Anssi Paasi. Handbook of Cultural Geography. Editor: Kay Anderson, Mona Domosh, Steve Pile, Nigel Thrift. Sage Publications. 2003.
Contemporary frontiers are not simply lines on maps, the unproblematic givens of political life, where one jurisdiction or political authority ends and another begins; they are central to understanding political life. Examining the justifications of frontiers raises crucial, often dramatic, questions concerning citizenship, identity, political loyalty, exclusion, inclusion and the ends of the state. (M. Anderson, 1996: 1)
International boundaries have long been among the most important objects of research in political and cultural geography. They have been understood as material elements in cultural landscape and seen as lines that distinguish ‘power structures’ and sovereign states, and which provide opportunities for cooperation and discord. Yet boundaries are much more than marks of ‘the limits of sovereignty’ (Prescott, 1987: 80). During the 1990s, borders and boundaries have become keywords in social science and cultural studies as the world around us has changed. Researchers have challenged the ideas of fixed boundaries, identities, truths and power and instead have put stress on the fragmentary and the impermanent nature of boundaries. In this situation, borders and boundaries are increasingly understood as ‘zones of mixing, blending, blurring and hybridizations’ where both material and symbolic dimensions and power relations come together (Bhabha, 1994; Thrift, 1996).
There are many reasons for the current interest in boundaries. Firstly, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fading of superpower conflict meant that both ‘east’ and ‘west’ lost the ‘others’ that were used in constructing geopolitical practices and images of threat. Secondly, violent redefinition of territorial and ethnic identities around the world has displayed the persistent violence and contested role that boundaries still play in the lives of many of the world’s peoples. Thirdly, the process of globalization and the unprecedented flows of capital, goods and ideas across the world today have problematized our governing notions of borders, boundaries and sovereignty. Finally, environmental risks have revealed the porousness of state boundaries.
These dynamics are unfolding in different ways in different places. In my own city of Oulu in northern Finland, the cultural geographies of boundaries are very dynamic. Located on the western coast of Finland, Oulu is about 130 kilometres from the Finnish-Swedish boundary, and more than 250 km from the Finnish-Russian border. The former has been open and practically insignificant for decades, and became even more so when both Finland and Sweden joined the European Union. The Finnish border with Russia has been crucial for the narratives of Finnish national identity since the nineteenth century and for the practices of foreign policy since Finland gained its independence in 1917. It was strictly controlled during the years of Cold War and the Soviet Union: basically all forms of cross-border interaction were decided at the level of the two states (Paasi, 1996). A several kilometres wide frontier zone was established on both sides of the borderline after World War II. On the Finnish side people needed permission to move on the zone, issued to Finnish citizens by the Finnish Border Guard Detachment and to foreigners by the Security Police. The Soviet zone was kept almost empty. After the collapse of the west-east divide the modes of interaction became more versatile. Other actors, like municipalities and firms, now shape the everyday cultural geography of the boundary, supplementing the power of the state. The number of crossing points has increased dramatically, being now more than 20. The border, however, has not disappeared and is still controlled, but now in less exclusive ways, displaying the changing meanings of boundaries and territoriality. Further, it is not only a state-to-state border but also the sole border between the EU and Russia and one of the deepest divides in the world as far as the standards of living in the respective states are concerned.
Most people outside Finland may not know that Oulu is one of the central bases of operation of Nokia, a traditional Finnish manufacturing firm that has rapidly become the most significant name in the mobile phone marketplace. Its slogan ‘Nokia–connecting people’ celebrates the opposite of boundaries and borders. With R&D centres in 15 countries on four continents, products sold in 130 states, and more than 90 per cent of its stock owned by foreigners, Nokia is a global company that has apparently transcended the borders of the nation-state. Along with the rise of Nokia and other high-tech firms, Oulu has become increasingly international, partly because of the links between these firms and the university, both of which draw educated people to the city, many of them crossing the borders between states, cultures and social roles. The city is the centre of the province of Northern Ostrobothnia, which means that much of the regional decision making within the context of the EU is located there, again passing national boundaries. This relativitization of the location of Oulu during the 1990s seems to illustrate the changing functions of political boundaries in a globalizing networking world. Superficially at least, it seems to support arguments about the disappearance of borders and nation-states in a world characterized by networking people, transnational corporations and suprastate levels of governance (Ohmae, 1995).
However, the disappearance of boundaries has been more celebrated in the catchy logos of transnational corporations than realized in practice. Boundaries are dense and multilayered processes whose meanings derive not merely from economic forces (or slogans!) but also from the accumulated histories and cultures of political entities that are still very much alive: states. The world political map is made up of almost 200 different states. Between them are hundreds of boundaries, some open and peaceful, some closed and full of political dynamite. All of these borders are human creations and a good number of them have contested stories of identity, struggle, desire and history embedded in their existence (Kirby, 1996). As the Finnish-Swedish and Finnish-Russian borders demonstrate, even different boundaries of the same state may have diverging, historically contingent narratives of identity associated with them. These narratives and their everyday meanings may also vary in the socio-spatial consciousness of various generations–those conditioned by the Cold War or those conditioned by Nokia’s utopian world of happy communication–living in the same territorial context (Paasi, 1996).
In this chapter we will consider the changing and contested roles of political boundaries in the everyday making of identities and territories. Historical perspective helps us to understand how boundaries have become part of the material practices, ideologies and narratives through which territorial groups and their identities are constituted. The central contention of the chapter is that boundaries are dynamic cultural processes. They are more than ‘lines on a map’: they have crucial links with identity, action, mobility and power that we need to grasp if we are to understand the changing spatialities of our globalizing world. Boundaries are not, as traditional political geography once took them to be, timeless, neutral lines and absolute limits of sovereignty. They are much more complex and interesting.
We will begin by briefly considering the construction of state territoriality and boundaries. Since geographical discourses have been crucial in this process, the invention of a specific boundary language will be traced to unpack the spatialities of this language. Identity and boundaries are typically seen as two sides of the same coin, but often so that physical and symbolic boundaries are regarded as exclusive constituents of identity (Conversi, 1995; Hall, 1996). Thus the links between state, nation and identity need to be discussed to show how state boundaries–as specific spatialized symbols and institutions–become part of the practices and discourses of daily life. The contested interpretations of the effects of globalization on boundaries will then be discussed, and the challenges facing boundary studies as cultural geographies today will be briefly considered in the conclusion.
States, Boundaries, and the ‘Territorial Trap’
Because boundaries are manufactured by human cultures, they are political entities. Their creation involves choices between contesting visions of how to divide up space. They give expression to power relations since they inevitably order and shape the social relations of the peoples affected by them. They involve the politics of delimitation, the politics of representation, and the politics of identity, i.e. they keep things apart one from another, their meanings are represented in specific ways, and they enable certain expressions of identity while blocking others.
Although we do not always think about it, we live our daily life in a complex network of socio-spatial practices conditioned by the fact that the world political map is divided into states. In spite of centuries of human movements across the planet and cultural mixing and hybridization, the link between states, territoriality and sovereignty has been so dominating that it has been almost impossible to avoid what Agnew (1998) calls the ‘territorial trap.’ This notion refers to a way of thinking and acting that has three distinguishing features. Firstly, modern state sovereignty, security and political life require clearly bounded territorial spaces. Secondly, a fundamental opposition between domestic and foreign affairs exists. Thirdly, the territorial state acts as the geographical ‘container’ of modern society, i.e. boundaries of the state are the boundaries of political and social processes. Hence, the world is understood as consisting of bounded, exclusive territories that have their own identity.
These assumptions look relatively simple, but they are extremely powerful since they are sedimented both in material practice and in ideologies. Through legislation, media and the national education system they usually become forces through which the territoriality of the state and its limits become taken-for-granted constituents of social order and everyday experience (Paasi, 1996; Radcliffe and Westwood, 1996). The territorial trap effectively hides the fact that collective identities are not naturally generated but are partly produced through the construction of various forms of exclusion and inclusion, that is in defining who ‘we’ are, who belongs with ‘us’ and who are to be excluded because they are ‘different.’
One significant element in the naturalization of the territorial trap is the broadly accepted narrative of the development of the international system of states. This narrative assumes that the modern state system began in sixteenth-century Europe with the codification of a world of nominally sovereign states in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. Triumphing over alternative organizations and visions of world political space, such as a unitary world of Christendom or a world empire dominated by an all-powerful dynasty, the modern state system slowly evolved to become organized around the principle of popular ‘national sovereignty.’ According to the creed of nationalism which triumphed in nineteenth-century Europe, the world’s varied peoples were assumed to be made up of different nations and the most powerful and organized of these nations controlled their own states, which they called ‘nation-states.’ This nation-state model of the interstate system was exported by Europe to the rest of the world through colonization and then decolonization (see M. Anderson, 1996; Giddens, 1987; MacLaughlin, 2001; Smith, 1991). A well-known analyst of nationalism, Ernest Gellner, has depicted the power of the modern state as follows:
[C]onsider the history of the national principle; or consider two ethnographic maps, one drawn up before the age of nationalism, and the other after the principle of nationalism had done much of its work. The first map resembles a painting by Kokoschka. The riot of diverse points of colour is such that no clear pattern can be discerned in any detail, though the picture as a whole does have one. A great diversity and plurality and complexity characterizes all distinct parts of the whole … Look now instead at the ethnographic and political map of an area of the modern world. It resembles not Kokoschka, but, say, Modigliani. There is very little shading; neat flat surfaces are clearly separated from each other, it is generally plain where one begins and another ends, and there is little if any ambiguity or overlap. Shifting from a map to the reality mapped, we see that an overwhelming part of political authority has been concentrated in the hands of one kind of institution, a reasonably large and well-centralized state. In general, each such state presides over, maintains, and is identified with, one kind of culture, one style of communication, which prevails within its borders. (1983: 139-140)
The pure world of Westphalian exclusive nation-state actors has never existed, since states have always shared their power with other states and organizations (Agnew and Corbridge, 1995). The territorial system created by the interstate system is always in perpetual transformation. Hence the number of states and boundaries has increased continually following the processes of secession, unification and decolonization. While some 50 states existed in 1900, currently almost 200 states are linked together with more than 300 land boundaries that have a unique, often violent history. Similarly the number of international non-governmental organizations has increased enormously since World War II. Also the roles and relative power of states in the global system of states and the ideas of sovereignty have changed perpetually (Murphy, 1996). Some ‘micro-states,’ such as Singapore, Monaco or the Bahamas, are significant nodes in the globalizing network economy even if they may lack the institutional and ideological infrastructure of the modern state (Nairn, 1998). Simultaneously only a few states are capable of monitoring the territories of all other states with their satellite systems. States are, in sum, not equal in their sovereignty and their boundaries have very different meanings and functions.
Geo-Power: National Socialization and the Attribution of Meaning to Boundaries
The modern state has a monopoly over power and violence, which it uses in the construction and maintenance of the territorial trap. The state has not only the negative power to repress those that challenge its power within its borders, but also the ‘positive power’ to ‘civilize’ and socialize its inhabitants through its educational structures and communication systems. The ‘territorial trap’ gets reproduced as a deep cultural geography of everyday life, for it is hidden in numerous state-based institutions and practices that produce and reproduce the symbolic boundaries of a territory. Through education, the media and the cultural institutions of civil society, national socialization takes place, the process by which people internalize collective cultural geographies of identity and division. Recent geographic research has focused on the process through which reified and naturalized national representations are constructed and reproduced by elites across the institutions of states. In Finland, for instance, the border with Russia has been used in school geography textbooks since the nineteenth century as a medium to represent Russia as the national other, a threat from the east that must be resisted. Changes of these representations have followed the transformations of broader geopolitical spaces and conditions (Paasi, 1996). The importance of boundaries in building national identity becomes clear also in a study on the Ecuadorian nation-building process (Radcliffe and Westwood, 1996).
The production of knowledge has been particularly important in the governance of the state system and in the creation of the significance of territory. Many academic disciplines have their origin in the practical interests of the state to inscribe territories with a content, a history and a meaning (Krishna, 1994; Walker, 1993). The institutionalization of geography at the end of the nineteenth century was a manifestation of the rise of the modernist ideology and all-encompassing nation-state. Major motives behind its institutionalization were nationalism and colonialism, showing that geography is a form of power/ knowledge itself (Ó Tuathail, 1996). Murphy (1996) labels the view of sovereignty that dominated the end of the nineteenth century anarchic. This view emerged from a convergence of rising positivism, nationalism and Darwinian political geographic thought and these modes of thought raised the territorial ideal of sovereignty to new heights. Building strong, competitive nation-states resulted in the control over bounded territories.
Political boundaries are always expressions of geo-power, the use of geographical knowledge in the governance and management of territories (Ó’Tuathail, 1996). Geographers and their ideas of boundaries have been exploited in many states by power holding elites, both in the demarcation of concrete boundaries and in more abstract ways in the creation of geopolitical visions and identities. Geographical (and historical) knowledge that is used in giving names and boundaries to regions and territories is instrumental in the demarcation and control of territories. No wonder then that ‘the boundary’ became immediately one of the key categories in political geography. The so-called ‘father of political geography,’ Friedrich Ratzel, greatly influenced thinking about boundaries with his notion that states are organisms and that the boundaries of a state are its peripheral organs that can and should be expanded as stronger states grow at the expense of weaker ones. More than acknowledging that borders are never static, Ratzel’s ideas were justifications for imperialism and state adventurism. In his organismic thinking all dynamic states try to expand their spatial extent and extension.
Many of the ideas Ratzel championed were already significant. Particularly influential was the French concept of les limites naturelles, according to which every state has ‘natural boundaries’ which that state should pursue until it has obtained. As might be expected, adjacent states argued about where their ‘natural boundaries’ existed–the very disagreement undermining the notion that there really were ‘natural boundaries’! Nevertheless, this idea was particularly influential in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In most cases, historical arguments were used to justify the ‘natural boundary of the state,’ though arguments frequently evoked a higher authority like God or natural law in order to justify particular claims (Pounds, 1954). Natural boundaries were seen as the only real borders because they emerged from nature -whether being God-given or not. The boundaries drawn by people were regarded as arbitrary. Yet the arbitrariness of even ‘obvious’ natural boundaries was not acknowledged. Mountains, after all, can be seen as ‘natural communities,’ rivers as organically connected regions and seas as transportation highways rather than as ‘natural limits.’
Political geographers have paid increasing attention to the meanings attached to border landscapes since the 1990s (Rumley and Minghi, 1991). They also became interested in the processes of inclusion and exclusion: how boundaries are used in the construction of communities, territorial identities and representations of ‘us’ and the Other in the ‘purification of space,’ i.e. in the construction of images of culturally homogeneous territorial groups (Sibley, 1995). The social and discursive construction of boundaries has been typically studied on a national or subnational scale (Falah and Newman, 1995; Paasi, 1996; Radcliffe and Westwood, 1996), while geopolitical oppositions have been analysed on larger spatial scales (Newman, 1999; Ó’Tuathail, 1996). These studies have shown that the purification of space, the rejection of difference, the securing of boundaries and symbols to maintain solidarity in social communities are employed in the exclusion and inclusion of social groupings at all spatial scales, varying from the territories of local gangs in large cities to nations and global geopolitical spaces (Newman and Paasi, 1998).
Boundaries and the Nation: Nation-States or Multinational States?
New interest in the cultural significance of political boundaries emerges from the observation that boundaries are not merely technical instruments exploited by the state but also constituents of (national) identity and the media of power that are used in the ‘naturalization’ of nations as individuals, i.e. they are major elements in the making of the territorial trap. Most theorists of nationalism note the significance of territory and boundaries in the construction of national communities and the images of their past, present and future. For some authors nationalism is a process of border maintenance and creation (Conversi, 1995) while others argue more generally that human consciousness and social organization are conditioned by territory and boundaries (M. Anderson, 1996). Nationalism promoted by the state exploits both history and territoriality to make this boundedness appear natural. The history of boundaries is a major component in the geopolitical imagination of most states (Radcliffe and Westwood, 1996: 57). History and territoriality are used in both the construction and the reproduction of the territory and citizens, the latter understood–or state institutions tending to represent them–as constituting ‘the nation.’ The nation is not only a political unit but also a cultural system of signification. A state that successfully reproduces itself as a nation must have specific symbolic and institutional practices for narrating, signifying and legitimating the nation and the bounded territory that it occupies. In this context, boundaries become part of the ways by which people try to make sense of the world at all spatial scales. Boundaries not only divide but also define and regulate social action. They are, in a way, ‘forces at work’ (Rée, 1998).
One significant ideological manifestation of the territorial trap has been the understanding of ‘national cultures’ as homogeneous coherent phenomena so that territory and exclusiveness become ‘natural’ constituents of cultures. Boundaries become, thus, an integral part of the very understanding of a ‘national culture,’ and a particular problem for those who inhabit borderlands or cross them as immigrants, refugees or exiles. Yet cultures have always been based on the exchange of ideas and material innovations, and it is cultural flows that have drawn nations together (Featherstone, 1995). National cultures also change perpetually: new generations produce new national sharings, amalgamate them with ‘tradition’ and may generate perspectives on territory, boundaries and identity that differ considerably from those of previous generations (Paasi, 1996). This dynamic underscores once again how group identities based on bounded cultures are not natural but are created in specific contexts and in response to certain forces. ‘Cultural identity’ is, therefore, both the scene and the object of political struggles (Cohen, 1998: Jackson and Penrose, 1993). To take but one illustration, in Bosnia, for instance, Muslim, Croat and Serb children learn their own ‘truths’ of the national history. Hence, Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb who shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo and set World War I in motion, is a ‘hero and poet’ for Serbs, an ‘assassin’ for Croats and a ‘nationalist’ for Bosnian Muslims (Hedges, 1997).
The contemporary world harbours hundreds of ethno-national groups; by some estimates there are as many as 5000 of these ‘nations.’ They coexist with some 200 bounded states that represent a vast array of internal differences in ‘national’ cultures, economies, identities and backgrounds of inhabitants. In fewer than 20 states the minorities account for less than 5 per cent of the population. This suggests that even if the attempt to fuse national identity and national state has been the major motive in European and world history, most modern states are plural multinational and multicultural states (Schaeffer, 1997; Smith, 1995). As a result numerous social groups in Europe and elsewhere regard themselves as ‘nations’ and struggle for self-determination or a state of their own. In some places this process occurs peacefully (Scotland); in other contexts violence has been part of the process (Basque country, Northern Ireland, Kurdistan, Israel); in the extreme case the result has been a terrible civil war (Sierra Leone, East Timor). This suggests that territory and boundaries are still vital in national imagination, symbolism and rhetoric.
While the world presented in maps is often ahistoric and stable, it is the postcolonial struggles that give the current geopolitical map much of its dynamic, especially inside the existing boundaries. While the international border disputes between India and Pakistan and between Ethiopia and Eritrea have recently been very visible in the media, in fact most border conflicts occur nowadays inside states. Since 1995 only one or two conflicts per year have been between states, whereas some 25–30 have been within states. In Africa, for instance, most conflicts occur inside the existing colonial boundaries (Biger, 1995; Shapiro, 1999). While also interstate conflicts occur now mainly in poor Third World countries, nationhood, forms of identity and even national iconographies are increasingly contested in most contemporary states. Also the ‘first nations’ all around the world are good examples of internal challenges to boundaries. Often supporting environmental values, traditional community life and identities, and people’s rights to land and old territories, they struggle to transform the legislation and territorial governance that have been created by dominant national groups. Their interests may also cross the existing state borders–often by using modern information technology.
Displaced people and immigrants also question the significance of boundaries and the state-centred territorial and ‘cultural’ order. The intensifying interaction between states has created a ‘perpetual motion machine’ where refugees, migrants and tourists cross borders and create networks of translocalities, places where processes occurring from local to global scale come together (Appadurai, 1996). The separation of people from their ‘native culture’ through either physical dislocation or displacement–the colonizing imposition of ‘foreign culture’–has been one of the most formative experiences of this century, and the estimated number of refugees alone has been 60–100 million people since World War II (Bammer, 1994). Whereas the refugees at the end of World War II were mainly Europeans, this group is increasingly heterogeneous today, the main groups now being refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Bosnia and some African countries. UNHCR’s statistics show that more than 22 million asylum seekers, refugees and displaced people existed in 1998.
While the pressures for transformation challenge the existing territorial order, states struggle to maintain their bounded national territories and identities, and to control, marginalize or destroy opposition (Shapiro and Alker, 1996). Various strategies exist to promote social integration, such as assimilation encouraged by the state, and various forms of socio-cultural autonomy and language accommodation for minorities (Knight, 1985). The statistics of Amnesty International show that not only symbolic but also physical violence is a much used instrument in territorial control: in 1998 human rights were violated in 142 states, political murders occurred in 47 states and people were arrested in 78 states because of their opinions. For many in the power structures of the state that are dominated by the majority nation, the perspectives of other nations and peoples within the borders of the state are ignored, denied and repressed. Many states have difficulty acknowledging that they are not the nation-states of their images and myths but multinational and multicultural states with many different kinds of peoples and perspectives.
Boundaries in a Transforming World
No contemporary discussion of state borders can avoid addressing globalization since this process implies ‘border crossings’ and blurring of the spatial categorizations between ‘us’ and ‘them’ (Anderson and O’Dowd, 1999). Authors do not always make it clear whether they talk about the globalization of institutions (economy, culture), consciousness or communication networks. Recent comments suggest that a satisfactory definition must capture such elements as extensity (stretching of social, political and economic affairs), intensity, velocity (‘speeding up’) and impact (Held et al., 1999: 15). All these elements imply that boundaries between domestic and ‘global’ affairs are increasingly blurred, challenging one of the key assumptions of the territorial trap (see Rosenau, 1997).
It is useful, however, to make a distinction between ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ versions of the globalization thesis that respectively imply different views on the future of the state and boundaries (Anderson and O’Dowd, 1999). The proponents of the strong version put primary stress on economics and technology, with a secondary emphasis on culture. States are perceived as less important than transnational corporations or social movements and communities, which do not respect boundaries. This view seriously underestimates the cultural element that serves as an important ‘glue’ in the territorial trap. In Finland, for instance, the success of Nokia in the expanding mobile phone markets is viewed not only as an international but also as a national success story, inspiring Finnish pride. In this way the factor that is hollowing the territorial trap in an economic sense is strengthening it in a symbolic or cultural sense. This indicates that globalization has perhaps changed but not inevitably diminished the significance of cultural or jurisdictional barriers (see Cohen, 1998). Most strong thesis supporters see boundaries as fixed entities and territoriality or sovereignty in essentialist terms, i.e. they lean on the modernist language of traditional political geography. Hence boundaries are understood as lines dividing social entities, not as discursive formations and processes that are sedimented in the social and cultural practices of these very entities (Paasi, 1998). Authors like Ohmae (1995) use the ideas of a borderless world as metaphors depicting the condition of economic liberalism and expanding capitalism, rather than discussing concrete state borders. As such they are ‘big metaphors’ (Barnes and Duncan, 1992) since they change the rhetoric that is used in research.
‘Weak versionists’ (or ‘sceptics’) see internationalization as more significant than globalization (Anderson and O’Dowd, 1999; Held et al., 1999). For them the state is still the major context in which people organize their daily life (Hirst and Thompson, 1996). Accordingly, territorial states are not withering away but simply operate in a dynamic, global context. Moreover, globalization represents not the end of territorial distinctions and distinctiveness, but rather new influences on local (economic) identities and development capacities (Amin and Thrift, 1995). The ultimate question is what will be the balance between markets and state in the emerging systems of global governance?
As far as the changing meanings of boundaries are concerned, one important part of the globalization discourse has been the rise of specific rhetoric that in principle calls into question the image of a fixed territorial order, existing territorial traps and boundaries. Castells has been extremely influential in providing spatialized metaphors and arguments for current debates. His idea of the space of flows implies the decreasing power of sovereignty and a challenge to national identities and national boundaries (Castells, 1989). Other much used notions are deterritorialization and reterritorialization, adopted from Deleuze and Guattari (1984), who used them to describe the effects of capitalism on previous fixed orders of class, kinship and space. These notions have been significant for critical geopoliticians and IR scholars who have analysed the representational practices that have been hidden in the construction of the territorial trap. They have noted the importance of the boundary-drawing practices that are used in the spatialization of identity, nationhood and threats (Ó Tuathail and Dalby, 1998).
Nowhere has the metaphor of ‘border crossing’ been more evident than in discourses on cyberspace and its effects on current spatializations. It has been argued that virtual spaces will give rise to new global geographies that will change the ways we think, the nature of sexuality, the forms of communities and our very identities (Turkle, 1996: 9). Similarly electronic space has been seen potentially as a major theatre for capital accumulation (Sassen, 1999). Cyberspace also enables the creation of identity communities, which are not territorially bounded and may challenge the territorial trap of existing nation-states. The internet has been an important tool for social movements (for example, first nations) that operate both inside states and across borders (Routledge, 1998).
Leaders in many states (for example, Japan and Singapore) feel that cyberspace may threaten their cultural identities and have therefore been hesitant about enabling their citizens to connect to the internet at all (Stratton, 1997). This shows that the role of traditional/new institutions that control and reproduce territoriality/boundaries and national socialization will remain strong. In Finland, for instance, the number of mobile phones is about 75 per 100 inhabitants, which is among the highest rates in the world, and also internet links are part of everyday life for almost one-third of the population. These links have not, however, led to the disappearance of national boundaries. While new devices are ‘connecting people’–also across the national boundaries -they do not inevitably change the content of national socialization and identity discourses, neither do they remove totally the territorial elements from journalism, media space or legislation. Also military and foreign policy practice and the border guarding systems have remained the same, even if the territorial context is now not only the Finnish state but also the EU (Paasi, 1998).
New technology may also create new boundaries. Cyberspace may be used in the reterritorialization and construction of images of ‘natural boundaries,’ of ‘us’ and enemies, as is evident in the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (Campbell, 1998). Like globalization as a whole, new technology also produces inequality: not everybody can afford new technological devices. In many countries in Africa and Asia, for instance, both the low level of literacy and almost non-existing telephone links among ordinary people make a mockery of most utopian visions of the power of global cyberspace. According to the statistics of the UN only 2.4 per cent of the world population has used the internet. As Ó Tuathail and Dalby (1998: 13) have noted, the digital nation may transgress state boundaries but it will remain the virtual ‘home’ of a small elite fraction of the world’s overall population.
Are Boundaries Disappearing?
Previous analysis shows that very different views of the current roles of boundaries exist. These views are based, firstly, on diverging theoretical and conceptual frameworks that are used in interpreting the meanings of globalization and sovereignty. Secondly, they indicate that boundaries have many functions: they are elements in the international governance, instruments of state policy and territorial control, but also constituents and challengers of existing social identities. Thirdly, varying interpretations display that knowledge and understanding are situated categories. Thus changing economic, political and cultural contexts affect how researchers shape the categories that they use to interpret current territorial transformations. Boundaries, their disappearance, globalization or sovereignty mean different things not only for researchers coming from various states and ‘academic territories’ but also for politicians, international capitalists, business gurus, military leaders, refugees and displaced people or ordinary people.
The ideas and ‘truths’ of boundaries or the nation-state are themselves products of contested discourses. The meanings attached to boundaries are often expressions of various ideologies and rhetorics of power. The members of the elite often have conflicting aims with regard to boundaries. While economic actors may struggle to promote cross-border activities, military and political actors try usually to keep the state, its instruments of violence and narratives of ‘the nation under threat’ in operation (Paasi, 1998).
Previous contested visions raise the serious question of whether boundaries are really disappearing, or whether our conceptualizations are inadequate for understanding their current, complicated roles. It is clear that we are moving towards a situation where exclusive state boundaries are, at least in some areas, becoming porous. Increasing cross-border interaction and new sub-and suprastate regionalizations are leading to a change of formerly closed ‘alienated borderlands’ to ‘interdependent’ and perhaps finally to ‘integrated borderlands’ (Martinez, 1994). The assumed isomorphism between territorial and national integrity is increasingly problematic, and territory as the source for loyalty and identity is increasingly divorced from territory as the site of sovereignty and state control.
On the other hand, the continually increasing number of states and boundaries suggests quite opposite tendencies than ideas of the disappearance of borders. The emergence of new states does not mean that their boundaries should be closed. Most contemporary boundaries do not mark the limits where ‘politics ends because the community ends’ (Balibar, 1998: 220). Cross-border cooperation has increased during the whole post-war period, particularly in the current EU area. Still, some borders are more closed than others. New emerging spatializations, such as economic and institutional ‘fortress Europe’ (!) or, on a broader spatial scale, geopolitically laden ideas like the ‘clash of civilizations’ may concomitantly become instruments of exclusion and a basis for new images of threat against outsiders (Paasi, 2001).
The debates on globalization and boundaries force us to reflect on the connections between territory, political community and democracy. Democratic societies in the future are likely to involve increasing openness and porosity of borders. For example, the relationships between citizenship and sovereignty, national identity and political community, and cultural order and global flows are likely to be negotiated and renegotiated. If nations are ‘imagined communities,’ it is the same imagination, Appadurai (1996) argues, that will have to carry us beyond the nation, even if the contemporary ‘national imaginary’ has not yet given in to the rise of non-national, transnational or postnational claims on loyalty and identity. There is no reason to assume that moral boundaries or even notions of ‘home’ and ‘the nation’ should overlap with the boundaries of our territorial traps in the current world (Agnew and Corbridge, 1995). Peace activists, feminists, environmentalists and anti-capitalist movements, for instance, increasingly ‘cross’ the state borders in their argumentation and activities. Similarly environmental problems show the porousness of boundaries: risk society knows no national boundaries (Kuehls, 1996; Lash and Urry, 1994).
Future Challenges for Boundary Studies
A major challenge for research is to develop new conceptualizations of the changing meanings of boundaries. Blossoming studies on the roles of boundaries, cross-border cooperation and trans-border regionalization in Europe and elsewhere show that boundaries, identity and citizenship still matter and will provide important subject material for border scholars. In this context the political inevitably bleeds into economic, cultural and regional. Boundaries should not be regarded as static territorial lines but should be understood from a broader socio-cultural perspective. Researchers need to emphasize the social production and everyday reproduction of territories and boundaries, and their symbolic meanings in discourses and institutional practices that occur at all spatial scales.
Boundaries are cultural processes. They are both symbols and institutions that produce distinctions between social groups and are produced by them. As institutions and discourses, boundaries are ‘spread’ everywhere into the society, not only in the border areas. Therefore, boundaries are one part of the discursive landscape of social power that exists in numerous social practices and discourses in the fields of economy, administration, legislation and culture. This is why boundaries do not inevitably vanish when some structures and practices–for example, in the field of economy–change as a consequence of globalization. To the extent that we have social power networks we will have boundaries.
The boundaries that states create are no longer the only boundaries that matter, as the state is re-scaled from above by the processes of globalization and from below by the everyday operation of flows of peoples, ideas and commodities. We also have to be sensitive to boundary claims and representations that social groupings make at supra–and substate scales. These changes pose challenges for the politics of boundaries, i.e. the production and reproduction of physical and symbolic boundaries in the life of a society, in which nation and state, for instance, no longer fit neatly into the territorial trap.
All these processes are expressions of the fact that states and their identities are never finished as entities but are ongoing processes and projects (Campbell, 1992). They force scholars to reflect on how the meanings and interpretations attached to boundaries in the processes of state-and nation-building express state ideologies, reactions to broader international geopolitical and economic landscapes and localized, popular interpretations.
Boundaries are present in national iconographies (flags, coats of arms, statues), commemorations, military parades, literature, songs and folklore, graffiti, sites of battles and landscapes that all signify and symbolize national identity. Border scholars should analyse how these ideas have gained their importance in the constitution of territorial entities and the spatial identities of the people. Therefore researchers need to use critically many kinds of materials: media discourses (TV, movies, newspapers), manifestations of ‘high’ and popular culture, educational materials, etc. One important theme for boundary studies is the analysis of the contextual forms of national socialization (Paasi, 1996; Radcliffe and Westwood, 1996). This theme includes a critical political geography of boundary maintaining institutions: the military-industrial complex, religion, education, racism, foreign and security policies, for instance. All are crucial elements in the construction of geographies of inclusion and exclusion.
Security has been closely linked in national narratives with national political identities that are represented as depending on the construction of boundaries with the other. In a rapidly transforming world of foreign policy, the elites of states try to redefine territoriality, foreign/security policy and identity–often in the form of new images of threat. Therefore, researchers have to pay attention to analysing how the legitimation of boundaries and the production of their social and cultural meanings take place.
Boundaries are with us not least because they are part of social identities and the making of territory and place (Massey et al., 1999). Their contextual functions and meanings imply that we cannot write them away, as some globalization theorists seem to suggest. Boundaries, identities and difference construct the ‘space of agency,’ the mode of participation in which we act as citizens in the complicated polities to which we belong (Yuval-Davis, 1997). This does not mean that the identities of people or places are pure and fixed. Identity is the result of myriad interactions that occur ‘inside’ (and with the outside) of a space whose boundaries are not clearly defined (Mouffe, 1994). This means that boundaries do not have any universal essence and do not represent permanent ‘truths,’ but are social constructs, results of struggles and power relations. The boundary is, therefore, a space for struggle and a zone of negotiation and reflection (Massey, 1995). Researchers are therefore forced to reflect on the paradoxes, contradictions and contrasts that are hidden in the practices and narratives of boundaries, identities and exclusions. It is important to analyse who constructs the hegemonic practices and narratives on boundaries, on ‘us’ and others, and why, how and in which institutional practices these narratives are (re-)produced. Border scholars need to reflect upon the structural and ideological constituents of boundary formation while they also have to be sensitive to the ethnographies of daily life, where boundaries are ultimately reproduced.