Frontières dans les amériques

Borders in the Americas

In the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, many analysts and experts argued that the world had reached the “end of history” [Fukuyama, 1992] and that regional and local organizations and free trade agreements (among which the European Union appeared to be a model of integration) signaled the emergence of a world without borders. Yet, thirty years later, the reality seems to be altogether different.


Today, it is clear that “borders are back” [Amilhat Szary, 2006], [Foucher, 2016], [Ferguson, 2017]. One of the most telling symbols is the multiplication of “border walls”, the number of which increased from fifteen in 1989, to more than sixty in 2016 [Vallet, 2016]. These walls are the manifestation of a “qualitative transformation” of borders [Podescu, 2011] and the symbols of a “rebordering phenomenon” [Ibid, 3], [Van Houtoum, 2004]. However, their return appears under different forms, whether as a concrete consolidation, or an intensification of control and surveillance activities.


Conversely, these borders may also be challenged by separatist and other resistance movements, as the most recent examples of Catalonia and Kurdistan demonstrate. What is new is the fact that these transformations have granted border a new function of “sorting out fluxes”, through “differentiated treatments” [Amilhat-Szary, 2015]. Whether these borders are challenged, violated, transcended, consolidated, or integrated, they remain necessarily at the heart of the political debate. This symposium – which is the first of a series entitled “Borders, spaces, and power(s)” – will focus on a specific geographic area: the Americas. Because the Americas were colonized by European powers, they all share the specificity of having been shaped in order to “organize” the New World [Podescu, 2011, 8]. To be more precise, they combine in a surprising way two forms of territorial appropriation: one that derives from a logic of zonal colonizing conquest (frontier), the other from a desire of worldwide networking in a Western perspective of space (boundary) [Perrier Bruslé, 2007].


They convey an exogenous dimension, which can have implications for the different spaces and communities that are being crossed by these borders, whether it be in terms of legitimacy or identity. Beyond their colonial past, the Americas have shared another common point since the 1990s: as part of the globalization process, they have set up trade agreements like NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) in North America or Mercosur in South America, in order to foster better regional integration. These agreements have put forward a particular vision of the border concept, a border which appears more as a “resource” than a “stigma” [AmilhatSzary, 2015, 85]. At a local level, people involved have a different point of view about the possibility to enhance the peripheral territories where they live and develop innovative para-diplomatic initiatives.


On the American continent, where some regions were hit by recurring border conflicts in the 19th century, and where some borders are still contested today (especially in Central America), integration has been a “factor of stabilization” [Medina, 2009, 41] without erasing internal geopolitical tensions which sometimes go beyond the border, endangering the continental stability. Nevertheless, the 9/11 attacks – and international terrorism overall, which had existed in Latin America since the Buenos Aires attacks in the 1880s – have redefined the role of borders, contributing to their “refunctionalization”. The resurgence of a Fortress America [Alden, 2008], [Andreas, 2003], [Noble, 2004] has been extensively documented regarding the United States, but the phenomenon of 6 “rebordering” also concerns Latin American borders, yet in a more ambivalent way, since they are caught in a contradictory process of “dismantling and construction” [Machado De Oliveira, 2009, 19]. As some countries have responded to terrorism by closing their borders, others, especially in Central America, have taken a different path toward opening borders [Medina, 2009, 138]. In this region, one observes an uncommon policy which reinterprets the accepted trends in terms of regulation of borders. For instance, one can think of the unprecedented development of security devices on the Brazilian borders, without questioning the growth of international exchanges, whether they be legal or illegal (smuggling, narco-trafficking…) [Dorfman, 2014], [Dorfman et al, 2017].


However, it is almost impossible to define a common dynamic to the borders of the Americas as their role evolves from one country to the next, and even from one region to the next [Machado De Oliveira, 2009, 20]. On the contrary, these borders are characterized by their “immense variety,” especially in Latin America where they are numerous. Whether it is “distant borders” separating marginal regions which turn their backs on the borders (Argentina/Chile, Paraguay/Brazil…), “erratic borders” characterized by illegal cross-border bonds as is the case in newly urbanized areas (Costa Rica/Nicaragua, Mexico/Guatemala), or “vibrating borders,” the dynamism of which derives from dense populations and numerous comparative advantages (Brazil/Uruguay, Peru/Ecuador, Mexico/the United States), or even “formal borders,” which are regions that are instrumentalized by the central authority with a view of promoting their “dynamization” or countering illegal trafficking, according to a top-down approach (Chile/Argentina, Haiti/the Dominican Republic), the types of borders are varied and wide [Machado De Oliveira, 2009, 28-30]. Different levels of cross-border cooperation are being shaped and the present symposium will, we hope, offer the opportunity to refine this typology more accurately.


In a global context of an increase of theoretical border studies, it may be interesting to wonder whether a continental approach can provide an assessment on regional specificities, as well as bring about an original epistemological effort [Mezzadra, 2013], [Nail, 2016], [Parker et al, 2012], [Wastl-Walter, 2012]. The symposium invites participants to broach the various dynamics which prevail in American borders, as well as the mutations and transformations these borders have undergone in the last decade, through different approaches:  Papers can deal with the policies that have been put in place since 2001, especially with regards to the phenomenon of rebordering which is at stake on a global level. How do countries manage their border to address this new context? Submissions can concentrate both on the mechanisms themselves and on their implications for cross-border relations. Case studies and comparative approaches will be particularly welcomed, especially when they try to go beyond regional syntheses and bridge the gap between the two Americas … [Brunet-Jailly, 2007], [Konrad et al, 2008].  Submissions can also analyze how American borders evolve, from an opening process to a closing one, “functionalizing and dysfunctionalizing” [Foucher, 1991], [Pradeau, 1994, 16-17] in order to study these dynamics both on a small scale and a large scale. Historical approaches, which renew the question of territorialized border conflict and multiply the reading scales, demonstrating efforts to make national and contradictory nationalist narratives evolve, will also be appreciated [Parodi Revoredo et al, 2014].


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