Border Research Overview

Posted: July 25, 2013 in Uncategorized




Research Context: Borders Beyond Borders

The EU’s Eastern enlargement and the creation (and subsequent extension) of the Schengen ‘borderless zone’ seemed to embody the inclusive, globalising zeitgeist of the post-cold war era. However, rather than de-bordering, both projects may actually be part of a complex re-bordering that is indicative of modes of EU governance and trends and developments in European societies. EU bordering in Central & Eastern Europe (CEE) is seen as uniquely contingent, but also as indicative of wider border trends, in that its bordering policy and practice is now ‘extra-territorial’, rendering it socially, spatially and temporally complex.

The increased complexity of EU borders that have slipped the territorial leash has made them no less significant for understanding the EU’s ‘identity’ and for the ways in which it creates, maintains or alters societal orders, as well as for its positioning in relation to ‘Neighbours’, ‘Partners’ and in the wider world. Similarly, extra-territorial borderings are seen to be just as significant as ‘traditional’ borders in the impact that they have on negotiations and performances of identity, being and belonging in Europe today (e.g. Lapid, 2001).

However, as borders have moved beyond traditional, territorial, understandings of what and where they are, it has been necessary to develop new modes and methods of inquiry in order to understand how they are made and the impacts they have. Developing a new modes of looking for (and at) borders and bordering and employing interpretive methodology this project examines three key sites of contemporary European bordering: within the Schengen zone; at the external, territorial frontier; and in neighbouring countries (the ‘Eastern Partners’ of the European Neighbourhood Policy). In each case, this research project seeks to avoid the polarised views and fetishisation of extreme cases that have become common in discussion and analysis of borders and bordering (e.g. Vaughan-Williams, 2007). Rather, this research looks for the logics and experiences of many groups involved in constituting and contesting contemporary European bordering. It is hoped that this project will not only make an academic impact, but that it can also contribute to better communication between these participants, thus raising possibilities for fairer and more accountable, yet secure bordering policy and practice. This explicitly aligns the research with a “critical pragmatism” (Kurowska & Tallis, 2013) that seeks to put academic sophistication in the service of producing “useful knowledge” (Friedrichs & Kratochwil, 2009).

Research Sites (I): Free Like Schengen?

The apparent removal of borders in the Schengen zone may actually restrict some of the very freedoms that it claims to promote (Bigo, 2002; Walters, 2002). A growing body of academic research points to the tension at the heart of Schengenland which, while it has facilitated freer movement for many people, has also created what, in effect are “trans-European networks of control” (Walters, 2006). If border functions can now potentially take place at any point on road or rail networks, in towns, cities and at the airports that serve them, this suggests that internal, de-territorialised borders now run throughout the Schengen zone. The activities of mobile Customs units attempting to detect contraband or drugs, roving Border Guard teams trying to interdict ‘illegals’ and the urban actions of Police and other public and private agents are indicative of such analyses (e.g. Walters, 2006). However, what is equally clear is that millions of people enjoy the benefits of the freer movement that Schengen and are willing to agree to security measure claimed to facilitate this movement. It is the relationship between the securities and mobilities of the various groups and people who (attempt to) traverse the Schengen zone that this project seeks to understand (Guild, 2009; Cresswell, 2010). Therefore, as the functions that were traditionally located at the nation-state border are distributed to various agencies in many locations, it is now necessary to hunt the border in the ‘borderless’ zone.

Research Sites (II): Final Frontier of Fortress Europe?

The accession to the EU of ten Central and East European (CEE) states pushed its formal, territorial border Southward and Eastward, drawing a new curtain through the Postcommunist world. While ‘Eastern’ enlargement has formally ‘included’ some people(s) in the officially sanctioned category of ‘EUropeanness’, this has also meant excluding others who have been deemed unworthy of membership and effectively declared to be ‘non-EUropean’ (on the EU’s terms). This questions the interplay of desire and denial in relation to hierarchical delineations of belonging, which are contested by, yet operate through, particular identities and political subjectivities (Kuus, 2004; Zaoitti, 2007; Jeandesboz, 2007; Jansen, 2009). In contrast to the seemingly relaxed, yet opaque situation in the Schengen zone, the clearly demarcated external frontier is a closely guarded ‘hard’ border with tight controls, extensive physical barriers and camps for detaining ‘illegals’, all designed to filter the authorised wheat from the undesirable chaff (Newman, 2006). The architectures and practices of border control at this frontier also tell us much about EU border making, which remains as much about facilitating certain kinds of mobility as well as preventing others in the name of security (CASE, 2006; Green, 2009). This project thus looks to examine the complex relation between the EU (including agencies such as FRONTEX) and the newer Schengen member states responsible for maintaining the EU’s territorial frontier. This inquiry looks at and for the logics and understandings that underpin the negotiation of security and mobility and how these play out in policy and practice as well as how they are experienced by people ‘inside’, ‘outside’ and in the penumbra of the EU and the Schengen zone.

Research Sites (III): Inside the Outside?

In the context of the foreseeable end to enlargement, and conscious of the ramifications of this new insider-outsider topography, the EU developed the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and, subsequently the Eastern Partnership (EaP) to ameliorate the divisive and disruptive effects of this new curtain, with the Union’s interests couched in the language of partnership and technical assistance (EUBAM, 2006; Chandler, 2006). Such developments are seen to impact on belonging and subjectivity, with particular identities fostered (through bordering), to the detriment of Other ways of being and becoming, which remain unrecognised as ‘European’ or ‘EUropean’ (Chandler, 2006; Kuus, 2004). As well as exporting border policy and practice, ENP (and EaP) also physically dislocate the border through visa regimes and readmission agreements, which put the policing burden on agencies in (e.g.) Ukraine who increasingly use profiling, risk modelling, databasing and analytical software exported by the EU. This research thus looks to investigate the ways in which EU border policy and practice have been dislocated by being exported to the neighbourhood and the relations that this creates between the Europeans and ‘EUropeans’

Research Contribution

This research project extends previous analyses of Schengen (e.g. Walters, 2006) to newer EU members and considers the de-territorialised bordering within Schengen and the neighbourhood as part of a border continuum that also includes the territorial frontier and the EaP. Treating the three research sites as part of a single (yet complex) border regime rather than as separate borders (or not seeing them as borders at all) links the EU’s internal and external bordering policy and practices, allowing for a newly comprehensive examination of contemporary EU bordering in CEE. Taking insights from different academic disciplines, this project re-imagines how and where borders are made and, ultimately ‘what’ and ‘how’ they are, yet remains ‘regionally particular’.

In order to deal with the complexity of multi-sited, extra-territorial bordering, this research project analyses EU border policy and practice through 3 facets of a specially designed ‘border prism’: (1) Socio-Political – how the conflicting or complementary needs of security and mobility are managed and how this gives rise to and/or depends on certain modes of power and the production of certain subjectivities; (2) Spatial – where and how borders are made as well as how these places are known and experienced; (3) Temporal – how history, collective memory and ideas of ‘progress’ particularly in relation to ‘transition’ and ‘Europeanness’ shape the border regime. The combination of these aspects of borders allows for consideration of the ‘Borderscape’ (Perrera, 2007) – the zone of practice and experience in which delocalised, fragmented borders are created and contested – and what this means for contemporary Europeans and the societies they live in. This project ‘operationalises’ the notion of the Borderscape through the ‘mobilisation’ of Michel Foucault’s (1980:194, cited in Bigo, 2007) ‘Dispositif of Security to create a Security-Mobility Dispositif comprising Data, Discourses, Practices, Expectations & Experiences, Architectures & Spaces, and Laws. The dispositif provides the framework for flexible, interpretive gathering of ‘data’ which can then be analysed through the aforementioned border prism. The project claims that notions of security and mobility remain crucial to extra-territorial borders, allowing for empirical research to be conducted at sites of their intersection. Furthermore, the project sees that socio-spatio-temporal analysis of the various facets of security-mobility can illuminate the CEE borderscape and enhance understanding of its contingencies and consequences.

Main Research Question

 How and where does the EU make its borders; why does it do so in the way(s) and locations that it does; how is it able to do so; and how does this relate to security, mobility, subjectivity and governance in the EU and its Eastern Neighbourhood?

 Sub Research Questions: Breaking Down Borders

  • Which actors are involved in EU bordermaking in CEE and how do they experience these processes and relations?
  • What relations of security-mobility exist between the various elements of the security-mobility dispositif with regard to EU bordering in CEE
  • What socio-political relations underpin and emerge from EU bordermaking in CEE, with particular regard to security and mobility
  • Where do EU borderings take place and what spatialities are involved in and emerge from the processes of bordering in CEE?
  • What are temporalities underpin and emerge from EU bordering in CEE and how do they relate to the socio-spatialities of EU bordering?


Research Methods: Interpretive Geopolitical Ethnography

Taking a multi-sited approach, this project aims to more comprehensively understand how the EU makes its borders, why it does so in the way it does, and what the consequences of this are. It examines the genesis, implementation and impact of the EU’s border policy and practice: internally in a newer Schengen state (Czech Republic), at the frontier between Poland and Ukraine (part of the territorial edge of Schengen and the EU) and externally with Ukraine in the context of ENP and EaP.

In order to investigate the broad questions posed by the literature review/ theoretical component of this research, the fieldwork component of this project focuses on the discourses, practices, and experiences of policy makers, border professionals and moving (and dwelling) people. In addition to deskwork and textwork (reading, analysing and interpreting) documents, the project uses the following fieldwork methods, which align it to interpretive methodology (Schwartz-Shea & Yanow, 2012).

–       Interviews with border users, practitioners and policymakers, as well as with NGOs and other organisations working with migrants or on border issues (broadly defined) in CZ, PL and UA.

–       (Participant) Observation of border practices, processes, places, practitioners and users in each case study location. Facilitated through contacts in International Organisations (for PL-UA and UA case studies) and with NGOs (CZ).

–       Representational Elicitation: Use of photographs, documentary and feature films, literature and reportage of borders and border crossings to facilitate broader and deeper responses from interviewees.

–       Photography: to complement other methods to examine and convey the portrayal, experience and materialisation of contemporary European border making and usage


Indicative Bibliography

Bigo, Didier (2002) “Security and Immigration: Toward a Critique of the Governmentality of Unease”, Alternatives, 27, Special Issue, pp.63-92

Bigo, Didier (2007), ‘Detention of Foreigners, States of Exception, and the Social Practices of Control of the Banopticon’, in Rajaram, Prem Kumar & Carl Grundy-Warr (2007), Borderscapes: Hidden Geographies and Politics at Territories Edge, pp. 3-34.

C.A.S.E Collective (2007), Critical Approaches to Security in Europe: A Networked Manifesto, Security Dialogue 37(4): 443- 487

Chandler, David (2006), Empire in Denial: The Politics of State Building, Pluto Press, London

Cresswell, Tim (2010), ‘Towards a Politics of Mobility, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28: 17-31

EUBAM (2006), Annual Report 2005/06, European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine, Odessa (UA)

Friedrichs, Joerg & Kratochwil, Friedrich (2009), ‘On Acting and Knowing: How Pragmatism Can Advance International Relations Research Methodology’ International Organisation, 63: 701-31

Green, Sarah (2009), ‘Lines, Traces and Tidemarks: Reflections on Forms of Boderli-ness, Eastbordnet Working Paper, []

Guild, Elspeth (2009), Security and Migration in the 21st Century, Cambridge: Polity 

Jansen, Stef (2009), ‘After the red passport: towards an anthropology of the everyday geopolitics of entrapment in the EU’s ‘immediate outside’’, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 15: 815-832.

Jeandesboz, Julien (2007), ‘The genesis of the European neighbourhood policy: alternative narratives, bureaucratic competitions’, mimeo

Kurowska, Xymena & Tallis, Benjamin (2009), ‘EUBAM: Beyond border monitoring?’ European Foreign Affairs Review: 14 (1): 47-64  

Kurowska, Xymena & Tallis, Benjamin (2013), ‘Chiasmatic Crossings: A Reflexive Revisit to an Encounter in European Security Research’, Security Dialogue, (44): 73-89

Kuus, Merje (2004) ‘Europe’s eastern expansion and the re-inscription of otherness in east-central Europe’, Progress in Human Geography 28(4):472–489

Lapid, Yosef (2001), ‘Introduction. Identities, Borders, Orders: Nudging International Relations Theory in a New Direction’ in Albert, Matthias, David Jacobson & Yosif Lapid (eds), Identity, Borders, Orders: Rethinking International Relations Theory, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Perera, Suvendrini (2007), ‘A Pacific Zone? (In)Security, Sovereignty and Stories of the Pacific Borderscape’, in Rajaram, Prem Kumar & Carl Grundy-Warr (2007), Borderscapes: Hidden Geographies and Politics at Territories Edge, pp. 201-227

Schwartz-Shea, Peregrine & Yanow, Dara (2012), Interpretive Research Design: Concepts and Processes, London: Routledge

Vaughan-Williams, Nick (2007), ‘The Shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes: New Border Politics?’ Alternatives 32: 177–195

Walters, William (2002a), ‘Mapping Schengenland: Denaturalizing the border’ Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 20: 561-580

Walters, William (2006), ‘Border/Control’, European Journal of Social Theory 2006; 9; 187-

Zaiotti, Ruben (2007) ‘Of Friends and Fences: Europe’s Neighbourhood Policy and the ‘Gated Community Syndrome’’, Journal of European Integration, 29:2, 143 – 162


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