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Indeed, borders have become prominent topics of research for a range of scholars from across the social sciences and humanities. This burgeoning, interdisciplinary field of border studies covers a broad range of concerns, including state sovereignty, globalization, territorial disputes, trade, migration, and resource management, among other topics.
As a distinct field of academic inquiry, border studies drew its initial impetus from geopolitical rivalries among European powers coinciding with rapid colonial expansion and devastating world wars during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
As such, early border scholars generally focused on advancing the strategic interests of their home states pertaining to territorial claims and border demarcation. Afterhowever, scholars worked to disassociate their field from the narrow, prejudiced interests of their respective governments.
As a result, border research tended to be rather descriptive, focusing on terminology and classification. In response, geographers and other social scientists developed new methodological and theoretical approaches for border studies.
By the turn of the 20th century, border studies could justifiably claim to be experiencing a renaissance. Despite its breadth and interdisciplinary nature, there are some general themes that run through earlyst-century border research.
Most prominent is the understanding of borders as a process; that is, borders result from processes of bordering that differentiate among places, peoples, and jurisdictions. This emphasis on process highlights borders as active forces and resources in international and domestic political, social, and economic relations.
It also highlights the contingency and variability in bordering practices both across space and time. Moving forward, this makes plain that borders and bordering practices are undergoing substantive changes, both symbolically and materially, amid globalization.
But it is equally important to emphasize that the changing nature of borders does not suggest that they are evolving in a uniform direction, much less simply vanishing. Instead, borders are likely to exhibit greater variability and contingency in the future, making their study even more important for understanding an expanding range of issues.
General Overviews A number of excellent overviews of the field of border studies have been published in the early 21st century. Diener and Hagen offers a quick introduction to the breadth and depth of border studies, written to be understandable for those approaching the topic for the first time, especially beginning students.
De Blij provides an empirical refutation of the thesis of borderless worlds, intended for general readers and ideal for students without prior exposure to border studies.
Popescu is well suited for readers prepared for more-rigorous engagement with theoretical concerns. Readers desiring exposure to the broadest possible range of scholarly perspectives would do well to consult the competing Wastl-Walter and Wilson and Donnanboth of which are anthologies.
These works also offer extensive bibliographies to guide further reading. Stein is an entertaining book and an easy primer for later readings on border theory.
Those interested in broader theoretical developments are encouraged to start with Agnew and Gilles, et al.
It is a very readable and accessible work that helps bridge the theoretical and methodological approaches of political geography and international relations.NYU Environmental Essay Contest Tarah Heinzen’s article about addressing air pollution from factory farms will be published in NYU Enviromental Law Journal this summer.
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