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2016-2017: Borders, Boundaries, and Belonging

2016-2017 Academic Theme Year on “Borders, Boundaries, and Belonging”


Relentless forces of globalization appeared, not long ago, to be ushering us all into a borderless world. Some observers proclaimed the “end of geography” as rapid technological developments enabled us to travel, trade, invest, shop, communicate, and mobilize across borders with increasing ease and decreasing costs.  As ever growing amounts of people, goods, and money flowed across borders, scholars in different disciplines focused their attention on the new possibilities and problems posed by the eradication of boundaries and borders, and especially its unsettling impact upon our individual and collective senses of belonging.


At the same time, proclamations of a borderless world seem ludicrous. On a daily basis, we see heart-breaking pictures of masses of refugees fleeing war zones in the Middle East stranded at the borders of European states unwilling to take them in; we learn of impoverished migrants drowning in the Mediterranean as they desperately try to reach European shores; and we know that unaccompanied children try daily to gain entry into the United States in order to escape endemic poverty and violence in Central American countries.  In U.S. cities, neighborhoods, and suburbs–while the forces of gentrification have steadily eroded old boundaries between wealthy enclaves and poor ghettos–new boundaries, visible and invisible, have reappeared separating rich from poor, and privatized spaces from public spaces. Other kinds of boundaries—social, cultural, and religious—continue to assert their authority.  Indeed, we live in a world in which borders and boundaries, whether physical or socially constructed, real or symbolic, are ever more consequential.


What are the ways in which borders and boundaries are being reconfigured in the world today? How does the enforcement of borders and boundaries, including social and symbolic boundaries, produce new forms of exclusion and generate new sources of conflict?  In what ways are borders and boundaries being challenged and erased, and how are individuals and groups finding ways to cooperate across borders and boundaries?  What are effective strategies of inclusion?  And what impact is the reassertion of borders and boundaries having upon our identities, sense of belonging, and collective attachments?


These questions will be explored in a series of events during the 2016-2017 academic year organized around the central theme of “Borders, Boundaries and Belonging.”