Guest post by Damien Simonneau, Centre Emile Durkheim, Sciences Po Bordeaux, Université de Bordeaux. Damien is a contributor to the French research website Enigmur on walls and borders. Follow him on Twitter @DamSim.
Review of Border Politics: Social Movements, Collective Identities, and Globalization, edited by Nancy A Naples and Jennifer Bickham Mendez (New York University Press, 2015).
For critical border scholars, it’s clear that social reality isn’t two-dimensional as the border order claims when it mobilizes binaries such as ‘us/them,’ ‘inside/outside,’ ‘citizen/alien.’ Border Politics: Social Movements, Collective Identities, and Globalization challenges this order by exploring the multi-faceted aspect of bordering, interpreted here as a process. Drawing on the works of Chicana feminists like Gloria Anzaldúa and the field of border studies, the editors conceptualize ‘border politics’ as ‘struggles that challenge, transcend, or reinforce territorial borders and their effects, or that contest borders within nationally defined territories, including social and symbolic boundaries of inclusion and exclusion’ (p. 4). The aim is to understand the links between geopolitical borders and other types of social and symbolic boundaries ‘as they become both objects and sites of struggle’ (p. 4). The edited collection offers an important contribution to the sociology of bordering. Rather than focusing on struggles over the militarization of geographical borderlands as outlined by scholars like Reece Jones, the contribution of the book lies in its original approach to the analysis of social movements for which borders and boundaries are sites of struggle. More precisely, the chapters depict how these social movements maintain, contest, produce, and dissolve borders and boundaries.
The book is comprised of eleven case studies based on ethnographic data and organized into three thematic sections. Part 1 examines border politics taking gender as a category of analysis. Social movements are depicted as sites in which discourses and practices have considered women as the embodiment of a national or ethnic community that symbolically maintains national and ethnic boundaries. Jennifer L. Johnson (Chapter 2) describes how the identity of ‘grandmotherhood’ was performed by the Minutemen border policing movement in Arizona in 2007. In Chapter 3, Meera Sehgal illustrates how women are transformed by the Samiti Hindu nationalist movement in India into ‘border guards’ who deepen and regulate boundaries between Hindus and Muslims. Duncan McDuie-Ra (Chapter 4) focuses on the implication of women’s organizations for peace during tensions between Naga and Meitei communities in North-East India, highlighting the limits of the discursive use of ‘motherhood’ in mobilizing political action, which isn’t effective enough to cross ethnic boundaries. Queering the gaze, Moon M. Charania’s Chapter 5 analyses media coverage of Lal Masjid women’s protest in Pakistan in 2007. She shows how these black burqa women are represented as ‘erotic nationals,’ caught in between the imperial look that eroticizes them and the look of the war on terror that demonizes them.
Part 2 of Border Politics focuses on the fluid meaning of boundaries that social movements seek to defend according to their strategies and political environment. This section invites the reader to go beyond the officially professed binary discourse of borders. In Chapter 6, Sarah Maddison, focusing on Australia, discusses how the indigenous identity is shifting from a colonial construct to a politicized identity mobilized by indigenous peoples themselves to transcend precolonial borders and fight for self-governance and autonomy in a (post)colonial nation. Deana A. Rohlinger and co-authors (Chapter 7) investigate boundary shifts in Florida’s Tea Party movement as a response to the incorporation of the movement’s ideas into the political apparatus in 2010 and to the emergence of the Occupy movement. In Chapter 8, Maple Razsa and Andrej Kurnik trace the protests of Slovenia’s labour migrants from countries of the former Yugoslavia who live under the threat of illegality as Yugoslavia was disintegrated and then integrated into the European Union. In Chapter 9, Phillip M. Ayoub and David Paternotte turn the gaze to Central and Eastern Europe where being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) is equated to being European. They underline the role played by LGBT activists in building Europe.
Part 3 analyzes the conditions for cross-border solidarities among localized movements and transnational advocacy networks. These contributions reveal ‘border distortion’ effects among transnational networks that aim to overcome borders and boundaries. In Chapter 10, Yvonne Braun and Michael Dreiling illustrate the limits of cross-border coordination between the network International Rivers and activists in Lesotho challenging a mega-dam water project. The ‘border distortion’ takes place when International Rivers neglects claims at local level in order to provide congruity to their transnational movement identity. Renata Blumberg and Raphi Rechitsky (Chapter 11) demonstrate how No Border activists developed boundaries among themselves within a camp at the Ukrainian borderlands in 2007. In Chapter 12, Michelle Tellez and Cristina Sanidad explore mobilizations in the San Diego-Tijuana borderland to defend the rights of workers in assembly factories (maquiladoras). Such social movements frame border dwellers as active agents for social change and the geographical borderland as a site of resistance against globalization.
Overall, the book provides an original approach to disrupt binaries and encourage us to think of bordering in terms of process. However, by mixing symbolic, social, and geographical boundaries, the book reduces ‘the border’ to a metaphor that enables analyses of the political production of difference or conflict without providing any middle-range concepts to operationalize such a process of demarcation. Logics of demarcation in these different types of boundaries are distinct (e.g., feelings of belonging, inequalities, sovereignty, security) and could perhaps have been dealt with individually using different theoretical and conceptual frameworks. The notable quality of Border Politics lies in the editors’ selection of contributions based on ethnographic data and thick description, as well as reflexivity regarding the purposes and politics of the research presented. Pleasant to read, each case study in Border Politics reveals how the ‘specifics of place’ are powerfully mobilized to grasp the micro-practices of bordering. Of particular interest to me were the immersions inside ‘protest camps’ offered in the chapters by Seghal, Johnson, and Blumberg and Rechitsky. The book’s theoretical positioning―a ‘feminist, inter-sectional approach to border politics, informed by border theory’ (p. 358)―also strengthens the analyses of bordering processes. Border Politics perfectly illustrates that the border is a ‘bio-social invariant’ that’s uneasy to escape.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):
Simonneau, D. (2015) Book Review: Border Politics: Social Movements, Collective Identities, and Globalization. Available at:/ (Accessed [date]).