Borders and Boundaries

Borders and Boundaries

The Borders & Boundaries project was a unique interdisciplinary working group of scholars interested in re-examining current ways of thinking about global migration and developing new ways of conceptualizing the sociological, historical, economic, political, aesthetic and gender-specific dimensions of human mobility and social difference. Borders & Boundaries had as its premise a double paradox of contemporary life:  the hardening of ethnic and racial boundaries at a time when goods and information flow across national borders quite freely, and the increasingly acute focus on racial differences at a time when race as a "scientific" or descriptive social category has become conspicuously unstable. The Borders and Boundaries project raised comparative questions concerning the ways in which international migrations - and border crossings of other kinds - relate to the formation and transformation of intra-societal boundaries such as race, class, gender and sexuality. Borders & Boundaries insisted that gender/race/sexuality/class must be at the foundation of any global thought initiative and that global concerns must be at the foundation of the study of gender/race/sexuality/class.

The Borders and Boundaries Working Group focuses on the relationship between international borders and social boundaries within national societies. The working group has as its premise a double paradox of contemporary life: the hardening of ethnic and racial boundaries at a time when goods and information flow across national borders quite freely, and the racialization of social relations at a time when racial theories have an awkward relation to scientific prestige, and racial categories have become conspicuously unstable. The Borders and Boundaries Working Group seeks to explore sociological, historical, political and aesthetic dimensions of the relationship between national borders and social boundaries in a comparative context.

In order to do so, we seek to shape an international research network that is committed to comparison. The working group has initiated with an institutional platform based at CSER and CCASD at Columbia, and at the Institut de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur les Enjeux Sociaux (IRIS) at the Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. Additional institutional sites are currently being explored in Australia, Turkey, Mexico, and Germany. The Borders and Boundaries working group’s first concern was an interrogation of the connection between racial formation and immigration in the United States and France. It is currently developing that theme, and incorporating a new field of inquiry on boundary formation and indigeneity in national societies that were founded as settler colonies. In order to achieve conceptual clarity on the subject of immigration, settlement, and race, the Borders and Boundaries working group is interested in extending attention to boundary formation in areas of the world where migration is principally internal, such as China and India. The work of the Borders and Boundaries group began in 2007, when CSER hosted a panel discussion of racism in contemporary France, and its connection to the contemporary history of race in the United States. Didier Fassin, one of the project’s initiators, has proposed a special issue of the French history journal Annales as the project’s first collective publication. CCASD and CSER will be holding a first fully-fledged conference of the Borders and Boundaries working group at Columbia in the Fall of 2008. After that meeting, we plan to work in a sustained fashion for three years, inviting speakers, faculty fellows, and visiting fellows working in a variety of sites in order to produce a robust comparative discussion.

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