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Moving Borders

Thomas Nail, Denver


In order to manage and control this rising global mobility, the world is becoming ever more bordered. In just the past 20 years, but particularly since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 on the US, and more recently the war in Syria, hundreds of new borders have emerged around the world: miles of new razor-wire fences and concrete security walls, numerous offshore detention centers, biometric passport databases, and security checkpoints in schools, airports and along various roadways across the world. All make manifest what has always been the true strategy of global capitalism and colonialism: to steal the world’s wealth and lock out the poor. “Europe has invaded all peoples; all peoples are coming to Europe in their turn” as Bruno Latour writes.  The recent rise in right wing nationalism, xenophobia, and climate denial in the West is a reaction to migration and climate change. Borders are the weapons being used to wage a war against the rest of the world. In this paper I would like to argue two correctives to two common ideas about how borders work: 1) Borders are static or geographically fixed 2) Borders keep people out. The theses of this paper are the opposite of these assumptions: 1) Borders are in motion, 2) Their main function is not to stop movement but to circulate it; 3) Borders are tools of primitive accumulation. I think these have major implications re-theorizing borders as I have tried to show in Theory of the Border.

Transgressions. A Figurational Epistemology of Border Crossing in Early US-Cultural Anthropology

Silvy Chakkalakal, Berlin


Between the 1910s and the 1940s, Cultural Anthropology in the United States—and Boasian anthropology in particular—appeared as a collaborative field connected to a social milieu of writers, musicians, filmmakers, dancers, and scholars from a variety of disciplines. It was the cultural relativists of the time who debated constantly the b/orders between art and anthropology, between text and film/photography, between different genders and sexualities. Here, transgression itself – as the moment of crossing as well as of marking a boundary – can be sketched out as a core concept of cultural relativism. What can we regard as the relational element in early cultural relativist’s theory making? How can we approach relativity and the motif of transgression as encompassing categories, traversing different social fields from the making of the discipline of cultural anthropology to the fields of art, literature, immigration politics as well as popular culture? By means of a thick figurational description of the motif of trance in Maya Deren’s filmic work, Mead and Bateson’s picture-ethnography Balinese Character (1942), Zora Neale Hurston’s ethnographic, filmic and literary works, and examples from the field of popular culture, I will show how transgression, relativity, and (re)valuating difference relate to each other within – and can be made fruitful for – cultural theory.

Creole Exceptionalism as the Outcome of Bordering and Othering

Salikoko S. Mufwene, Chicago


Genetic creolistics was born in the late 19th century, when the French justified exploitation colonization with “la mission civilisatrice” and the British with “the White man’s burden.” The European colonizers then claimed that the cultures and languages of the populations they colonized were inferior to their own. Genetic linguistics was wedded to the uniparental Stammbaum-style representation of genealogical relations among languages of the same family. Languages were analogized to biological organisms rather than to species; and they were supposed to be homogeneous, with influences from other languages treated as contaminations and of marginal consequence. Creoles were then discovered in plantation settlement colonies and categorized as “mixed languages.” Instead of treating them as challenges to the received doctrine in genetic linguistics, it was convenient to treat them as “bastard languages.” Hugo Schuchardt and Louis Hjelmslev were exceptional in arguing that these new vernaculars were a call to re-examine the role of language contact in the speciation of the Indo-European languages themselves. Creoles were considered exceptional because the non-European populations that produced them were putatively inferior mentally and anatomically. Accordingly, these new vernaculars must have resulted from the corruption of the European languages by the “less evolved features” of the heritage languages of their speakers. Thus, it was unnecessary to revise the ways in which the Indo-European languages can be accounted for naturally. Power (in various forms) has evidently played an important role in the subordination of non-European populations, their cultures, and their languages. However, we now know more about the role of language contact as actuator of structural changes and language speciation. We also have more detailed knowledge of the relevant histories of population movements, language contacts, and the ensuing linguistic changes. We can question and redress the particular ways in which particular speakers and their languages have been “othered” and “exceptionalized.” The answer lies in a uniformitarian ecological approach that shows how the emergence of creoles is prompting us loud and clear to reopen the books on the spread and speciation of Indo-European, Bantu, and other language families.

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