My research in political geography investigates borders, states, nations, and the concept of sovereignty. I am particularly interested in the changing role political borders and cultural boundaries play in the era of ‘globalization’ and the 'global war on terror.' Below are descriptions of several ongoing and completed research projects. Citation information and links to the online articles can be found on the publications page.
Border Walls: Security and the War on Terror in the US, India, and Israel
Two decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, why are leading democracies like the United States, India, and Israel building massive walls and fences on their borders? Despite predictions of a borderless world through globalization, the United States, India, and Israel have built an astonishing combined total of 3,500 miles (5,700 kilometers) of security barriers. Border Walls analyzes how these controversial border security projects were justified in their respective countries, what consequences these physical barriers have on the lives of borderland residents, and what long-term effects the hardening of political borders will have in these societies and globally. Border Walls demonstrates that the exclusion and violence necessary to secure the borders of the modern state often undermine the very ideals of freedom and democracy they are meant to protect. My work is summarized in Op-Eds on the worldwide trend of building border walls and on the consequences of the Israeli wall in the West Bank. For more information on the book click here.
Border Fencing in India and Bangladesh
My dissertation research investigated these questions along the border between India and Bangladesh as India completed a massive fencing and security project. In 2007, in addition to finishing a fence along its 2800 km border with Pakistan, India also fenced the majority of its 4096 km border with Bangladesh at a total cost of over 4 billion USD. Much of the border between India and Bangladesh, which had been open and relatively lightly guarded since its creation in 1947, divides a population that speaks the same language and shares a similar cultural history. My research has found, however, that the boundary narratives from the discourse of the global war on terror were used to create a strong sense of difference in the borderlands as Muslims are described as a violent and irrational threat and Bangladesh is described as a space that fosters terrorism. In the discourse of the global war on terror, the only option is to fence off and exclude those peoples and places that are described as a threat to a modern, civilized Indian society. My research explores both the narrative construction of the threatening 'other' and the consequences the securitization of the borderlands has had on the everyday lives of Muslim populations in India and Bangladesh. This project has resulted in journal articles in Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, National Identities, Progress in Human Geography, and Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers.
Categories and Inchoate Boundary Studies
In recent years, categories have been a topic of substantial research in the social sciences and humanities. Although many problematic categories such as culture, gender, nation, and scale have been criticized, 'moving beyond' them has proved to be surprisingly difficult. We are aware that these categories do not mimetically represent a pre-given reality in the world but rather are a socially constructed system for organizing and understanding the diversity of the world. Nonetheless, even while recognizing their incomplete and often arbitrary origins, it is still extremely difficult to think outside of categorical schemes. By integrating the poststructural writings of Michel Foucault and the cognitive science research of George Lakoff, I have argued that the key problem with categories emerges from the contradictory way their boundaries are intellectually and cognitively understood – what is termed the paradox of categories. The paradox occurs when we use a particular category, even while intellectually recognizing that it has fluid and open boundaries, we understand it cognitively in a way that reifies it as a fixed and bounded container of social, political, or natural processes. I argue that one possible way forward, rather than the traditional options of accepting categories as mimetic representations of the world or attempting to completely 'move beyond' categories, is to understand the boundaries of categories as always inchoate – only partially formed and incomplete. Therefore, the ongoing, and never ending, process of bounding analytic and practical categories, of creating the containers that order life, should be the central research concern for the discipline of geography and for academia generally. These arguments are more fully fleshed out in 'Categories, Borders, and Boundaries' (2009) in the journal Progress in Human Geography.
Sovereignty and Political Enclaves
Along the northern section of the border between India and Bangladesh there are 198 enclaves of one country’s territory surrounded by the land of the other. The enclaves, which have a population that is estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 people, are remnants of the partition of British India into the sovereign states of India and Pakistan in 1947. Most of the enclaves are small and are located several kilometers away from the main border, which has resulted in their complete isolation from their home countries. They are not officially part of the host countries either and today they have become stateless spaces that lack a governing authority to establish and enforce laws and to provide basic services like roads and education. My research on the enclaves investigates both the everyday hardships faced by the people who live in the enclaves and the theoretical insights that can be gleaned from the arbitrary and partial imposition of state sovereignty in the area. My chapter in Border Lines and Borderlands: The History and Politics of Odd International Boundaries, edited by Alex Diener and Josh Hagen, describes the history of the enclaves, the disputes that have prevented a resolution over the past sixty years, and the current living conditions of the enclave residents. A second paper in the journal Political Geography investigates the implications the enclaves have for understanding sovereignty in the current state system.