From a ‘borderless world’ to a ‘world of borders’: ‘bringing history back in’

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114 Citations (Scopus)


The first part of the paper explores some of the reasons why contemporary border studies understate the full significance of state borders and their global primacy. It is argued that this failing is rooted in a much wider lack of historical reflexivity-a reluctance to acknowledge the historical positioning (the 'where and when') of contemporary border studies themselves. This reluctance encourages a form of pseudohistory, or 'epochal thinking', which disfigures perspective on the present. Among the consequences are (a) exaggerated claims of the novelty of contemporary border change, propped up by poorly substantiated benchmarks in the past; (b) an incapacity to recognise the 'past in the present' as in the various historical deposits of state formation processes; and (c) a failure to recognise the distinctiveness of contemporary state borders and how they differ from other borders in their complexity and globality. The second part of the paper argues for a recalibration of border studies aimed at balancing their spatial emphases with a much greater, and more critical, historical sensitivity. It insists that 'boundedness', and state boundedness in particular, is a variable that must be understood historically. This is illustrated by arguing that a better analysis of contemporary border change means rethinking the crude periodisation which distinguishes the age of empire from the age of nation-states and, in turn, from some putative contemporary era 'beyond nation-states' and their borders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1031-1050
Number of pages20
JournalEnvironment and Planning D: Society and Space
Issue number6
Early online date01 Mar 2010
Publication statusPublished - 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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