Edward Boyle’s report on the Association for Borderlands Studies annual meeting

San Francisco provided a wonderful backdrop to this year’s Western Social Science Association conference, under the umbrella of which the ABS annual meeting took place on April 12-15, 2017. The conference appeared better-attended than the previous year’s at Reno, although still did suffer from a number of panels that lacked a quorum of presenters able to make them worthwhile.

KUBS’s Edward Boyle was involved in two particular panels at the conference. The first was as part of the ongoing Borders in Globalization initiative, headed up by Victor Konrad (Carlton University) and Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly (University of Victoria) and involving over twenty partner institutions around the world. The project involves the production of a number of country case studies on borders around the world, and the meeting provided a forum for a number of these case study authors to outline the borders they would be dealing with and the challenges of writing to the template provided by the project. The first panel in this series consisted of Japan’s border paired with those of Mexico, presented by Tony Payan, and provided the audience with an opportunity to understand the parameters within which the project would occur. As it happened, both presenters took the opportunity to delve a little deeper into the historical backgrounds of the borders of their respective countries, providing some historical depth to a border studies that occasionally feels far too presentist in orientation.

This work dovetailed nicely with a second panel proposed by Edward Boyle on ‘Creasing the map – borders and migration in the Asia-Pacific’, which sought to examine the functioning of borders in the Asia-Pacific in the light of two decades of studying borders that have clarified that the representation of borders as lines on the land provides a poor map to how borders function in practice. It was argued that the contrast drawn between the static borderline and mobile migrant works to conceal mobile practices of border enforcement and the way they come into contact with the ‘surfeit of arrows’ that represent the movements of migrants. The aim was to represent both borders and movement on the same conceptual map, and thus contribute to a new cartography of the states of the Asia-Pacific and the region as a whole. This was particularly apparent in Josh Watkins’ (UC Davis) examination of the outsourcing of Australian border security to ‘maintain’ potential migrants in home or third countries through the provision of minimal sustenance as aid, a process which has effectively pushed Australia’s border enforcement strategy out beyond the region over the last thirty years.

This goal, however, proved a rather ambitious one for the presentation on “Island Borderlines: Mapping points of enforcement in the Japanese Archipelago”, which focused its attention on the contrast between the static borders coming to be represented on maritime spaces when indicating the state of the nation, and the fluid territories undulating beneath them. Its attention to the outer limits, the skin of the national body, though, served to provide an excellent engagement with the ideas that the panel’s commentator, Franck Billé (UC Berkeley), had set out in his panel on ‘Skinworlds’ the previous day, speaking to both his concern with the state’s corporality and Paul Richardson’s look at the sovereign hyperreal. There were clear indications here of a future research direction.