Project Universities

Bridging Borders: Future Challenges and Cultural Dynamics

Project description

The last century was marked by an ever-increasing mobility: Already the refugee crisis of the interwar years in the 1920s and 30s and the following waves of people fleeing war and persecution in Europe during WWII saw millions of people on the move, mostly between Europe and the Americas. The economic boom in Western Europe led to an explosive growth in leisure mobility starting in the 1960s and 70s. The intracontinental and also global mobility experienced a massive boost after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Iron Curtain at the end of the Cold War in 1989/90. In recent years, issues of mobility and borders/border crossings received massive medial and political attention. Now in 2020, the development of ever-increasing mobility seems to have been abruptly stopped by COVID-19. Ironically enough, the very mobility of the virus has halted human movements and ended the century of mobility.

As Zygmunt Bauman criticized, our globalized world only allowed for differential mobility:

“Some inhabit the globe, others are chained to place” (Bauman, cited in Beilharz 2001: 307).

With COVID-19, this differentiality of mobility seems now suspended and situations of lockdown and quarantine apparently have forced a new common immobility onto the world. A second, more honest look reveals that mobility is still very much differential, only with reversed signification: now it is the “disposable workforce” whom mobility falls to, while those who can afford it, lock themselves into their home. The incumbent immobility is thus rather a privilege that one needs to be able to afford than an enforceable general order. One of the most urgent challenges which need to be addressed in these current times is thus that of the (Im)”Mobility of Labor and Capital," to put it in Sassen’s words (1988), and of what we might coin as ‘differential confinement.’

In the current situation of halted/suspended mobility, the State has (re-)discovered the political-administrative power of borders as separating forces: Since the spread of COVID-19, we’ve witnessed unequaled rebordering measures particularly in Europe, where many Europeans could never have imagined being sealed off and facing closed borders to their neighbors again. These officially COVID-induced rebordering politics are symptom of / go hand in hand with local responses to a global problem, as enforced through nationalist and nationally-oriented politics. At a closer look, borders fulfill the role of a catalyst of distance: They can, on the one hand, separate and divide as a dividing line, and on the other also connect and unite as a suture.

Strangely enough, while today’s re-closed (high-tech) borders (cf. Pötsch 2015) seem more strong, stable, and rigid than ever before, they at the same time present themselves as extremely flexible, dynamic, and fluid (cf. Shachar 2020). While current corona-related politics assign the border the role of creating divisions and limiting mobility, the border itself has become more mobile than ever! Not only have territorial borders moved away from their specific location as defined on a map. Borderwork today mainly takes place and becomes experienceable on the body of the border crosser. Furthermore borders have amplified their range and power, reaching now far beyond territorial markers: The current lockdown situations have created new borders between home and outside, between inside and outside, between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ between confined and free-moving, between mobility and immobility, between healthy and having medical conditions… At the same time, former border(ing)s seem to play a lesser role: East and West or North and South seem (at first glance) obsolete distinctions, categories of ‘near’ and ‘far’ have become irrelevant in a virtual world, just as the distinction between private and public or between work and free time.


As these ongoing developments show, the current phase of apparent physical immobility directly translates into a plethora of new and arising challenges which are marked by a massive dynamization of socio-cultural processes and practices (e.g. in the creation of new ways of contact in times of social distancing, due to the transfer of activities and contact to the digital world, through new possibilities of blended mobilities, due to the – on the one hand – increasing availability of content while – on the other – an also increasing divide as to the accessibility of resources and the digital divide, and many more).

If we want to rise to the current challenges, we need to address the outlined issues dynamic processes of bordering and related nascent cultural practices, which is best achieved by bridging borders – between pre-COVID times, today, and what is still to come.

The fundamental change the current situation is bringing about thus requires detailed attention in research and teaching. In order to critically engage all these issues in the context of this collaboration, we propose to structure the discussion according to following fields of inquiry and activity:

  1. Bridging Borders from Challenges to Chances: Bringing Emergent Cultural Practices into Dialogue
  2. Bridging Borders from Immobility to Dynamics: Researching and Teaching in a Shared Virtual World / Blended Mobility/Activities to Strengthen Cooperations / Convergence in Times of Social Distancing
  3. Bridging Borders from Rebordering to Debordering: Activism and Protest in Europe and North America/Confronting Nationalism and Populism
  4. Bridging Borders between Schengen, the EU’s Outer Borders, and the Transatlantic World: Building Alliances and Organizing Across Borders
  5. Bridging Borders between us and them: the Border-Mobility-Nexus/the Two-Folded Relationship of Borders and Mobilities
  6. Bridging Borders to Close the Digital Divide: Sustainable Shared Teaching Stimuli


DAAD Eastpartnership Program 2021-2023