Border formation

Borders are constructed through a continual process of bordering, in which categories of difference or separation are created. Narrative and figural representation is a central element in border formation. Terms such as allocation, antecedence, subsequency, superimposition, reconfiguration, removal, disappearance, construction, opening and closing may be inserted into different narratives of what we would call border formation.

Border formation has traditionally been viewed as a top-down process in the hand of power elites. A more dynamic view of bordering allows for the possibility of bottom-up agency. Another way of saying this would be to say that as in Homi K. Bhabha conception of national identity, the border is a product of a tension between the pedagogic and the performative (145). By extension, the border comes about as a product of the grand narratives of border formation and the minor narratives of day-to-day border crossing.

There has been much debate about causative factors in border formation, for example whether any border can be called natural. According to Georg Simmel’s 1903 dictum,

"The boundary is not a spatial fact with sociological consequences, but a sociological fact that forms itself spatially." (Simmel 142)

This implies that the border is a product of symbolic differences, even if it always has a spatial dimension. It is however clear that borders can have a life of their own, producing border effects after their original instatement; they can reinforce the symbolic difference which created them, or even cause changes in these symbolic differences; they can continue to have effect after the symbolic differences which caused them have dissappeared or lessened. Border formation can include an element of unpredictability and uncanny effects coming from the border itself.


  • Simmel, Georg. "The Sociology of Space". Trans. Mark Ritter & David Frisby. Simmel on Culture: Selected Writings. Eds. David Frisby & Mike Featherstone. London: Sage, 1997. 137-70.
  • Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994.

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