Understanding Life in the Borderlands: Boundaries in Depth and in Motion

Understanding Life in the Borderlands: Boundaries in Depth and in Motion

Understanding Life in the Borderlands: Boundaries in Depth and in Motion

Understanding Life in the Borderlands: Boundaries in Depth and in Motion

Synopsis

The past two decades have seen an intense, interdisciplinary interest in the border areas between states--inhabited territories located on the margins of a power center or between power centers. This timely and highly original collection of essays edited by noted scholar I. William Zartman is an attempt "to begin to understand both these areas and the interactions that occur within and across them"--that is, to understand how borders affect the groups living along them and the nature of the land and people abutting on and divided by boundaries.

These essays highlight three defining features of border areas: borderlanders constitute an experiential and culturally identifiable unit; borderlands are characterized by constant movement (in time, space, and activity); and in their mobility, borderlands always prepare for the next move at the same time that they respond to the last one. The ten case studies presented range over four millennia and provide windows for observing the dynamics of life in borderlands. They also have policy relevance, especially in creating an awareness of borderlands as dynamic social spheres and of the need to anticipate the changes that given policies will engender--changes that will in turn require their own solutions. Contrary to what one would expect in this age of globalization, says Zartman, borderlands maintain their own dynamics and identities and indeed spread beyond the fringes of the border and reach deep into the hinterland itself.

Excerpt

Borders run across land but through people. On maps they appear as fine one- dimensional lines, whereas on the ground they have many dimensions. Borderlands are boundaries in depth, space around a line, the place where state meets society, and “where no one ever feels at home” (Simon 1997). They are a terra de pas (footlands or steplands) to Catalonians and “the third country” to Mexican Americans. in human terms, it is impossible to understand borders, and indeed the peripheral relations between the states and societies they contain—without understanding how it is to live along them. the core of that understanding, as this work shows, is found in a recognition of the distinct identity and dynamics of borderland communities and the realization that any measures to deal with specific current dynamics contain within themselves the seeds of new dynamic problems.

The various academic definitions (since academics rarely stick to one definition) all stress the effect that borders have on our lives. Borderlands are “subnational areas whose economic and social life is directly and significantly affected by proximity to an international boundary” (Hansen 1981) or, more extensively, “zones of varying widths, in which people have recognizable configurations of relationships to people inside that zone, on both sides of the borderline but within the cultural landscape of the borderlands, and, as people of the border, special relationships with other people and institutions in their respective nations and states” (Donnan and Wilson 1994, 8). This collection of case studies is an attempt to begin to understand both these areas and the interactions that occur within and across them. It is an attempt to understand how borders affect the groups living near them.

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