New BIG study on state of borders

The study of borders in the 21st century stretches beyond traditional definitions to encompass not only real boundaries, but remote and virtual borders too.

UVic political scientist Dr. Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, an associate professor in UVic’s School of Public Administration and lead investigator in a new global research project announced this month (click here for UVic news release), points out that with today’s technology, the study of borders based only on territorial definitions is fast becoming outdated and is no longer centred around the concept of physical and territorial crossings.

B.I.G. website

The drama over ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is still believed (as of press time) to be in a Moscow airport, but according to the Russian government not on Russian soil, is one example of this type of confusion.

Another example occurred on June 3, 2013, when passengers on a plane bound for New York were stuck on the tarmac at Toronto’s Pearson Airport while customs officials considered how to untangle a rather uncustomary situation. (One of Canada’s national newspapers dubbed it “a cross-border conundrum.”) The flight had been cancelled but the plane was still physically in Canada, while everyone aboard had technically already entered the US due to preclearance procedures.

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 is an emblematic example of the disintegration of state sovereignty. The flows of migration, the pressures of climate change and globalizing forces of security are some of the many influences now impacting how we experience and understand borders in this new era. The people on the plane in Toronto could also be said to have had a hint of understanding while waiting several hours to disembark on Canadian soil.

“Border gates may not be disappearing yet, but the state’s capacity to enforce or delineate borders is becoming far more complex and powerful,” says Brunet-Jailly, director of UVic’s European Studies minor and the European Union Centre of Excellence. Brunet-Jailly is affiliated with UVic's Centre for Global Studies and Faculty of Social Sciences, as well as being the Jean Monnet Chair in EU Border and Urban Region Policies and editor of the Journal of Borderlands Studies (Routledge).

The new seven-year project led by UVic will explore our understanding of borders—real, remote and virtual—in the 21st century. The Borders in Globalization (BIG) network is made up of 23 academic partners, as well as 34 non-academic organizations involved in the management of borders and borderlands in Canada and worldwide. Click here for a full list of all collaborators from Canada, the US, Europe, Asia and the Middle East; also available is a brief summary of the network’s forthcoming activities.

Brunnet-Jailly foresees a day when border gates will be wherever they are required, and passports won’t be necessary. Instead, there will be iris or fingerprint scans.

The quickly shifting landscape and accelerating changes in policy and practice raise both theoretical and practical questions, and no specific study has yet identified a coherent set of reasons to allow for leaps in these policies. BIG proposes to provide further definition and to develop a global scholarship of conceptual thinking on borders, while also exploring the real issues that people face daily.

BIG is the first Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Partnership Grant awarded to UVic. The grant is for $2.3 million, with an additional $1.4 million from project partners.

It is also one of the largest research partnerships (for number of people and organizations) to date for the university.

Other UVic researchers in B.I.G. network

  • Rod Dobell
  • David Good
  • Helga Hallgrimsdottir
  • Evert Lindquist
  • Oliver Schmidtke


In this story

Keywords: social science, interdisciplinary, research, Borders in Globalization, globalization

People: Dr. Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, Rod Dobell, David Good, Helga Hallgrimsdottir, Evert Lindquist, Oliver Schmidtke

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