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.

Edward Boyle’s report on the Political Geography Speciality Group pre-conference at Harvard University (4 April 2017) and the AAG’s Annual Conference in Boston (5-9 April 2017)

The Annual Conference of the Association of American Geographers was held this year in Boston, and for the 30th year was preceded by a pre-conference organized by the Political Geography Speciality Group of the AAG, this year held in the hallowed halls of Harvard University. The latter event has expanded substantially in recent years, a fact rather lamented by many of those participants who had long attended, but one that certainly testifies to the perceived importance of the political in geography and its wider resonance at present. The expansion in the platform provided in this preconference is down to the hard work of Natalie Koch (Syracuse University) and Kenneth Madsen (Ohio State University), who also found occasion to distribute cake and supply fantastic 80s sunglasses to the participants, contributing greatly to the friendly atmosphere generated at what remains a collegial event.

Edward Boyle’s paper, “Border Layers: peeling back the India-Bangladesh border”, appeared in Session V on ‘Borders’, chaired by Reece Jones and consisting of five papers. Mia Bennett’s (UCLA) look at infrastructural nationalism in Russia zoomed in on infrastructure being planned and constructed around Yakutsk, capital of the vast Sakha Republic in Siberia. Beautifully mapped and illustrated with the presenter’s photos, the talk sought to bring out the role of nationalism within infrastructural development occurring in Russia’s remote East, while emphasizing the contradictory results of Crimean annexation, which have seen an upsurge in nationalism together with a decline in an ability to fund the nation’s crumbling infrastructure in other parts of the country. Edward Boyle’s paper was also decorated by photos taken at the India-Bangladesh border, and sought to illustrate how the spectral presence of the borderline is recreated at the various scales in which this border functions, or is made operable. Rather than seeing the border as existing differently at different scales, the presentation sought to go back to this line as providing the ontological foundations for broader discourses invoking this national border. Galen Murton’s (University of Colorado, Boulder) look at Chinese hydropower investment in Nepal similarly focused attention on the different scales at which the same border appeared to exist, while Peter Wood’s (Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais) look at interventions on the Brazilian border also emphasized the transnational existence of the national border across a variety of issues. Finally, Jasnea Sarma (National University of Singapore) and Evan Centanni’s (Political Geography Now) effort to map the shatter-zone of the China-Myanmar borderland sought to provide a more accurate picture of an area of unchecked insurgencies and investment at China’s edge.

The growth of the event meant an increase in overlapping sessions and therefore a greater number of hard choices to be made regarding what else to take in, but excellent presentations abounded. The post-event dinner provided a great way to further interact with those similarly engaged with questions of space and power, and discussions continued long into the night.

The following day saw the opening of the annual conference of the American Association of Geographers in Boston, with Edward Boyle part of the session organized by Sarah Salazar Hughes (UCLA) and Josh Watkins (UC Davis) on “(Extra)territoriality: re-examining territorial control within and beyond state borders”. Opening somewhat brutally at 8am on the first day of the conference, this first section of the session looked at ‘Occupation, disputed territory and geopolitics’ and consisted of a set of papers digging in to questions of the new materiality of territories and how they should be bound. Johanne Bruun’s (Durham University) polished paper looked at the manner in which the dynamic environment of the Greenland ice sheet was constructed as a fixed territory of military operations under the aegis of the 1955 US scientific expedition in the context of the Cold War, extending the notion of territory down to the molecular level. The presentation by Klaus Dodds (Royal Holloway) and Chih Yuan Woon (National University of Singapore) offered the opening stages of their new project on China’s dredging up territory in the South China Sea, with the different territorial conceptions and contestations between them coming into focus as a new geopolitics. Christine Carolan (University of Oregan) looked at the transfer of Lough Neagh our of private ownership to one owned by the community as being celebrated by Sinn Fein as a ‘winning’ of territory in the context of continued contestation over Northern Ireland’s political destiny. Edward Boyle’s “Inaccessible yet integral territory: Japan’s territorial disputes and their sovereign implications” also offered glimpses of a project at an early stage, which sought to analyse the implications for notions of territory that stemmed from Japan’s recent prosecution of its island disputes. Sara Hughes’ examination of territorial control in the West Bank similarly spoke to the reconfiguration of territory as ‘unbound’ in the context of the Israeli occupation.

Moderated again by the long-suffering Reece Jones, the panel offered an excellent introduction to the session, which was followed by two more sections examining ‘Migration, refugees, and securitization’ and ‘tourism and other industry, zones of encounter, and the role of the state’ in turn. Particular highlights from here included Kira Williams’ fascinating application of Elden’s notion of imperio to search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, pointing to how, far from being excluded from the legal order in the manner suggested by Agamben, a process of legal inclusion was necessary for their subsequent exclusion from limits of the state, and Francis Collins’ examination of the bureaucratic encounters by migrants as indicating the spaces within which contemporary citizenship is made. As a whole, the session offered a particularly effective examination of shifting territorial practices within the modern world, a fact which reflected the hard work of the two organizers in putting the session together. In particular, efforts to examine the fluidity of territorial notions and their reflection through patterns of movement dovetailed with the timely and necessary concern of the AAG as a whole with questions of migration and its current political mobilization in Europe, the United States, and beyond.

Serghei Golunov’s report on the panel “Cross-Border Networks and Cooperation I: Europe, Euroscepticism, and Russia” (Annual Conference of the Association for Borderlands Studies, San Francisco, April 12-15, 2017)

The panel took place on April 15. There were three presentations: “Russian cross-border cooperation: In search of an efficient model” by Serghei Golunov, “Alternatives to border walls” by Katarzyna Stoklosa and Gerhard Besier, and “EU, Russia and the changing neighborhood” by Joni Virkkunen. The panel was moderated by Christophe Sohn (Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research).

Serghei Golunov’s presentation was devoted to analyzing development of post-Soviet Russia’s cross-border cooperation policy. The presenter didn’t find this development particularly successful, as Moscow is reluctant to give regional governments enough powers to cooperate with neighbors being afraid of regional separatism and misusing these powers for customs and tax fraud. Russia rejected any real cross-border regionalization promoted by the EU while adopting its experience of joint funding for cross-border infrastructural and other projects. Small powers of regional governments at Russia-Belarus and Russia-Kazakhstan borderlands makes these governments capable largely just to lobby their regions’ and large enterprises’ interests in Moscow and before foreign partners. The important difference between Russia-Belarus and Russia-Kazakhstan cases is that cross-border cooperation discourse is not promoted by central governments in the first case and not promoted in the second case. Some elements of the Chinese cross-border cooperation models are valued in Russia: though Moscow is reluctant to empower selected regional governments, it tries to establish special economic zones and free ports in Far Eastern regions. However, it is unclear if these zones can become efficient.

Katarzhina Stoklosa’s (University of Southern Denmark) and Gerhard Beiser’s (Sigmund Neumann Institute) presentation reported interim results of an ongoing project. The main question to be dealt with is whether a working alternative way to erecting border barrier do exist, taking into account the ongoing refugee crisis. Walls are understood both physically and metaphorically. Speaking about the metaphorical dimension, it is important that barriers for immigrants’ integration into European societies are still high, and, in particular, that immigrants and their descendants rarely reach the level of political elites.

Joni Virkkunen (University of Eastern Finland) largely focused on clashing Russian and the EU’s influences in the post-Soviet space. While the EU, slowly reacting to emergent challenges, tries to find its foreign policy identity and advocates normative approach to human rights, Russia tries to restore its influence in the post-Soviet space and strengthens its normative power more tolerable to authoritarianism and human rights abuses. The Eurasian integration project potentially can be combined with the Greater Eurasia project with Chinese participation. While Ukraine and Moldova can be considered to be contested neighborhood, Russia prevails in Central Asia. The EU’s positions are weaker and it tries not to irritate authoritarian regimes and to cooperate with respective countries in areas of common interests, such as energy, development, trade, and border management. The presenter asks whether emphasizing these priorities and turning a blind eye to human rights violations undermines the EU’s ideological principles and identity.

Public Lecture at the University of Auckland (29 March 2017)

Professor Akihiro Iwashita gave a talk at the School of Social Sciences at the University of Auckland in New Zealand on 29 March, as part of this Center’s mission to promote border studies research in the Asia-Pacific region. The talk was entitled “Japan’s geopolitics from the perspective of border studies: Challenges and prospects”, and following a brief explanation of some fundamental concepts for the study of borders, sought to analyse the various problems that Japan currently faces from the perspective of the changing situation in the Northeast Asian region. The talk also sought to point to the opportunities available for joint research to be conducted across the boundaries existing between other maritime regions, like Oceania, and the prospects for such studies being undertaken with New Zealand. 

Despite the talk’s contents being sufficiently explosive to set off the university’s fire alarm, necessitating a brief break in proceedings, the audience all returned to engage with the speaker in a spirited debate. The talk provided an opportunity for Professor Iwashita to sum up the results of the JSPS Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research project that he led on reshaping research on international relations through border studies, which concluded recently. Our Center looks forward to working with the University of Auckland on this agenda in the future as well.

Edward Boyle’s paper at the 6th International Symposium on the History of Cartography

The 6th International Symposium on the History of Cartography was held at the Center for Advanced Academic Studies in the city of Dubrovnik, nestled magnificently against the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, from 13-15 October 2016. KUBS’s Edward Boyle gave a paper in the Second Session of the opening day on Territory, Sovereignty and Borderlands, entitled “Cartographic exchange and territorial creation: rewriting northern Japan in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”.

A report on the paper and the conference as a whole is available HERE.

Report on Edward Boyle’s paper at the ABS Europe Conference

On October 4-7, the Association for Borderlands Studies held the second of its biennial European Conferences at the University of Luxembourg, on the theme of Differences and Discontinuities in a “Europe without Borders”. KUBS’s Edward Boyle gave a paper that examined “Mobility and borders at scale: Georgia between European and non-European space”. 

A report on the paper and conference as a whole is available HERE.

Serghei Golunov’s PONARS Eurasia presentation

On 24 September 2016, KUBS team member Serghei Golunov gave a paper at a panel on “Russia’s Foreign Relations”. The panel was part of the PONARS Eurasia Policy Conference 2016, held at George Washington University (Washington, D.C., USA).

 Serghei Golunov’s presentation on “Russia’s Cross-border Cooperation with Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and North Korea: China as a Third Force” was focused on conceptualizing China’s influence on Russia’s cross-border cooperation with its other Asian neighbours. This influence was characterized as ambivalent. On the one hand, the Chinese contribution empowers many cross-border cooperation projects: transportation corridors connecting Eastern Asia with Europe via Russian and its neighbors’ territories are hardly possible without China, economically weak Mongolian and Russian regions would be deprived of an important driver of cooperation between them, and sustainable development projects in tripoint areas would not function efficiently. On the other hand, Chinese economic influence in some of the relevant borderland regions (such as Aktobe province of Kazakhstan) is so strong that it may effectively weaken Russia’s cross-border cooperation with its neighbors. Also, Chinese leadership in transborder transportation projects can lead to clashes among other participants, and this too could potentially be a development able to be used in Beijing’s interests. Serghei Golunov concluded that neither the ‘cooperative’ nor ‘disruptive’ facets of China’s influence on Russia’s cross-border cooperation with Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and North Korea will come to prevail in the foreseeable future.

Report on our panel at the International Geographical Congress

The 33rd International Geographical Congress was held in Beijing, China, from August 21-25, 2016. A session had been convened by Akihiro Iwashita and Serghei Golunov for the congress. Unfortunately, Professor Iwashita was ultimately unable to attend, which meant that responsibility fell for convening and chairing the panel “The Eurasian Pacific – Geopolitical Moments and Unfulfilled Promise” fell entirely upon Serghei. The panel was held in the afternoon of August 23, and attracted a sizable audience.

A report on the panel is available from HERE.



Report on the IPSA Panel, July 28 2016

The 24th IPSA/AISP World Congress of Political Science was held in Poznan, Poland from July 23-28. The decision had been taken to hold it there rather than in Istanbul some months before, which proved propitious given events in Turkey in mid-July.

The panel, involving three KUBS members, sought to examine the issues involved in “Globalizing border studies and Asian borders:- Recognizing conceptual differentiation”.

The report on the panel is available HERE.