KUBS

Overview

Kyushu University Border Studies (KUBS) is an ambitious inter-disciplinary research unit that will respond to the contemporary challenges for borders, both materially and conceptually.

KUBS will seek to:

  • Comprehend how borders are affected by forces associated with globalization, including the increasing flows of people and goods, effects of technology, state concerns over security, and shared environmental and political challenges.
  • Draw together hitherto dispersed research from Japan and further afield on borders, particularly related to the Asia-Pacific region in which Japanese scholars have a long-standing and internationally-recognized expertise, and develop a network of scholars engaged with such concerns.
  • Develop the field of border studies in Japan and promote its introduction as a field of academic study in its own right
  • Produce policy-relevant knowledge and establish exchanges between academia and policy-makers.

Border Studies
The notion of Border Studies refers to the examination of the constitution of those divisions that exist within the social fabric at a variety of scales. Perhaps the majority of these, and often the most salient, are those that exist between different states, those territorial and mental manifestations of the points at which two state systems run up against one another. Indeed, the modern field is generally considered to have had its origins in a boundary studies that resulted from the mass emergence of new nation-states in the 1960s and 1970s, while from the middle of the latter decade the efforts of political geography to adopt a more scientific approach reverberated widely. By the end of the twentieth century there had begun to emerge a recognizable border studies community, incorporating geographers, political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, ethnologists, lawyers, economists, and even experts in the technical sciences.

The increasing diversity of the field led to increasing geographical diversity, with the attention of recognized clusters within the field expanding beyond original concerns with the US/Mexican border or post-Soviet borders within Europe. This extension of geographical reach was matched by the greater attention being paid to the field’s theoretical foundations. Borders came to be understand as not merely the products of sovereign or juridical decisions within and between sovereign states, but a concept with a wider meaning and relevance. This partially stemmed from the ‘cultural turn’ and the increasing attention being paid to non-material, non-positivist approaches, but was also influenced by wider debates over the bias introduced by methodological nationalism, as well as a general desire to both ‘bring the state back in’ as an object of study, rather than taking its claims for granted, and overcome the strict ‘inside/outside’ distinction utilized when discussing the state.

Consequently, a more expansive understanding of the border in border studies has developed. This concept of borders refers to both divisions in the space within which humanity lives, irrespective of whether they ‘actually-exist’ or are ‘socially-constructed’, and the differences that humans create or emphasize within their own social or spatial cognition (the distinctions between self and other). Border studies seeks to clarify how these divides come into existence, the ways in which they alter, and mechanisms for resolving disputes over them. In particular, within contemporary society exists numerous points of contact where the spaces of two countries run up against one another (national borders) or within which (self-)defined peoples either oppose or cooperate with one another. Those divided by such a border, or those who live their lives straddling both sides, may have a clear sense of the distinction between self and others in one place, while in other places this difference may be much fuzzier.

What has become clear is that all borders, whether those between states or within societies, incorporate such slippages into both their reality and how they are perceived, slippages which are constantly being reproduced within their histories. Therefore, it is vital that border studies is aware of how to analyze these sorts of questions regarding what a border represents, as well as being a field of study which investigates the existence of problems in specific regions, considers how such issues should be posed, looks for solutions, and offers suggestions regarding how this can be brought about. As it has emerged over the past thirty years, border studies has developed as a distinct field in its own right, with a series of academic journals and conferences that have served to push forward its development. At the same time, however, most of those associated with this genuinely global push towards developing the field also retain an identification and status within their diverse fields of origin. Consequently, border studies is guaranteed to continue as a field incorporating an enormous variety of approaches for the study of borders, a concept whose full political, economic, social and epistemological effects we are only just beginning to comprehend.

Border Studies in Japan
Globally, there have developed a number of international organizations with borders as their primary focus. These include the Association for Borderlands Studies (ABS), which continues to develop in Europe after emerging on the west coast of North America, and Border Regions in Transition (BRIT), born in the aftermath of the Cold War in Europe and expanding into Latin America and Asia. While such organizations have made determined efforts to expand their geographical reach in recent years, though, the west, broadly conceived, remains at the center of the analysis. Meanwhile, in Asia, networks such as the Asian Borderlands Research Network (ABRN) are testament to the growing salience of border studies for the continent, but the institutionalization of this interest across the continent as a whole remains somewhat patchy, with the geographical focus of ABRN on southeast Asia and “zomia” and its somewhat anti-statist agenda contrasts with a great deal of the more state-centered work focused on other areas, such as Central Asia in particular. In a similar manner, Japan has a long history of excellent studies of individual borders, both its own and abroad, and particularly in Asia, but had lacked the kind of formal border studies network that brought diverse communities of scholars together elsewhere in the world. This was the initial motivation behind the establishment of the Global COE Program “Reshaping Japan’s Border Studies” at Hokkaido University from 2008 onwards.

Today, the international profile of border studies in Japan is being developed rapidly, centered upon the successor to this Global COE Program at Hokkaido University, the Eurasia Unit for Border Research (UBRJ). Cooperating with this is the Japan International Border Studies Network (JIBSN), which brings together local governments at the border, from places like Nemuro, Wakkanai, the Ogasawaras, Tsushima and Yonaguni, with research institutes and think-tanks. Additionally, an NPO called the Japan Center for Borderland Studies has been set up in order to capitalize on the recent attention given to proposals for border tourism and to aid private efforts at reviving borderland regions. Based upon its links with these organizations, the Border Studies Research Module under the Graduate School of Law at Kyushu University shall focus upon research in border studies in both Japan and the wider Asia-Pacific region, aiming to become one node in this growing border studies network. The center is also plugged into global networks, with its members serving as the Japanese representative for the Borders in Globalization (BiG) research network based in Canada and serving as officers and the secretariat for the ABS Japan Chapter.

The interdisciplinary character and conceptual innovation that marks out border studies means it is the ideal vehicle for Kyushu University’s ambition of promoting interdisciplinary and international research. In addition, the Center’s focus on the Asia-Pacific region tallies nicely with what has until now been something of a lacuna in border studies efforts to achieve worldwide coverage, which is the lack of institutionalization achieved in the application of border studies outside of Europe and the United States. While contributing to the application of border studies at the global level and to the increasing prominence and development of the field in Japan, Border Studies at Kyushu University will also aid in promoting high-quality, interdisciplinary research sought by the university in order to expand its burgeoning reputation for excellence across the humanities and social sciences, enhancing its contributions at the local, national and regional level and encouraging the development of a new generation of academics unintimidated by the challenges offered by borders of any description.