careful theoretical and empirical work by its authors in conjunction with a close relationship with grassroots organisations working on different aspects of bordering. One early outcome was a film Everyday Borders directed by Orson Nava and produced by Georgie Wemyss.



Nira Yuval-Davis, Georgie Wemyss & Kathryn Cassidy
Polity Press, June 2019

Publishers’ blurb

Controlling national borders has once again become a key concern of contemporary states and a highly contentious issue in social and political life. But controlling borders is about much more than patrolling territorial boundaries at the edges of states: it now comprises a multitude of practices that take place at different levels, some at the edges of states and some in the local contexts of everyday life – in workplaces, in hospitals, in schools – which, taken together, construct, reproduce and contest borders and the rights and obligations associated with belonging to a nation-state. This book is a systematic exploration of the practices and processes that now define state bordering and the role it plays in national and global governance. Based on original research, it goes well beyond traditional approaches to the study of migration and racism, showing how these processes affect all members of society, not just the marginalized others. The uncertainties arising from these processes mean that more and more people find themselves living in grey zones, excluded from any form of protection and often denied basic human rights.

Everyday Borders on Vimeo

One early outcome of the authors’ work was a film Everyday Borders directed by Orson Nava and produced by Georgie Wemyss.

Introduction (extracts reposted with the authors’ consent)

The argument of the book is that borders and borderings have moved from the margins into the centre of political and social life. We aim to show how bordering has redefined contemporary notions of citizenship, identity and belonging for all, affecting hegemonic majorities as well as racialised minorities in their everyday lives, while creating growing exclusionary ‘grey zones’ locally and globally.

‘The borders… are dispersed a little everywhere’ (Balibar, 2004:1).

When Etienne Balibar made his famous comments on the change of bordering technologies in Europe at the beginning of the noughties, he referred to the spread of border checking points from the territorial borders at the edge of states into a multiplicity of locations, especially in the metropolis – in train stations, sweatshops, restaurants – wherever border agencies felt there is a chance to catch ‘irregular’ or ‘undocumented’ migrants. Similarly, borders have been moved away from the state borders into the territories of other countries – not only are USA border checks taking place in Canadian airports and British ones in the Eurostar terminals in continental Europe, but effectively, consulates in most countries have turned into passport and visa check points. In this way, de-territorialization and re-territorialization of borders have been taking place globally.

As analysed in this book, these de- and re-bordering practices have marked a fundamental change. This change has been caused not just as a result of the technologies which have been employed in these bordering processes, but also in the political projects of governance and belonging which underlie them. As discussed in the book, these political projects themselves emerged as a result and/or a response, to neoliberal globalization and its associated double crisis of governability and governmentality (Yuval-Davis, 2012). The growing centrality of borders and bordering in contemporary political and social orders have, in their turn, had a profound effect on the multi-scalar global social inequalities (Mezzadra and Neilson, 2013).

Controlling national borders have acquired in the second decade of the 21st century a political and emotional poignancy that they have not had since the end of the Cold War or even earlier. After decades in which the importance – or even existence – of borders were seen as waning in a world increasingly dominated by the rise of globalization – economic, cultural, political (Hudson, 1998; Wonders, 2006), re-bordering states has become a symbol of resistance to pressures emanating out of neoliberal globalization. As Donald Trump, whose promise to build a wall along the border between the USA and Mexico played an important role in his election victory in 2016, argued in his 2018 lecture to the UN General Assembly (The Guardian, 25th September, 2018):

‘We reject the ideology of globalism and accept the doctrine of patriotism.’

Discourses regarding the control of national borders have been central to political projects in the West as well as in many other parts of the world (Geschiere, 2009). These relate to the control of immigration at a time when the ‘migration and refugee crisis’ is being described as the most serious since the end of World War Two (Geddes and Scholten, 2016). They also relate to trade agreements, tariff controls and protection from competing cheap imports and the ‘chipping away’ of state authorities by global institutions like the IMF and the WTO (Sassen, 2015a). Some of the more ‘creative’ solutions suggested by the British government as to how to resurrect the UK’s borders, especially regarding the passage of goods to and from the Irish Republic to Northern Ireland, show how complex, contested and torn between the demands of the polity vs the market, these bordering processes have become. They also show how bordering has become dependent to a considerable extent on digital and virtual technologies. This is also a central facet of the other related political bordering discourse, i.e. the securitisation discourse, the demand for the government ‘to keep our nation safe’ (Andreas, 2003) from ‘global terrorism’. Borderings, as the dynamic and shifting multi-scalar, multi-level spatial and virtual processes which construct, reproduce and contest borders, make a considerable contribution, therefore, to a variety of local, regional and global political projects of governance and belonging. They determine individual and collective entitlements and duties as well as social cohesion and solidarity. As such, it can be considered a pivotal ‘structure of feeling’ (Williams, 1977) as well as of hegemonic social imaginaries (Taylor, 2014).

Thus, we argue that to understand contemporary local and global political and social relations, management of social solidarity and social difference as well as regulation of labour and the economy at large, we need to analyse the bordering processes and technologies, which are used as discourses and practices in different, multi-scalar locations. The book shows how, in this historical conjuncture, bordering processes weave together arenas of social, political and economic configurations in complex and contested ways which cannot be understood while remaining within the boundaries of more traditional sub-disciplinary boundaries such as social policy, international relations, migration studies, social identities or race and ethnic studies. In recent years there has been a lot of discussion on the limitations of national methodologies (eg Beck and Sznaider, 2010; Büscher and Urry, 2009). We argue that bordering studies – originally emerging in the very different fields of geography (Newman, 2006; Paasi, 2012) and cultural studies (Anzaldua, 1987), play a crucial role in the understanding of contemporary global/local (‘glocal’, to use Brenner’s 1998 term) society and need to be studied in a holistic interdisciplinary – if complex – way. At the same time, we argue that to fully understand the role of bordering in contemporary society, we need to encompass in the analysis of more macro social structures and processes the gazes of differentially situated individual and collective social actors.

In this introductory chapter we present and explain the theoretical and methodological framing of our approach to bordering as well as the overall context in which we see borderings operating today…

Nira Yuval-Davis is Professor Emeritus, Honorary Director of the Research Centre on Migration, Refugees and Belonging (CMRB) at the University of East London.

Georgie Wemyss is Senior lecturer and Co-Director of the CMRB at the University of East London.

Kathryn Cassidy is Associate Professor of Human Geography at Northumbria University.

Available Formats

  • Hardback £55.00 €62.20, 9781509504947
  • Paperback £17.99 €20.40, 9781509504954
  • Open eBook £12.99 €17.99, 9781509504985

Comments (1)

  • George Wilmers says:

    Thank you for posting this: no subject could be more appropriate for the JVL’s concerns.

    The ideology of hostile bordering is the new socialism of fools. It bears the same relationship to contemporary forms of totalitarianism as antisemitism did to European fascism 90 years ago.

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