Roundtable - Invited Status Awarded
Invited by: Middle East Section
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists, Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students, Those Involved in Mentoring Activities
Primary Theme: Borders
Secondary Theme: The Political
This roundtable aims to address methodological, and conceptual difficulties that surround and shape anthropological work on borders and their states as well as to identify and discuss the ways in which we might be able to redefine the border in the anthropological imagination as well as the practice of fieldwork itself on and through borderlands and with borderland peoples. While the focus will be on the contemporary moment, we hope that our roundtable’s generationally and regionally diverse group of anthropologists might offer a historical perspective on these issues as well.
The border, both as a political project and an infrastructural reality, has enjoyed renewed attention across a variety of disciplines from anthropology and history, to political theory, sociology and geography. Recent scholarship on transimperial as well as transnational subjects on the move bring material practice, social history, political economy, and cultural politics together to illuminate the production of social spaces that neither fit neatly within local or national containers, nor are exhausted as instantiations of “the global.” In some cases, scholarly uses of the border as a methodological tool have attempted to open up the geographical and social coordinates of border formations in response to nationalist framings of territory and culture. These “progressive” approaches to borders, and the attendant spatial production of territories more broadly, have dovetailed with the increasing centrality of borders within new forms of geopolitics and processes of capital accumulation. In the meantime, heightened nationalist anxieties over mobile populations in search of refuge, asylum or more viable socio-economic prospects for livelihood, continue to be harnessed by populist politicians across a variety of locales in the world, whereby the border emerges at once as a historically specific form of politico-spatial organization, a central object of contemporary political deliberation, and a key technology of modern statecraft.
What distinguishes the current scholarly fascination with borders from earlier accounts? What has given the idea of the border new traction? What is it contrasted with, and what kinds of political, social and cultural projects does it underwrite? Through what processes is a border-space materialized? This roundtable aims to address these questions by examining the border, not as a pre-given scale of social life, but rather as a product of both “expert” classification and "lay" social and spatial practice. We will inquire what analytical purchase the idea of the border has had in its recent scholarly and material proliferation across the globe, what scholars are responding to by elevating the border analytically and/or methodologically, and what spatial practices they showcase as constitutive of state and region formation.