Project Universities

The Bio-Politics of Borders in Times of Crisis

Project description

The borders of our time are arguably more complex than ever: on the one hand, they are unstable concepts with shifting meanings, metaphors, and paradigms of thinking; on the other, they are hard facts, fortified geographical shells, hard to penetrate and often deadly. Furthermore, it is safe to say that the borders of our time are in crisis. From the porous interior boundaries of the Schengen space, to the mass migration crisis challenging the external limits of the European Union, to the post-soviet military conflict zone in Ukraine, to the isolationist thrust of Brexit: After a period of de-bordering, we are facing a re-bordering, and the meanings of Europe and the ideals of democracy and civil society they stand for are being challenged. At the same time, much of the recent election season in the United States was built around the idea of borders, whether it is the infamous wall between the US and Mexico, or the popular discourse of American people fleeing the impending Trump regime by crossing the border to Canada (the Immigration Canada website famously crashed on the night of US presidential elections, unable to handle the sheer volume of inquiries). Generally speaking, the dream and ideal of open borders seems poised on the brink of extinction: building walls is increasingly becoming the dominant narrative of today’s politics, institutional as well as cultural.

Neither are European and American border discourses clearly separated: from Donald Trump’s discursive use of the so-called refugee crisis in Germany as a means to illustrate supposed dangers of mass migration in his presidential campaign rhetoric, to the mutual support he and UKIP’s Nigel Farage expressed for each other’s political, ideological, and performative stance, to the United States enacting sanctions against Russia over a border conflict in the Ukraine, European and North American border discourses and politics of today almost routinely meet and intertwine. At the same time, intra-American border conflicts stemming from the history and reality of colonialism, most notably the Native American resistance at Standing Rock which actively revives the problematic of (broken) treaties and problematizes the very notion of the nation, and with it the national border, garner international support not only from other Indigenous nations within the Americas, but also from Indigenous groups and well as non-Indigenous allies throughout Europe.     

As borders tighten and close, bodies become increasingly vulnerable, rendering every political crisis a potential humanitarian disaster. The proposed project will re-think Europe and the Americas through these crises and the challenges they pose. In so doing, it will specifically engage the transformation of European and American body politics in times of austerity, hyper-securitization, protest suppression tactics, and war. By approaching the current European and American crises through the conceptual field of “border” and considering their impact on bio-politics in the fields of politics, literature, culture, and environmental struggles, the proposed project will contribute both to a critical analytical delineation of current (dialogic) processes in European and American civil societies and offer impulses towards the formulations of new visions of border conceptualizations and management.    

While cultural critics like Gloria Anzaldúa and Walter Mignolo speak of the liberating potential of “border thinking” and “dwelling in the borders,” refugees risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean or taking the Balkan route, and so do migrants riding the Beast, “the infamous freight train that trundles through the country from near the Guatemalan border all the way to the US and has traditionally been the route of choice for the poorest and most vulnerable” (Jo Tuckman for The Guardian). This tension between the physical and the lyrical is one of the greatest potentials of border discourses, and one of their toughest political challenges: while for some borders are spaces of myth, for others they are places of death, at least potentially; and sometimes, they are both. Art and artistic discourses, ethnic and minority literatures, as well as alternative theoretical frameworks, like Anzaldúa’s “theory in the flesh,” straddle this tension in order to expose borders, what they are and what they do, their perverse beauty and blatant brutality of “una herida abierta” (Anzaldúa) - “an open wound.” In this project, we will also attempt to straddle this tension, exploring the physical and the lyrical of borders, European as well as inter- and intra-American.          

In order to critically engage all these themes in the context of this collaboration, we propose to structure the discussion according to following fields of inquiry:
 

  1. Border Crises and Race, Gender, and Sexuality
  2. Border Crises and Civil Society
  3. Border Crises and Trauma
  4. Border Crises and Environment
  5. Border Art: Border Crises through Artists’ Eyes