Borderlands e-journal logo All issues all issues Guidelines rollover Guidelines for contributors
Debates rollover About rollover About borderlands e-journal
Reviews Reviews rollover Editorial team rollover Editorial team
Boundary Anxieties Arrow Vol 1 No 2 Contents
About borderlands Volume 1 Number 2, 2002

Boundary Anxieties:
Between Borders and Belongings

Fiona Allon
University of Western Sydney


1. Watching the Queen of England’s Jubilee celebrations on a television set in Germany qualifies without a doubt as one of those ‘weird global media events’ which networked communications bring to us with increasing regularity (Wark 1994). Since their defeat at the hands of the British in two world wars, and alongside other historical processes, particularly those of nation-state formation which decisively put to rest the last vestiges of feudalism and effectively abolished aristocratic rule, Germany it seems has developed a compensatory passion, bordering closely on fetishism, for the English Monarchy, and in particular the Queen who sits at its throne. Hence the Jubilee celebrations that unfolded over a number of days of activities in London, not only outside Buckingham Palace, but in many places and sites across the British Isles, were covered by the German media in close and meticulous detail. Over four days it was possible to watch the live coverage of the music-concerts, the suburban street-parties and the Royal Family’s appearances at numerous locations during the celebrations. The Queen’s every movement was closely tracked, including her many changes of dress and outfit, the mood of the crowds was assessed and registered, and the constituent parts of the Commonwealth procession dissected and analysed in terms of their (in)adequate displays of national character and image. But even without the assistance of the precise and comprehensive German news commentary, the sheer sight of those thousands upon thousands of Union Jacks being waved in the Mall that long weekend in June brought home the realisation that the expiry date of the symbolic terrain of the nation-state — the flags, the anthems, the nationalistic fervor — notwithstanding the entity of the nation-state itself, seems, at times like this, a long way off indeed. This was simply one of the many spectacles of the ‘perverse perseverance of sovereignty’, as one of the other articles in this issue so succinctly puts it, which we are increasingly seeing in this contemporary context supposedly defined by the ‘withering away of the nation-state’ (Hannerz 1996).

2. At that moment, from my location in a country that is very much one of the primary movers and shakers of the project of European integration, it was very easy to understand the reasons England announces so intransigently that it may be ‘in’ Europe, but it is not really a part ‘of’ Europe. As the crowds sang Land of Hope and Glory and the bands played God save the Queen, this small island defiantly announced to the world the nature of its national character and continuing independence ‘from Europe’, and at the same time the nature and definition of its continuing sovereignty. In Germany, surrounded by friends who regularly comment that the introduction of the common European currency, the Euro, has made them feel optimistically a part of something bigger than the nation-state from which they, as yet, continue to draw their citizenship, something which they acknowledge is rather ambiguously called ‘Europe’, or ‘European culture’, this display of nationalist chauvinism, and I think it is fair to call it that, seemed like a short, sharp reality check.

3. This display also made me think about that geo-political space called ‘the new Europe’ and its ability to offer some a transnational mode of being and belonging and the promise of overcoming the violent legacies of the nation-state, while at the very same time this space undergoes a process of effective border fortification and cultural homogenisation through the introduction of new EU anti-immigration legislation and amendments, and the popularity of extreme right-wing political movements demanding an ever more repressive and exclusive ‘Fortress Europe’. On the one hand, it made me think of the Aussiedler, the ethnic Germans who are returning to Germany in the wake of unification, after their ancestors settled hundreds of years ago in Eastern bloc countries such as Russia and Poland, and who, in many cases, are confronted with their uncertain status (persecuted in the Soviet Union, and unwanted in Germany) and who, being neither Russian but not really German either, are condemned to float like ghosts in the borderlands of (national) identity. For many of these Russian-Germans, the category ‘European’ offers a legitimate form of belonging, and a way out of the impasse of an identity solely conveyed by nationality (Giesbrecht 2001/2002). On the other, though, ‘the New Europe’ as it is currently taking shape—closed, bounded and restrictive—seems to offer little refuge to the growing numbers of asylum-seekers arriving unwelcome at borders, living in refugee camps, facing often-violent forced deportations and expulsions and who, if they are lucky to have their claims for asylum actually heard and processed, must live with the alarming rise in racism and xenophobia taking place in all European cities. And finally, this somewhat perverse celebration during this mild European summer, made me also think uncomfortably of other perverse demonstrations of ‘sovereignty’, ‘territorial protection and integrity’, ‘national pride and interest’ closer to home, in Australia: the Tampa crisis, the detention-centres in remote locations, the so-called ‘Pacific Solution’ ... The ironies of being an Australian teaching at a German university, specifically in a cultural studies program called Euroculture, a program directly concerned with the process of Transnationalising Europe, of taking Europe beyond the Westphalian model of sovereign power into a more open and ecumenical political future, were not lost on me either.

4. The French media theorist Jean Baudrillard once argued that Europe can no longer be understood by starting out from Europe itself (Baudrillard 1988, p.83 ). From my position as an Australian, located simultaneously both in and outside of Europe, this article seeks to explore the transformed roles and meanings of the ‘border’ and ‘boundary’ in the post-national order of Europe. It also considers the re-negotiation of inclusion and exclusion along lines of race and culture in the ‘new Europe’ and the current boundary anxieties taking place across the continent as it is transformed from one of colonial emigration to one of post-colonial immigration. The current crises taking place across nearly all the major cities of Europe are motivated it seems largely by the fact that the ‘others’ against which Europe has been traditionally defined are now inside its borders. In the present context many of the groups who were defined and racialised as ‘non-European’ are now in Europe and not only challenging the ‘fictive ethnicities’ (Balibar 2002) of the nation-states in which they live — states historically premised upon the fiction of a national identity grounded in ethno-cultural homogeneity — but also by claiming the identity of ‘European’ at the same time as they maintain diasporic and transnational communities which reach beyond and outside of Europe, are also creating new configurations of identity and potentialising new powers of citizenship.

5. If Europe’s historical position of dominance is inextricably linked with the processes of colonialism and imperialism through which it negotiated with the rest of the world, then this increasingly deterritorialised cosmopolitan space within its borders poses a potent challenge to many of the assumptions upon which these processes were founded. This contested space then, has the potential to actually contribute to the project Dipesh Chakrabarty has called ‘provincialising Europe’ (Chakrabarty 2000). The post-national order of Europe, configured as a space where questions of identity, belonging, culture, language and representation must be articulated together in complex ways, has the potential to dismantle the singular concept of world-history in which Europe has a monopoly on the idea of the modern and on the political forms of modern sovereignty. While this approach appears at first glance unrealistically optimistic it is underscored by a certain pragmatism the realities of the current moment force us to confront. What is at stake here is how countries respond to and deal with the increasing difference, diversity and cultural heterogeneity within their borders. This crucial issue is also an ethical question: how do nation-states, founded historically on the premise of unity, commonality and sameness respond to the multiplicity of ethnicities and identities within their cities. The most fundamental issue at stake here then is about how Europe might move beyond the nation-state model of sovereign power. This model, which depended on a well-integrated social and political order, the grounding of the national community in a specific, delineated territory, and the effacing and assimilation of differences, cannot respond to the transnational complexities of the current moment of globalisation. Yet, in the present climate, the ‘new Europe’ appears to be simply reproducing the political and ideological machinery of the nation-state at a supranational level. In this situation, the role of borders and boundaries in enacting modes and inclusion and exclusion in the European sphere take on a primary significance.

From Imperialism to Empire

6. Over the last few decades, the globalisation of cultural and economic exchanges has undoubtedly intensified: the growth of communications systems, the globalising logic of capital, and apparatuses of command and control have linked the world into a complex whole, a dense matrix of mobility and circulation. This period of globalisation—a process involving a nexus of political, economic and cultural changes linked to the growth and spread of communication and transportation technologies, has redefined the relations between the nation-state and the forces of capital, transformed communities, and profoundly reshaped the connections between place and culture. With the current acceleration of globalisation, political and physical boundaries no longer serve to delimit the nation-state’s ‘natural’ borders: the nation simultaneously exists and disintegrates amidst transnational allegiances and contestations, information vectors and flows of capital, cultures and labour power, and the generally increasing movement, both ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’, of people around the world. Inter-state and supra-national structures, along with a pervasive neo-liberalism, all short-circuit the legitimacy and autonomy of the nation-state.

7. In their recent project, Empire, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri trace these global patterns of social organisation and describe the emergence of a new global form of sovereignty that gradually encompasses the entire world within its expanding, flexible frontiers. This new form of sovereignty is not tied to the system of modernity and to the territorial nation-state which very much existed at the core of this system, but to a new supranational and deterritorialising regime defined by constant flows of movement (of money, technology, people and goods) along global circuits of production and exchange. Against the territorial centres, borders and boundaries of nation-states, empire establishes an apparatus of rule and a spatial totality that modulates its reach and extension over new and different markets, spaces and identities, incorporating and using all within the expansion of its imperial command. The passage to Empire, they argue, emerges in the wake of the demise of the nation state along with the social and political principles upon which it was based and the nationalist ideologies of exclusion, division and containment it supported. Yet, as Hardt and Negri state, the ‘decline in sovereignty of nation-states, however, does not mean that sovereignty as such has declined’ (Hardt and Negri 2000, p. xi). But before I go on to consider the Europe Union as a supranational space within the framework suggested, it is worth considering the political form of the nation-state, its role in European colonialism, and also the way in which this state-form was both exported by Europe, and became the geo-political normative premise by which Europe interacted with ‘elsewhere’.

Outside Europe

8. The modern nation-state is characterised by three distinct elements: territory, peoples, and sovereignty. Over recent decades the meanings of the three terms have undergone considerable permutation and they no longer map so easily or neatly onto self-evident realities. As Hardt and Negri argue, the territorial boundaries, highly-integrated spaces of national identity and identification as a means of legitimation, and the political and military technologies of sovereignty defined by the modern system of nation-states were fundamental to European colonialism and economic expansion:

Imperialism was really an extension of the sovereignty of the European nation-states beyond their own boundaries. Eventually nearly all the world’s territories could be parceled out and the entire world map could be coded in European colours: red for British territory, blue for French, green for Portugese, and so forth. Wherever modern sovereignty took root, it constructed a Leviathan that overarched its social domain and imposed hierarchical territorial boundaries, both to police the purity of its own identity and to exclude all that was other (Hardt and Negri 2000, p.xii).

In one most definitive sense, Australia is an historical product of this universalising project of European modernity and colonial expansion (see Ang and Stratton 1996). It is a settler society and immigrant-based country, produced from successive waves of migration and settlement, from trade and colonialism, from the exploitation of both human and natural resources, and from entangled and overlaid vectors of mobility and movement. Despite the substantial non-European migration to Australia since the 1970s, mostly from South-East Asia, Australian culture and its peoples are ‘demonstrably European’, the product of a European-derived society and heritage (Gibson 1992).

9. Mainly as a result of this resolutely international past, and the legacy of a civil war between the white European settlers and the indigenous inhabitants, a war that has yet to be fully acknowledged and recognised as such, narratives of national culture and identity have become a salient site for working through the ambiguities, ambivalences and repressions that will consequently adhere to any proposed model of nationhood or national 'home'. Nations are narrated, and Australian identity has historically been played out according to the shifting narrative demands of a white, European self. Yet unlike more conventional forms of European nation-building, Australian national identity has had to negotiate a difficult path through two related yet opposing demands: enunciating difference—from the British Empire and more generally the Western World (Australia has always had a strong, though unrealised, republican tradition)—while simultaneously claiming sameness, unity and commonality (through an assimilation policy which stressed not only white identity but often also European identity, and in its guise as the White Australia policy excluded Asians and other ‘non-whites’). White Australia carries with it this heritage of double displacement: a history of displaced Europeans who are neither wholly displaced nor wholly European, struggling to achieve settlement in an inhospitable land in the Antipodes—a geographic site already constructed as a semi-mythical space of imaginary longing and displacement—by various means that have included the violent displacement and dispossession of others.

10. An export of the project of European modernity, Australia constructed itself as a site of democracy and civilisation. Like all instances of European civilisation, however, this image is incomplete. In reality, it was founded on exclusion and repression, a historical process realised through regimes of brutality and inequality. The land that the European explorers declared Terra Nullius, meaning literally, empty, vacant land, was actually far from empty: the traditional owners of the land were the many language groups within the Indigenous population. But it was already occupied in another way too: founded on the cultural and political assumptions of European colonialism, it was impossible for this land to exist outside of the principles of European modernity even if it was a space outside of Europe. As first a settler colony, and later as an independent nation-state, Australia was positioned firmly within the framework of European imperialism and reproduced its values and also its ideologies: namely, the universalisation of the nation-state as the most desirable form of political community. This is of course the political form whose unity can only ever be predicated on the imposed assimilation, containment, even eradication, of difference and complexity, of ‘minorities’, ‘migrants’ and ‘foreigners’, by the establishment of an imagined community that must be maintained through the performative work of nation-building, and through constantly-rehearsed anxieties of national identity, and also through the policing of borders.

11. Given it’s geographical location, and strategic and economic position in the Asia-Pacific region, a European cultural identity for Australia now seems a strange misnomer. At the same time though, to define Australia as a European country forces one to negotiate Australia’s anomolous geographic and ethnic position in an Asia-Pacific region which also continually reminds it that it is not Asian. Not only must Australia work through what it actually means to be South of the West, but also South of the East. Perhaps then, to recognise Australia as a European society is also to recognise its provincial qualities and limitations (Gibson 1992; Chakrabarty 2000). This recognition has significance that extends far wider than Australia’s borders however: it is simultaneously, a recognition that ‘the West’ is no longer simply European or European-derived. Modernity has become global (Regan 1996).

12. But what do we actually mean when we talk about ‘Australia’, ‘Asia’, ‘Europe’ and the ‘West’? After all, these sites are not natural entities but historically produced, homogenising categories which reflect the assumptions of the systems in which they were first created. As Ang has pointed out, the very idea of distinct, demarcatable regions of the world originated within a Eurocentric system of geographical classification, which then circumscribed in an asymmetrical relationship Asia and the East’s negative difference from the West (Ang 2001, p.4). As one Japanese theorist Naoki Sakai has recently pointed out, the West, is ‘a name which always associating itself with those regions, communities, and peoples that appear politically and economically superior to other regions, communities and peoples’ (cited in Ang 2001, p. 4). Europe, likewise, is not just a geographical site, it is also an idea: an idea inextricably linked with the origins and myths of Western civilisation and indissociable from the haunting and violent encounters with its colonial Others.

13. These processes of conquest, colonisation, and empire formation, the settlement by Europeans of other parts of the globe, of nationalism and nationalist struggles, decolonisation and postcolonialism, constitute the terrain on which Europe constructed itself and its others. It is very much against this background that the current transformations in the global economic and political order are taking shape. And, it is against this backdrop that the ‘new Europe’ is emerging. But what exactly is this ‘new Europe’? What can this Europe mean? Is there such a thing as Euroculture? Is it possible to speak about a European identity? What points of identification can it offer to its peoples? Nothing is less certain. It is though these very questions that address exactly how it is that Europe is to come to terms with the forces of globalisation that are reshaping the contemporary world system, and what kind of state-formation and identity it is that Europeans are imagining for themselves in this new world order?

Fortress Europe

14. Since the signing of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, in and around the ‘new Europe’ we’ve seen a resurgence of nationalisms, along with the intensification of popular as well as institutionalised racism, and genocidal campaigns of ethnic cleansing. Since 1992, we’ve also heard much about a new space of collective belonging and identification, a transnational Euroculture able to transcend and also unite national particularisms and local and regional identities. The sense of being European has been invoked. But what does this mean exactly? Is there a difference between thinking of oneself as a "European" (a label once synonymous with that of being a white coloniser of nonwhite people’s territories) and of being a member of an as yet unrealised European state or nation or people? (Schlesinger 1993). Like all identity categories, the category of European is slippery and difficult indeed. It is not a natural, unchanging category; it is a discursive nomination articulated by a range, of diverse, sometimes incompatible, discourses. It is subject to change and contestation and it has been mobilised, historically, in different ways to suit different political agendas. As Etienne Balibar has pointed out, until the middle of the 20th century, the principal meaning of the term ‘European’ refereed to groups of colonisers in the colonised regions of the world (Brah 1996).

15. So, what kind of identity for Europe? The language of official Euroculture is significant here. The discourses we’ve seen so far have emphasised cohesion, unity, integration and security. A new European order is imagined in terms of an idealised wholeness, boundedness and containment. Conceived in this sense, difference is always problematic, a threat to coherence and integrity. This model of identity belies an inability to imagine Europe as anything other than the nation-state writ large (Morley and Robins 1995). Some have suggested that focus should be on what have been called European ‘core values’. A typical shopping list could perhaps include: democracy, private property, the market, Roman law, renaissance Humanism, Christianity, individualism and rationalism (Smith cited in Schlesinger, p.14).

16. A number of solutions to the lack of a common European culture have also been proposed. There has been a concerted attempt to produce an overarching European identity that can articulate with the official identities of existing nation-states and also with the emergent identities of regions, a model of supra-national identity that can compete with the powerful appeal of national identity. The idea of an integrated Europe 'a common European Home' emerged to express cohesion, community and 'unity from diversity' as the European Community struggled to build a coherent trading bloc. Although this was an attempt to create a new space of identity and interaction that could articulate identification across a number of scales (local, regional, national, transnational), the European House soon began to appear as simply 'Fortress Europe': closed, exclusive and bounded.

17. The supranationalist quest for a new Europe forces us however to rethink the nation-state, along with the system of modernity it both belonged to and represented. It may be a little premature to proclaim the withering away or disappearance of the nation-state, but it is certainly changing, and definitely in crisis. But, in the light of the old and new nationalist sentiments we hear every day, what exactly has changed? One of the defining characteristics of the nation-state and its nationalism was its racial and ethnic homogeneity, its insistence on integration and equilibrium. Yet with the increasing movement of people, communities and cultures through immigration and diasporic networks of labour, we now live in a world where all traces of homogeneity seem to have disappeared. The massive flows and migrations of people around the globe have not only redefined place-based identity, but have led to deterritorialised connections and attachments to multiple places, where people’s lives transcend and are translated across specific boundaries and identities.

18. The history of the nation-state is one of territorial integrity and the ‘invented traditions’ of an imagined identity and unity. Yet national cultures and sovereign claims to national destinies have never been ethnically pure or able to successfully erase differences. What’s more, this always already heterogeneous nation-state form is now being compounded by one of the largest, voluntary and involuntary mass migrations. In Europe, countries which are already the sites of diasporic spaces and transnational cultures that bypass the nation-state, are becoming inextricably ‘multicultural states’. These changes have transformed Europe from a continent of emigration into a continent of immigration, an epochal change that has introduced an unprecedented cultural and ethnic heterogeneity—ethnically, religiously, culturally, linguistically— throughout European space (Ang 1999). Many of the groups who existed historically as the Others against which Europe defined itself and who were previously racialised outside Europe, are now literally in Europe.

19. What we are seeing then are new forms of social organisation and new kinds of identity formation in the weakening of nation-states (Hannerz 1996). Alongside the formation of new transnational political and economic entities and networks, therefore, there is then a corresponding transnationalism in the formation of identities and loyalties among various groups who do not regard the nation as the sole or principal source of identification. These go hand in hand with the formation of new solidarities (human rights groups, environmental groups, counter-globalisation movements) and new notions of citizenship. Major cities, as Saskia Sassen’s work has demonstrated, have emerged as sites not only for global capital, but also for the transnationalisation of labour and the formation of transnational identities (Sassen 1996). The transnational encounters and connections and diasporic communities and cultures found in most global cities today, break the binary relation of ‘minorities’ and ‘majorities’, ‘locals and ‘foreigners’ and are sustained in hybrid historical junctures.

20. So, economic globalisation promotes the flows of footloose transnational capital as well as strengthens the control of financial networks and corporations. But the same forces also produce increasingly deterritorialied transnational communities, cosmopolitan public spheres, and potentialise new powers of citizenship. The territorialising forces of colonialism and neocolonialism are now, in a sense, inverted, with the reverse flows of deterritorialised populations — mobilities driven to a great extent by political or economic necessity—disturbing the fixed identities of places and spaces (Rodowick 2002). Transnationalism, therefore does not simply refer to the globalisation of markets and capital and transnational elites, but also to social and cultural relations which flow through transnational spaces. This ‘transnationalism from below’ as it has been called, is concerned with the social spaces and everyday practices of ordinary people as their lives transcends national boundaries and intersect with and are formed within the cultures of at least two nations (Thomas 2000; Basch, Glick-Sciller and Szanton-Blanc 1994; Smith and Guarnizo 1998).

21. The complex cultural and political allegiances and politics of identity emerging from these disjunctures, however, is far from a simple happy hybridity, straightfoward fusion or cultural relativism. It is entirely a product of cultures and histories in collision and confrontation. We can consider the phenomenon of the Russian-Germans, which I mentioned at the start of this article, as another example which highlights the complexity of experiences of identity and belonging in the present period. These ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe are ‘returning’ to Germany in the wake of unification and the end of the cold war. The ancestors of these people settled several hundred years ago in Russia in response to an invitation to fill labour shortages, but were then persecuted as ‘aliens’ and ‘foreigners’ by Stalin, with many deported to camps in Siberia and central Asia. They say they are returning to their homeland. Yet many speak antique German dialects, and many others only speak Russian. Many return puzzled to find that actually-existing Germany is not like they imagined, and that they are not always welcomed back ‘home’ by their fellow German citizens. One German woman from Kazakhstan, arriving at Frankfurt airport, declared ‘We are in heaven’. Another young woman however, complained (in Russian because she speaks no German) ‘I thought I was coming to Germany … Instead it’s Turkey’ (Morley 2000, p. 257-258).

22. This situation not only highlights the changing discourses of foreignness in Germany and the different ways the ‘outsider’ has been defined, but it also reveals the myths of origin and identity (‘blood, soil and frontiers’) enshrined and called into being by the nation-state. The predominant term conventionally used to denote the ‘foreigner’ was that of Gastarbeiter. This term has now largely disappeared from both official and popular discourse and has generally been replaced by the opposition between Germans and Ausländer. This term functioned largely as a synonym for the group most often assumed to be at the furthest cultural distance from Germany - the Turkish. In recent years, a further distinction has been made between Ausländer and Asylanter (asylum seekers). The arrival of Germans from the eastern ‘new states’ has further complicated these hierarchies of difference. Many locals feel increasing levels of resentment towards these Aussiedler who, unlike Turkish-German residents, can claim their ‘blood tie’ to German ethnicity and thus are immediately granted citizenship.

23. Thus we can imagine these new identity formations, this new cosmopolitanism of sorts, as a contested space that both reinforces and challenges the traditional divisions and hierarchies of the national order. We must not forget, however, that over the last few years the processes I’ve just been describing have been matched by the disturbing rise of ugly and chauvinist nationalisms, fundamentalisms of all kinds, and increasing xenophobia. World-wide, we are seeing more and more so-called ‘tough measures’ to deal with the ‘undocumented’: people without identity papers, asylum seekers, refugees, what Fanon so aptly described as the wretched of the earth. In Italy, Berlusconi pushes for new anti-immigration legislation; in Germany and Austia we hear the constant complaints about Uberfremdung, too many foreigners; in the Netherlands, politicians are campaigning on anti-Muslim, zero immigration campaigns. In France of course, we have seen the recent elections where the National Front, though defeated, gained one of the highest votes ever recorded by the far right. Everywhere we hear the rhetoric of ‘swamping’. What is being asserted here is a defensive, cultural exclusiveness and fundamentalism, an aggressive assertion of places and nations as origins, as the sites of primordial identity and belonging. However nations and places, have never been closed, bounded and stable. Perhaps, as Marc Auge puts it, the reason why immigrants worry settled people so much is that they expose the relative nature of certainties inscribed in the soil (Auge 1995, p.218).

24. The various fundamentalisms and nationalisms around us today, are of course racist and xenophobic, but they also have to be understood as the social and political protests of newly marginalised groups against the dominant political and economic order that excludes them from full participation in social life. Our contemporary theories and analyses appear in this context then to fall short of an adequate understanding of the ambiguities of the present moment in which societies that have constituted their own identities by, historically, dispossessing others, now find themselves subject to intensifying fear, anxieties and dilemmas of displacement. Now more than ever we’re witnessing the specific tensions and fractures between the modern, nationalist state, and the claims of disenfranchised minorities, whose continuing presence in the cities of Europe disturbs the apparent coherence of the nation’s claim to a universalist identity. In the Europe without borders, the loosening of internal borders has been accompanied by a tightening of external borders, and restrictive immigration controls, many of which are exempt from EU race equality directives and thus not yet subject to democratic regulation (Brah 1996). What is at stake here then is the modes of inclusion and exclusion in the European sphere, as a political and economic sphere, but also as a sphere of communication, cooperation, responsibility and reciprocity between peoples. The difficulty many Europeans experience in coming to terms with the presence of non-whites and non-Western others in cities, towns and villages, and the hatred and violence that we’ve seen over the last few years, means that the capacity to live with difference, is one of most pressing questions for European culture at the beginning of the 21st century (Hall 1993).

From Territory to Border

25. One of nationalism’s specific traits is that it is necessarily territorial. Nationality is predicated on territoriality, and a national existence depends on the boundaries and borders of this territorial realm providing both the metaphorical and physical manifestation of sovereignty (see Hage 1993). Yet as Hardt and Negri argue, Empire does not establish itself through the imposition and regulation of fixed borders and boundaries, nor anchor itself in a territorial centre of power. Rather it takes the form of new supranational and deterritorialising form of sovereignty, which reconfigures the relationship between territories and states, governments and markets and, in the manner of perhaps its penultimate form and expression—the transnational corporation—redistributes power beyond the control of national boundaries.

26. Supranational entities of economic governance such as the EU, the World Trade Organisation, the IMP and the World Bank certainly appear then to confirm Hardt and Negri’s thesis of the passage of the system of international nation-states to a new global order, the order of Empire. If the passage to Empire emerges, as they suggest, from ‘the twilight of modern sovereignty’, then it also emerges from the twilight of a particular conception of citizenship, and the ontological foundations of the national subject and national consciousness. If the bounded territorial authority of the nation-state provided ontological basis that enabled the exercise of a particular form of sovereignty, it also, to a great extent, provided ontological security for the state’s national subjects. The demise of the nation-state as a secure ontological container for the organisation of social life and human activity, and as a site of emotional investment and belonging has profound consequences.

27. As the relationships between territory and border, space and capital become realigned, unprecedented levels of anxiety, insecurity and fear emerge precisely in that space of tension and fracture between nationalism and globalisation. For Etienne Balibar, these new relationships between states and global processes inevitably lead to a kind of ontological national insecurity: as the nation state moves from being a stable site of political agency and authority and a container of experience and belonging, ‘masses of the population feel unsafe in the very state that is meant to protect them’ (Balibar 1997). Within the transformed relations between the state and market, the government and private sector that globalisation necessarily entails, compounded with the nation-states abdication of its authority and withdrawal from society and social policy, ‘all the conditions are present for a collective sense of identity panic to be produced and maintained’. As Balibar argues, although the most deprived and disenfranchised and most remote from power ‘fear the state [but] they fear still more its disappearance or decomposition’ (Balibar 1991, p. 16-17). This situation, Balibar suggests, leads to a crisis of sovereignty and a crisis of political culture. But it also presents a challenge to rethink the very bases of the monolithic, egoistic and inward-looking nation-state, and to develop an open, responsible and ecumenical citizenship that can respond to the increasing interdependence of cultures in the current transational moment. It leads, above all, to the question of ‘what the state is tending to become, how it is behaving, and what functions it is fulfilling in the European space ... a space which, in particular cannot simply be reduced to the figure of a "territory"’ (1991, p.16). Balibar’s work is significant here for suggesting that what is needed is a thorough reconceptualisation of the transfomed role, function and meaning of ‘borders’. Although some of have proudly declared this a borderless world (Ohmae 1996), less than ever does the contemporary global situation present a world without borders. As his important work shows, borders may be vacillating and may be becoming more capricious, but they are not disappearing. They are intensifying and being both ‘multiplied and reduced in their localisation and their function, thinned and doubled, even becoming zones, regions and countries where people are forced to reside and live’ (Balibar 1995, p. 220). One of Balibar’s most pertinent points in the context of this discussion, however, is his observation that it is the very relationship between the border and territory that is being inverted. Borders are no longer merely markers of the limits of sovereignty, borders around the space of the political or even demarcations of the ‘edges’ or outer limits of national territories. They are then ‘no longer the shores of politics, but have indeed become—perhaps by way of the police, given that every border patrol is today an organ of "internal security"—things within the space of the political itself’’(ibid). In this sense, border zones, where cultural differences must be confronted and negotiated, where inequities in rights and privileges are most visible, are not peripheral or marginal in any way; rather they are central to what it means to constitute a public sphere.

28. The system of Western modernity, along with the borders of the nation-states which conferred the political, military and administrative functions of sovereignty onto territory, is becoming irreversibly undone. But as Balibar’s work on the fate of nation-state in Europe demonstrates, this situation precedes the Maastricht Treaty or the Schengen Accords or other political measures to create a European super-state. It comes primarily, he argues, from the transformation of networks of communication and transportation and the unprecedented levels of movement and mobility of populations along these networks. These changes have created:

within each territory zones of transit and transition, populations "awaiting" entry or exit (sometimes for several years, sometimes in a periodically repeated fashion), individually or collectively engaged in a process of negotiation of their presence (that is, their political, economic, cultural, religious, and other rights) with one or more states (Balibar 1995, p. 218).

As Brian Massumi has put it in another context, it is the very nature of the border that is profoundly changing in meaning:

The individual is defined more by the boundaries it crosses than the limits it observes ... Every boundary is present everywhere, potentially. Boundaries are set and specified in the act of passage. The crossing actualises the boundary - rather than the boundary defining something inside by its inability to cross. There is no inside, and no outside ... Only a field of exteriority, a network of more or less regulated passages across thresholds (Massumi 1993, p. 26-27).

29. It is this situation we are witnessing today with the movements of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. In the increasingly repressive and intolerant responses to asylum seekers all over the world, most notably in Australia and Europe, the state’s increasing abdication of responsibility for social justice, as well as the social dislocations arising in the wake of rampant neo-liberal restructuring, are clearly evident. The arrival of groups from the peripheries of Empire (groups deemed redundant to capital expansion) into metropolitan centres of power, exposes the limits of Empire as a supposedly borderless, deterritorialised terrain, just as much as it exposes the theoretical limits of liberal political philosophy. Global migration challenges the practices of exclusion through which the nation-state constituted itself and its ‘others’, in exactly the same manner as it lays bare the highly uneven and contradictory nature of global interconnectedness, where flows of goods, services and capital and technologies are encouraged while at the very same time new borders and boundaries appear to discipline, restrict and contain the movements of certain groups. The words of Margaret Thatcher sum up the pernicious nature of this uneven mobility and development quite starkly: ‘we joined Europe to have free movement of goods ... I did not join Europe to have free movement of terrorists, criminals, drugs, plant and animal diseases and rabies and illegal immigrants’.

30. The EU is a case in point. At exactly the same time as it has relaxed its internal borders to encourage economic integration it has tightened its peripheral borders. This has also gone hand in hand with a racialisation, criminalisation and dehumanisation of the outsiders beyond these boundaries, who, as Thatcher’s words indicate, constitute the collective waste and extreme ‘otherness’ of European civilisation. In her words, we can see these dynamics clearly, as those who are deemed excess and redundant are spatially restricted and condemned to the zones of systematic underdevelopment, poverty and inequality actually produced within and by the networks of globalised world economic system. Similarly, the decline of the nation-state as the homogenising container of experience has in no way altered the divide between ‘majorities’ and ‘minorities’, ‘locals’ and ‘foreigners’ which was at its core. Indeed these divisions and exclusions, and the hierarchies between cultures they represent, appear to be reproduced and multiplied at the level of the post-national or supranational community that the European Union is aspiring to become.

31. The ontology of the nation-state, its particular logic of identity that depended upon the elimination of difference and complexity and the maintenance of firm boundaries against foreigners, strangers and aliens, indeed anyone seen to contradict the image of an homogenous national identity and primordial unity, is inadequate to the times of transnational communities and the responsibilities to those outside our borders. It is this logic of identity, with its fearful and anxious, self-enclosed and egoistic way of being and belonging that went hand in hand with the nation-state and which is now being reinvigorated as a response to the decline of its power and authority. As Andreas Huyssen has argued, the modern, with its dialectical dynamic of inclusion/exclusion, of identity constructed through negation, has been very much an ‘adversarial space’, always manifest with and defined by, an ‘anxiety of contamination by its other’ (Huyssen 1986, p. vii). At a time when boundaries are virtual and continually fluctuating, identity posed along the lines of a limitation or exclusion as constitutive makes, Massumi states, ‘a dwelling of the derivative’. The empty container of national identity as bounded, situated and defined by its negation of others, has then no alternative other than to become fortress-like, offering a temporary oasis of relative stasis, ‘a local reterritorialisation, guarded frontiers in an uncertain landscape’ (Massumi 1993, p. 32)


32. In considering the possibilities and the limits of European integration, questions of identity, of collective and cultural identity are paramount. Perhaps the most pressing questions are how do these officially sanctioned versions of Euroculture and EuroIdentity accommodate the large numbers of migrant and diasporic populations and communities now living in the continent? How do these political and economic institutions reflect and relate to the new ethnicities and identity formations that emerge when cultures interact and become entangled? How can the European right to citizenship be in any way compatible with the social and economic realities of globalisation, and yet exist without the closure of national identity or of other fictive ethnicities? Can any of this actually be possible?

33. There is a quasi-mythical remark by Jean Monnet, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the project of European unification: ‘If we were beginning the European Community all over again, we should begin with culture’ (Morley and Robins 1995, p. 44) . Monnet’s remark has achieved the status of a cliché in European academic and political circles. It acknowledges the fanciful and dangerous idea that something called European identity or European culture could be willed into being overnight, produced spontaneously by the single market or the requirements of a banking system or by a common currency. In essence, European integration has been motivated primarily by the economic and political necessities of global capitalism, guided and shaped by the interests and aspirations of political elites and economic imperatives, but at the same time it cannot successfully rest upon a conception of culture and an understanding of social identitification, identity and belonging so shallow, abstract and bureaucratically determined (Hall 1993).

34. Monnet’s remark, despite its nature as an empty rhetorical gesture now constantly cited in an almost meaningless fashion, still serves to highlight the problems that emerge when societies are based solely upon economic principles and considerations, where market forces reorder social life, stripping of it social meaning and turning it into flows of profit and loss in circulation. Free-market capitalism can’t provide a meaningful sense of identity, except for the identity of the consumer. Nor can it offer solutions to the social and economic insecurity that globalisation creates. Governments embracing global capitalism must recognise the insecurities, and then the spiralling sets of fears and anxieties they give rise to, which are created when stable social structures are systematically dismantled and when states, in effect, withdraw from societies. Global capitalism may still need the state to some extent, but it no longer really needs the nation. But the old contradiction between the idea of the nation as an economy, and the nation as an ethno-cultural formation, still lingers. It is a contradiction we see appearing in France today, with Le Pen’s attacks on North Africans and other migrant groups, millions of whom were accepted in the 1950s and 1960s precisely for economic reasons (labour shortages) but who are even today still being defined as existing outside of an exclusively defined ethno-cultural conception of the nation.

35. Since cultural diversity is, without question, the destiny, indeed the fate, of the modern world, as Stuart Hall, the black-British theorist puts it, complex questions of cultural identity and issues of social and political rights are therefore crucial. The incommensurabilities of cultural difference and the rights of citizenship must be reconciled if Europe can be anything other than just an enlarged national community. As Hall has argued, the ‘more one believes in Europe, or the more the question of Europe appears to be a contested concept worth struggling over and around, the more important are the questions of which Europe, and of what is European culture, and whose European identity, and which version of European modernity? Indeed it is also the question of how and whether it might ever be possible to be both black and European’ (Hall 1993, p. 358). Or indeed Muslim and European.

36. In this important sense then, the issue is about how Europe might move beyond the nation-state model of sovereign power. The somewhat unfortunate naming of Europe as ‘the space of freedom, security and justice’ perhaps doesn’t bode well. This model, which depended on a coherent and homogeneous social and political order, the grounding of the national culture in a specific, delineated territory, and the attempted elimination of differences, cannot respond to the complexities of the current transnational moment. In the increasingly borderless world of globalisation what is now needed are new images of sovereignty, identity and belonging which are adequate to the plurality, heterogeneity and mobilities of the new global context. What is now called for is the need to come to terms with other cultures and cultural differences, communities and nations. In the context of the changing world order, there is a need to recognise that a community’s obligations extend beyond itself. Europe has always been a cosmopolitan project, tied to the destinies of others, variously defined, all over the world. And it has always been connected to cosmopolitan projects, to Imperialism, to dividing up the world and expanding ‘civilisation’, and now to building the world’s biggest single economic and political bloc in the 21st century. The challenge now though is for a cosmopolitan project within Europe, for an embrace of multicultural difference and diversity, for a recognising of the discrepant cosmopolitans, the nonaligned transnational identities, cultures and communities struggling for an existence within and against nation-states and new economic divisions and markets. The challenge is to acknowledge the increasing interdependence of cultures, the complicated entanglement and interconnectedness of an increasingly globalised world. It is also to recognise the responsibilities and obligations that this interconnectedness entails.

37. As Balibar has argued, ‘what is currently at stake does not consist in a struggle for or against European identity in itself ... the stakes actually revolve around the invention of a transnational citizenship that allows us to democratise the borders of Europe, to overcome its interior divisions, and to completely reconsider the role of European nations in the world’ (Balibar 2002, p.77). Well, yes, that is quite a tall order. Perhaps more modestly, we could say that if the European project is to mean anything, if the system of nation-states and the symbolic and physical violence it depends upon, is ever to be replaced by a more open and ecumenical social and political culture, then these responsibilities and obligations must find expression in and through the creation of political and cultural institutions which themselves represent difference, heterogeneity and inclusiveness rather than borders and exclusion.

38. The challenge then is for a recognition of ways of belonging which are not closed, insular and unitary and which do not automatically presuppose a ‘fixed address’ or locate ‘origins’ as the only condition of possibility for attachment and identity, or depend upon the exclusion of ‘others’ beyond the boundaries of a secure and sovereign enclosure. It is also the challenge to be able to conceptualise a citizenship without myths of identity and without the fictive ethnicities and repressions characteristic of national identity and the national state. It is the possibility of inventing a new kind of identity and a new image of the relations of connection and reciprocity between transnational communities, a new way of conceptualising identity, and also a new kind of openness to the identities and differences of others.


Fiona Allon is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney. She has published widely in the areas of Australian cultural history and cultural studies. Her current research interests include: urban cultures; place, space and identity; and new communication technologies. In 2002 she was a Visiting Lecturer in Cultural Studies at the Centre for European and North American Studies, Georg-August University, Goettingen, Germany. Email:


Ang, I. 1999. ‘Eurocentric Reluctance: Notes for a Cultural Studies of "the new Europe". Kuan-Hsing Chen (ed) Trajectories. London: Routledge. pp. 87-108.

Ang, I. 2001. On Not Speaking Chinese: Living between Asia and the West. London: Routledge.

Ang, I., and Stratton, J., 1996. ‘Asianing Australia: Notes Toward a Critical Transnationalism in Cultural Studies’, Cultural Studies, Vol.10, No.1. January.

Appadurai, A., 1990. ‘Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy’, Public Culture 2.2, Spring, pp. 1-24.

Appadurai, A., 1996. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Auge, M., 1995. Non-Places. Trans. John Howe. London: Verso.

Balibar, E. 1995. ‘The borders of Europe’, in P. Cheah and B. Robbins (eds), Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling Beyond the Nation. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pp: 216-229.

Balibar, E., 1991. ‘Es gibt kein Staat in Europa: racism and politics in Europe today’. New Left Review 186.

Balibar, E., 1995. ‘Ambiguous Universality’, Differences, No.7, Spring.

Balibar, E., 1997. ‘Race against Time’, New Times, 18 January.

Balibar, E., 2002. ‘World Borders, Political Borders’. Modern Language Association of America.

Basch, L., Glick-Schiller, N., and Szanton-Blanc, C. (eds.) 1994. Nations Unbound: Transnational Projects, Postcolonial Predicaments, and Deterritorialised Nation-States. Amsterdam and New York: Gordon and Breach.

Baudrillard, J., 1988. America. Trans. Chris Turner. London: Verso.

Brah, A. 1998. ‘Re-framing Europe’, in her Cartographies of Diaspora. London and New York: Routledge.

Chakrabarty, D., 2000. Provincialising Europe: Postcolonial thought and Historical Difference. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Gibson, R., 1992. South of the West: Postcolonialism and the Narrative Construction of Australia. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Giesbrecht, A., 2001/2002. ‘Ich bin eine Europäerin’. Heimatbuch der Deutschen aus Russland.

Hall, S., 1993. ‘Culture, Community, Nation’. Cultural Studies 7 (3). pp. 349-363.

Hannerz, U., 1996. Transnational Connections: culture, people, places. London: Routledge.

Hardt, M., and Negri, A., 2000. Empire. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Huyssen, A., 1986. After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Massumi, B., (ed) 1993. The Politics of Everyday Fear. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Miyoshi, M., 1993. ‘A Borderless World?: From Colonialism to Transnationalism and the Decline of the Nation-State’, Critical Inquiry 19, pp. 726-37.

Morley, D., 2000. Home Territories: Media, mobility and identity. London: Routledge.

Morley, D., and Robins, K., 1995. Spaces of Identity: global media, electronic landscapes and cultural boundaries. London: Routledge.

Ohmae, K., 1996. The Borderless World. New York: Harper.

Regan, T., 1996. ‘Problematizing Nationhood’ in his Australian National Cinema. London: Routledge. pp.304-364.

Rodowick, D. N., 2002. ‘Introduction: Mobile Citizens, Media States. Modern Language Association of America.

Sassen, S., 1996. ‘Whose City is It?: Globalisation and the Formation of New Claims’, Public Culture 8. pp. 205-23.

Schlesinger, P., 1993. ‘Wishful Thinking: Cultural Politics, Media, and Collective Identities in Europe’. Journal of Communication 43 (2). Spring.

Smith, M. P., and Guarnizo, L. E., (eds.) 1998. Transnationalism from Below. New Brunswick: Transaction.

Thomas, M., ‘The Pleasures and Torments of Banal Transnationalism’. Unpublished Paper.

Tololyan, K., 1996. ‘The nation-state and its Others’, in G. Eley and R.G. Suny (eds) Becoming National. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wark, M., 1994. Virtual Geography: Living with global media events. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

© borderlands ejournal 2002


To top of page to top of page spacer
ISSN 1447-0810