RELATE Centre of Excellence

The Relational and Territorial Politics of Bordering, Identities, and Transnationalization

Purpose of the Center of Excellence

The RELATE Center of Excellence  brings together human geographers from the Universities of Oulu and Tampere to study theoretical and empirical themes related to contemporary bordering practices and forms of political agency.

Our CoE's primary objective is to investigate and conceptualize the simultaneous, “chiasmatic” existence of “territorial” and “relational” processes. We argue that what has been neglected in research is how the two are constituted by and constitutive of “boundedness” and borders, and how we should understand borders under such conditions: how does the process of (re-)bordering occur and becomes materialized in the institutionalization of territorial and relational/ supraterritorial spatial configurations. The constitutive powers of borders and identities have become increasingly complex and multi-scalar and it is therefore crucial to move beyond the territorial/relational dichotomy to make sense of this complexity. Through both drawing from and developing further recent socio-spatial theorizing on borders, our central goal is to contribute to the pivotal social scientific issues of contemporary world: globalization, global governance and the transformation of borders.

Our objective is to develop novel conceptual and empirical approaches to study the practices of bordering. The key lesson of relational approaches to border studies is that ‘boundedness’ should be seen primarily as a contextual-empirical rather than an ontological issue, and this lesson is critical when moving beyond the territorial-relational dualism that characterizes current theorization. Respectively, we argue that if territorial and relational geographies are co-constitutive, there is a need (1) to conceptualize how this coming-together occurs in actually existing socio-spatial practices of bordering and identity formation and (2) to raise empirical questions on how these processes unfold in specific contexts. We regard social context and practice as the key bases for theorizing spatialities. Territories and the processes of bordering are contextual, historically contingent features that depend on the complex mix of central authority, territoriality and transnational processes. Similarly some forms of ‘border-crossings’ (tourism) are much more ‘frictionless’ than others (immigration, asylum seeking) but this does not mean that such frictionlessness is non-problematic in social terms. Thus, instead of taking territorial or relational views and related keywords (like flows or networks) as given normative conditions, this CoE will carefully study – in order to build new ground for generalizations – how these ‘geographies’ are realized in the current world. Through our analyses we are able to develop novel ways to account for the very conditions or bordering under which tensions related to transnationalization may emerge and escalate.

Today, borders are rarely conceptualized as separate socio-spatial entities, as things as such. Rather than permanent elements borders are more seen as historically contingent processes, institutions and symbols that are constituted in and constitutive of the perpetual production and reproduction of territories. Borders are seen as components of larger assemblages, particularly exclusionary aspects of those assemblages. In other words, borders are no longer conceived as separate from territorial processes, but as integral to them.

We argue that the co-constitution of territorial and relational spaces demands the reconceptualization of the concept of “border”. Research team members’ previous research has helped to challenge strictly territorial approaches and to advance alternative spatial imaginations. At issue are not the ‘edges’ themselves, or even the events and processes occurring in these contexts, but non-mobile and mobile social practices, discourses and performances where borders – as processes, sets of socio-cultural practices, symbols, institutions, and networks – are produced, reproduced and transcended.

Questions have also been raised as to who is bordering, and how, where, and why this occurs in certain ways. We have proposed tentatively an analytical distinction between various modalities of borders/bordering that are related to territorial-relational practices. One part of the project is to develop them further. We will use such conceptualizations as a background when developing detailed research questions and research themes and related projects. The inseparability of borders and territories does not imply that they should form fixed bounded entities, but rather they have to be conceptualized and analyzed as dispersed sets of power/social relations that are mobilized for various purposes in a world that is simultaneously territorial and relational.


Research themes

Research will be carried out through four interrelated themes that approach relational and territorial bordering from different angles.

Last updated: 20.3.2014