Guest post by Cristina Fernandez Bessa and Giulia Fabini. Cristina is a research fellow at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She earned a PhD in Law, specialized in Criminology at the University of Barcelona. Her research interests include deportation, deprivation of liberty, human rights and gender. Giulia is a post-doctoral candidate at the Department of Legal Studies of the University of Bologna. She has a PhD in Law and Society from the State University of Milan. Her studies focus on the police, the criminal justice system, and migrants' resistance in internal bordering. This is the first post of the Border Criminologies’ themed series ‘The Changing Dynamics of Transnational Borders and Boundaries’, organised by Cristina and Giulia.

Over the last decades, scholarship on borders has shown in numerous ways that borders are not just lines on a map, neither boundaries among sovereign states, nor permanent dividing lines between the included and excluded. Instead, this body of work suggests that borders and boundaries are dynamic, mobile and performative. While borders have been securitised, and wired walls are still proliferating elsewhere (see also Brown), borders have also been employed by receiving societies as a dispositif  to govern populations. The ‘spectacles of migrant “illegality”’, such as the pictures of lines of migrants sitting on the top of Melilla’s fences after failing to jump over to reach Europe, the aggressive attempts of Libyan coast guards to stop arrivals by sea, or the picture of Aylan and the recurring harsh images of many floating dead bodies in the Mediterranean Sea, attract attention to what happens at the external borders while countries prevent migrants from reaching their shores. However, beyond the media and political focus on the ‘spectacles’, border regimes have side effects within these countries: migrants who enter the many countries of arrival in the ‘global north’ are often illegalised, stigmatised, racialised and eventually ‘differentially included’. Illegalised migrants form a disposable and easily exploitable labour force, at the same time as they help governments draw a dividing line between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ and re-define the order of the Nation-state against globalization (see Barker, 2017).

Border regimes define the geographies of inclusion and exclusion, but these definitions may change, depending on the circumstances of people’s mobility (whether they are ‘crimmigrant’ bodies or bona fide travellers), the local regulations and resources for policing borders, innovative surveillance technologies or even different government priorities regarding migration. This new themed series suggests that borders should be understood in the way they are performed, during the interaction between border crossers and border agents (not just border police, but also local police, employers, local citizens, social workers, etc.) in doing so, the contributions seek to explore how borders are embodied, that is, how the diverse subjectivities going through a border regime and resisting it in their everyday life eventually do borders. Our purpose is to shed light on commonalities and differences among border performances in local contexts, therefore identifying the transnational dimension of embodied borders and of mechanisms of power extending beyond the confines and logics of nation-states.

‘Border performativity’ is a concept introduced by Nancy Wonders. According to Wonders, ‘border performativity takes as its theoretical starting point the idea that borders are not only geographically constituted, but are socially constructed via the performance of various state actors in an elaborate dance with ordinary people who seek freedom of movement and identification. The choreography for this dance is shaped by state policies and laws, but it is increasingly shaped by global forces as well’. For example, as Wonders further stresses out, ‘borders are not gender-neutral’, instead they are performed differently depending on the intersection between race, gender and class.

Through the perspective of ‘border performance’, the traditional and fruitful dichotomy of borders and boundaries - the former understood as territorial borders, the latter as cultural, racial, and territorial borders dividing societies from within - becomes less eloquent. The study of how the many subjectivities making up contemporary societies experience borders within national territories, equates to the study of how in globalization processes the social structure of the modern nation state remodels itself through border regimes.

This series brings together insights from a set of studies on contemporary transformations and performances of transnational borders worldwide, from Southern Europe to North America, which we shared and discussed during two panel sessions that we organised at the Law and Society Association (LSA) annual meeting in Mexico City on May 22nd, 2017. Nancy Wonders and Lynn Jones will open the series, arguing for ‘being more future-oriented and change-focused within the field of border criminology’ and reflecting about the need to extend the concept of ‘border performativity’ considering the agency of border crossers and mobility as a social movement. Contributions by David Moffette and Iker Barbero discuss the performativity of two different internal borders drawing on their own work. From an analytical perspective, David Moffette teaches us three lessons about how to study ‘borderwork’ in urban public spaces. Iker Barbero shows how the physical transformation of a border barrier into a motorway toll represents the ‘invisible’ reintroduction of borders and the end of borderless Europe. Mexican scholar Amarela Varela writes about the vertical expansion of the US-Mexican border and the consequences that it produces on migrant subjectivities. To close the series, Enrica Rigo’s post reflects on the gendered dimension of borders, and on how border performance is a complex assemblage that reaffirms but also deconstructs gender roles and hierarchies, both from an institutional point of view and from the perspective of those who cross borders. Specifically, drawing on a case study on administrative and judicial decisions regarding the files of more than fifty Nigerian women who sought asylum in Italy, she explains how female asylum seekers are often trapped between being seen as victims and being blamed for immoral behaviour.

In the course of the LSA annual meeting in 2017 and the ensuing debates, it emerged that we can only understand our contributions in academia as epistemological activism. This is not just because many of the guest contributors to this blog series have participated in border activism, but rather because, together with De Genova, Mezzadra and Pickles, we consider ‘the production and elaboration of new concepts as a crucial aspect of intellectual work and a necessary endeavour with which to enable new forms of politics that can be adequately targeted to the specificities of the historical conjuncture’. The conceptualization of the unfair geographies of inclusion and exclusion produced by the border regime collected in this blog series is just a sample of this epistemological activism. We hope that reading the series would be inspiring for more activism in this direction.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Fernandez Bessa, C. and Fabini, G. (2018) Transnational Borders and Boundaries: Changing Geographies of Exclusion and Inclusion through Border Regimes. Available at: (Accessed [date]).