My research in political geography investigates borders, states, nations, and the concept of sovereignty. I am particularly interested in the history of borders and how these lines on the map shape our lives.
Book: The Imaginary Lines: Borders from the Great Wall to Global Apartheid
Everyone is familiar with world political maps that depict the earth divided up into countries, even if they cannot name or identify more than a few. In between the red of one country and the blue of another, is a crisp black line that sharply divides them. Those lines represent the edges of the state itself, the land and resources it controls, and its population. From childhood we are taught that we are members of one group that is distinct from all the others on the map. The power of the map is that it connects the physical features of the land with human ideas like states, cultures, nations. This connection naturalizes the human boundaries and makes them appear to have always existed. On the map, it is deceptively simple and provides a clear order and logic to the world today, and its past.
The Imaginary Lines: Borders from the Great Wall to Global Apartheid argues that this view of the world only exists on the map—and in our minds when we look at maps and use that filter to understand the world around us. Maps are not the world; they are a picture of what someone wants the world to be. The map takes the complexity of the world’s people, land, and history and boils it down to a set of boxes where everyone belongs. Because borders are naturalized and pervasive, we rarely stop to consider why we have these lines or what a world might be like without them. Now is the time because the world is facing a series of crises that are shaped by borders; however the significance of borders in these crises is not taken into account.
The book introduces a new way of thinking about the great challenges of our time by arguing that seemingly disparate problems like climate change, the growth of slums, and the persistence of global wealth inequality are all connected to the existence of borders. The book will conclude by suggesting what a world without borders might look like. I am in the middle of the writing process for this book with an anticipated publication in 2015.
Edited Book: Placing the Border in Everyday Life (Ashgate Border Regions Series)
Following Balibar’s thesis that “borders are everywhere,” recent work in the disciplines of Geography, Political Science, and International Relations has sought to locate where contemporary border work occurs. Bordering no longer happens only at the borderline separating two sovereign states, but rather through a wide range of practices and decisions that occur in multiple locations within and beyond the territory of a particular state. Nevertheless, it is too simplistic to suggest that borders are everywhere, since this view fails to acknowledge that particular sites are significant nodes where border work is done. Similarly, border work is more likely to be done by particular people than others. This book investigates the diffusion of bordering narratives and practices by asking “who borders and how?”
Placing the Border in Everyday Life complicates the connection between borders and the sovereign state by identifying individuals and organizations that engage in border work at a range of scales and places. This edited volume includes contributions from major international scholars in the field of border studies and analyzes who is involved in contemporary boundary making narratives and practices by unpacking their connection to the sovereignty regime of the state and by locating where and why they are doing this border work. This book is co-edited with Corey Johnson (UNC-Greensboro) and will be published by Ashgate as part of their border regions series in May 2014.
Book: Border Walls: Security and the War on Terror in the US, India, and Israel (Zed Books, 2012)
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.
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.