skip to primary navigationskip to content

Theorising borders in an era of globalisation and securitisation

25th November 2015

Theorising borders in an era of globalisation and securitisation

Professor David Newman, Ben-Gurion University, Israel

Ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and we were celebrating the end of borders as barriers. Ten years later, eight years after the events of 9/11, and we were bemoaning the return of Walls and Fences in a world which has become caught up with the discourse of securitization and the threat which is perceived as emanating from anything and anyone which crosses the border from the unknown “there” to the more familiar “here”. And as we approach the twenty-fifth anniversary, we find ourselves in a world which is rapidly reconstructing fences and borders in response to global terror and mass refugee migration. The study of borders during the past two decades has witnessed a renaissance on the one hand, while having to negotiate its way between two parallel, but contrasting, border discourses – namely the opening of borders brought on by globalization, and the closing and re-sealing of borders brought on by securitization. The study of borders has focused mainly on individual case studies, highlighting either the positive experience of crossing borders which have been opened and the discovery of what lies on the “other” side, or the hardship which is impacted by the construction of new walls and fences, thus making it more difficult to reach across and move beyond the rigidly compartmentalized spaces or territories of the home group. These parallel discourses raise critical questions of power relations. Who determines the nature of the border and who defines the management and control procedures which take place at the border? Ethical issues concerning the treatment of people attempting to cross the border, especially those lacking the necessary “crossing” documents contrast greatly with principles of human rights expressed by the same power elites, at least in their public statements. The relocation of borders away from the territorial edges of the State to locations in the core of the homeland territory, notably airport checking procedures, demonstrates the importance of power, rather than location. Even the demarcation and delimitation of borders – a process which is as much social, cultural and vertical as it is spatial – is determined by the same power elites for whom the opening of borders is convenient for the implementation of economic policies, and the closing of borders is convenient for securitization, playing into public discourses which tend to prefer the notion of securitization and safety at home over and beyond all other discourses of human rights, global economies and the wider public good. This paper will attempt to outline the major questions facing both border scholars and practitioners in the coming decade, as the parallel narratives will compete with each other for hegemony in the determination of public policy. Who will determine the characteristics of our future borders? Will they be visible or invisible borders, and will they create a sense of safety or, alternately, a new sense of fear and threat from the “other”, due to a new invisibility? What new narratives, if any, will emerge to contest the existing hegemonic discourse, and will our world look more or less compartmentalized as we move into an era in which globalization is taken for granted, but equally the socially constructed sense of threat has returned to dominate the discourses of homeland security.

Professor David Newman is Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and holds the Professorial Chair in Geopolitics at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev. Editor of the journal Geopolitics until 2014, Prof Newman’s research focusses on territorial dimensions of ethnic and national conflict, and the functions and significances of borders, with a regional focus on Israel / Palestine and the Middle East.

Co-hosted by The Martin Centre for Architectural and Urban Studies and CGHR