The objective of the CoE 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, and whether we should view space either as absolute, relative and/or relational. 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.

Re-conceptualizing borders is the primary theoretical focus of the CoE. One important contribution of our group has been the rejection of the view of borders as mere lines and of their location solely at the ‘edges’ of space. This reframing has helped to problematize territorial approaches and to advance alternate spatial imaginations. This innovative approach to borders suggests that the key issue is not the ‘lines’ or ‘edges’ themselves, nor the events and processes occurring in these contexts, but non-mobile and mobile social practices and discourses where borders – as processes, sets of socio-cultural practices, symbols, institutions (of governance), and networks – are produced, reproduced and transcended.

Research themes

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

Theme 1: Changing State Spaces

Team Leader: Prof. Sami Moisio
Team Members: Prof. Anssi Paasi, Prof. Jouni Häkli, Pia Bäcklund, Kaj Zimmerbauer, Juho Luukkonen, Heikki Sirviö, Satu Kivelä, Kristiina Vihmalo, Fredriika Jakola

The central goal of the changing state spaces research group is to foster dialogue between critical political geography, political economy and policy studies.

The CoE theme has two major objectives. The first is to produce novel insight into state transformation through an analysis of state’s changing scalar relations. As Graham (2010: 89) has proposed, “states are becoming internationally organized systems geared towards trying to separate people and circulations deemed risky or malign from those deemed risk-free or worthy of protection”. This ‘separation’ occurs both inside and outside of state territorial borders and results in a blurring between international and urban/local borders.

A study of the transformation of the state/region/city/local relations can therefore provide new ways to understand the bordering practices of the current world. The city/state relations have been fluctuating in front of the growing pressure to develop “competitive” and “globally oriented” city-regions. Even if growing “internationally oriented” city-regionalism and associated networking may represent growing strategic importance in state policies, we do not take the world of flows and networks as a given. Rather we are interested in analyzing the features of the “networked present” in actual processes of city-regionalism and seek to reveal political processes that are contextually embedded in such assumption.

The second objective is to focus on the “transnationalization of state spaces” that challenges the often taken-for-granted distinctions between the domestic and international, geopolitical and geoeconomic, and the territorial and the relational. This will be analyzed by looking at policy transfer processes and the associated knowledges, institutions and actors within which state spatial transformation actually occurs. Bringing the theorization on policy transfer and changing state spaces into a dialogue is, we argue, an important way to problematize and move beyond the relational-territorial divide. Policy transfer processes can also be examined in the context of supranational policy practices which ultimately influence on the reconstruction of state spaces through mixing of policies which are both territorial and relational.

Theme 2: Subjectification and Spatial Socialization

Team Leader: Prof. Jouni Häkli
Team Members: Prof. Anssi Paasi, Prof. Jarkko Saarinen, Kirsi Pauliina Kallio, Juha Ridanpää, Riikka Korkiamäki, Mikko Joronen, Elisa Pascucci, Taina Renkonen, Pia Bäcklund, Elina Stenvall

Research in this theme has two major objectives. First, we aim at theoretical inroads into the social dynamism at play in the social practices that at once reproduce the national/transnational dualism (re-bordering) and work across such an abstract distinction (de-bordering). To render intelligible the intermingling of national and global practices we develop further field theoretical understanding of social relations forming beyond territorial societies. A key question is to what extent we can identify social practices independently of pre-given scalar ‘roles’ (such as national and global), and what forms of political agency and subjectivity will such practices entail? Second, we will analyze forms and practices of political socialization that transcend the national/global dichotomy. To gain new knowledge about contemporary processes of national socialization we study practices through which children and young people try out, transfer and expand their political agencies in various everyday spaces (home, school, mediated, virtual). We are particularly interested in various platforms for social interaction where children and the youth have a chance to act as political selves beyond any self-evident scalar setting. A key question is to what extent are spatial socialization and subject formation conditioned by local and national institutions, and what is the role of transnational social relations in the process?

Currently there are two new research projects envisioned in this theme. The first project, Children’s rights advocacy at the intersection of the national and the global will analyze the practices related to children’s rights advocacy with focus on the complex intermixing of national and transnational settings. In empirical terms the research is carried out through in-depth assessment of the agents, practices and processes involved in the drafting of country reports on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), and their consideration in the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

The second project, (De)bordering the home: political socialisation in virtual communities will focus on the interaction of virtual gaming communities and the everyday spaces of home. Virtual communities form transnational platforms for social interaction where children and the youth have a chance to act as political selves. Home, instead, is a context where young people often need to conform to their conventional roles subject to adult authority. By analysing the co-constitution of transnational gaming societies and domestic contexts of political socialisation this subproject produces new knowledge about contemporary processes of soft bordering in the context of subject formation.

Theme 3: Border-crossings

Team Leader: Prof. Jarkko Saarinen.
Team Members: Prof. Jouni Häkli, Juha Ridanpää, Anna-Kaisa Kuusisto-Arponen, Eeva Rinne, Outi Kulusjärvi, Monkgogi Lenao, Maaria Niskala, Jonathan Burrow

The major aim of theme three is to open new horizons in the study of border-crossings in the contexts of tourism and civil society. The research theme has two main objectives with specific, closely resonating research questions.  We will look at first, how are territorial spaces being rearticulated to address different forms of (global) mobilities, and secondly, how do border governance technologies (re)territorialize state power in relation to mobile bodies?  The first objective is, therefore, to re-think the relation between mobilities and border management in immigration and tourism, and second, to theorize how bordering processes make spatial subjects. In order to conceptualize the social construction of border-crossings and transnational tourism spaces and sites in the context of territorial-relational co-constitution, we study the nature and outcomes of host-guest encounters in local scale and local-global nexus.

Key questions are: what kind of social practices, governing and discourses are involved in bordering and host-guest encounters, what are the local socio-spatial outcomes of transnational tourism development and what is the role of state in defining the nature of encounters.  As part of these wider themes, we will study the production of transnational responsibility in and through tourism and charities/societies of friendship (transnationalism and border crossing from civil society). Humanitarian aid and pro-poor initiatives are understood to produce and being produced through the globally multi-scalar dynamics and relationship between governmental organizations (state, EU), civil society and corporate actors. From this angle, key questions are, what are the meanings of border crossing and voluntary friendship from the perspectives of individuals and their subjectivity, how border crossings and voluntary work create and define a transnational citizenship and identity, reduce prejudices and what is the role of state in defining the nature of transnational responsibilities of citizenship.

Theme 4: Bordering, Control and Security

Team Leader: Prof. Anssi Paasi
Team Members: Prof. Sami Moisio, Prof. Jouni Häkli, Lauren Martin, Oliver Belcher, Katharina Koch, Sami Lind, Martina Tazzioli

Theme 4 analyzes how state and transnational actors attempt to manage the contradictions between territorial bordering practices and “global networks.”  Research under Theme 4 works in two directions. First, we will analyze material practices that produce the “networked borders”.  Second, we will analyze as a case study the rise of “network thinking” amongst military strategists and supranational border control agencies. Picking up on Theme 1’s effort to track new state spaces, these projects examine how network-based knowledge practices enable state security agencies to reconceptualize the relationship between borders and threat. As diverse social and ecological phenomena are increasingly understood as “complex adaptive systems,” security policy-makers are experimenting with relational conceptions of space, mobility, and processes. They do so, however, in order to shore up territorial borders. Through harmonization and third-country agreements, for example, European Union countries are seeking to both internalize immigration policing and externalize migration controls.  Theme 4 investigates how military and border policies are weaving together territorial and relational knowledge practices and formulating spatial strategies on the basis of these knowledge practices to produce new technical landscapes of management and social control.


RELATE CoE will hold a series of seminars, conferences, and workshops through which we will discuss the themes and engage with international scholars.


Last updated: 26.1.2018