MIS Symposium 2016 – Borderscape as an Interdisciplinary Concept

Following a workshop held in March 2015, the colloquium ‘Borderscape as an Interdisciplinary Concept’ was held on 8 and 9 April 2016 at the University of Luxembourg. It was organised by the Key Area MIS in conjunction with the UniGR-Center for Border Studies. The aim of the colloquium was to examine the potential of the ‘borderscape’ concept for theoretical and programmatic debate, as well as for empirical analysis of border phenomena. A detailed account of the colloquium is available here.


Keynote Speaker: Chiara Brambilla

Chiara Brambilla (University of Bergamo), the first guest speaker, set out to explore the conceptual and methodological potential of the ‘borderscape’, thus establishing the reflective framework for the colloquium as a whole. As an anthropologist she is interested in anti-hegemonic cultural experiences within the Mediterranean border area, and spoke to the need to undertake this research and invent new conceptual tools.

Session I: aesthetics and borders

The first session focused primarily on the relationship between aesthetics and borders. Anne Sturm (University HI. Kyrill and Method) compared two novels falling into the category of ‘migrant literature’ written by authors who fled Bulgaria for Germany: Ilija Trojanow and Dimitré Dinev both tell the story of characters who decide to cross the German border, a passage involving an existential change which the researcher likened to crossing the Styx in the ancient world. Art historian Pamela Bianchi (University of Paris 8) was interested in various artists who play on ‘museographical borders’; she applied the concept of the ‘borderscape’ to the exhibition space for contemporary art. Finally, Juan-Manuel Trillo-Santamari and Valeria Paül (University of Santiago de Compostela) offered up an examination combining geography with literature, and introduced the fertile concept of ‘border poetics’ which brings together ‘border studies’ and ‘landscape literature’.

Session II: education and borders

The presentations of the second session examined borders in terms of their relationship with education and didactics. Machteld Venken (University of Vienna) was interested in how education is organised in the German-speaking regions lost by Germany following the Treaty of Versailles. Cléa A. Schmidt (University of Manitoba) examined the different barriers faced by migrant teachers in the province of Manitoba in Canada. She strongly advocated going against the conservative ideology which imposes a teaching ideal that does not match reality and forces migrants to assimilate Canadian linguistic criteria.

Session III: aesthetics and borderscapes

unspecifiedgThe third session looked at the question of the relationship between aesthetics and the ‘borderscape’. Dorothée Cailleux (University of Paris Ouest Nanterre la Défense) adopted a geocritical perspective where literary creation becomes a form of ‘borderscaping’. The researcher examined how the works of Günter Grass have helped to transform the perception of border landscapes such as the town of Danzig, reunified Germany, and the German-Polish border. Regina Range (University of Alabama) undertook a study of geographical and ideological borders in relation to the question of feminism as presented by filmmaker Gina Kaus: Kaus’s narratives depict exile and border-crossing as an opportunity, a tactic enabling self-reinvention.

Keynote Speaker: Ana Maria Manzanas-Calvo

The second guest speaker Ana Maria Manzanas-Calvo (University of Salamanca) provided an analysis of two films (Babel and Sleep Dealer) in relation to the concept of the ‘borderscape’, for which she presented a cartography made up of various happy metaphors. A border thus becomes a ‘mutant’ which changes according to the person seeking to cross it. This idea recalls the fundamental inequality of ‘free movement’: the number of countries accessible to a person varies according to the passport they hold. The researcher argued that borders also represent places of the abject, in other words places where meaning breaks down: in consequence, combatting a ‘borderscape’ as a ‘powerscape’ means putting hospitality front and centre as an attitude which blurs and ‘disables’ borders.

Keynote Speaker: Isabel Marcos

unspecifiediGuest speaker Isabel Marcos (New University of Lisbon) favoured the term ‘mise-en-frontière’ (‘bordering’) rather than ‘borderscape’. The concept must be considered within the context of its spatial and temporal deployment, combining the physical with meaning; in other words, a border is conceived as a dynamic, layered morphology which is deployed in space and time, prompting the semiotician to draw on René Thom’s semio-physical approach for her analyses.


Session IV: us/them as borderscaping

The presenters of the fourth session focused on the more minority topics of waste and prostitution. Kateryna Pashkovska (University of Alberta) presented her ethnographical research completed in the Republic of Karelia: her project revealed that the everyday recycling habits a person adopts correlate with their level of integration in their neighbourhood. The categorisation of us/them is here based on inhabitants’ environmental practices. Simone Sauer-Kretschmer (Ruhr University Bochum) investigated how the media, TV series and literature convey a particular image of prostitution. Whilst the eternal debate on this topic can be summed up in the dichotomy of ‘for or against’, writers such as Clemens Meyer give prostitutes a voice in their novels. The TV series The Team examines prostitution through the prism of the ‘borderscape’, inasmuch as it depicts the issue of human trafficking within Europe itself.

Session V: national and religious borders

The colloquium’s final session opened with a presentation from Mary Rose Sarausad (Asian Institute of Technology) focusing on how migrant workers in southeast Asia are forced to constantly get round current immigration legislation as they cross borders. Migrants in Thailand never receive visas for indeterminate periods, but instead have to constantly undertake ‘border runs’ to obtain a stamp in their passport from a neighbouring country which enables them to extend their stay. Medievalist Felix Prautzsch (Technische Universität Dresden) was interested in borders between religions in the Middle Ages: a border in particular translated as the antagonism between Christians and non-believers, one which still permeates our imaginations today. By studying the legends of various saints (in particular the Legenda Maior), he determined that these borders were never static, undergoing particular rearrangement during the Crusades.

Scientific Committee
Dr. Till Dembeck, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sonja Kmec, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Birte Nienaber, Agnès Prüm, Prof. Dr. Nathalie Roelens, Dr. Christian Wille