Recently borders have come to be understood as not so much the hard territorial categories they were once assumed to be in international relations, but something much more complex - ‘vacillating,’ ‘unpredictable,’ ‘volatile.’ even.
So the challenge of any research into governance now is to go beyond the ‘territorialist’ or ‘geopolitical’ intellectual policy traditions. When studying borderland regions, we also want to be talking about bottom-up processes where local and regional power and political clout, politics and cross-border governance are tightly woven into complex cultural, economic and political structures.
We could even say that the emerging principle that guides the contemporary governance is no longer spaces of places, i.e., territories – but spaces of flows. More non-state actors are engaged in border related activity and management, so governance has become layered and complex, with differing governance in different locales, regions, bi-national contexts and various parts of the world. We want to understand the policy implications of these governance changes on borders and borderlands.
Furthermore, if we are seeing worldwide a de-nationalization of legal regimes and a privatization of land ownership, as Saskia Sassen suggests, simultaneously we see the growth in international governance bodies. And there are many, many questions we can ask about this current conjuncture.
What are the challenges involved in such multi-level governance, and how do they concern themselves with flows and their concurrent challenges to existing state boundaries? Does the a-territoriality of flows and the rise of international governance fundamentally challenge democratic principles?
How are nationalist movements in borderlands affecting this process? During the nationalist period of the last century, grammarians and educators standardized language to harden cultural boundaries. How do the new systems of governance interact with cultural boundaries today? Do they harden or soften cultural borderlands?
Meanwhile, does this shift from a governance of territories to a governance of flows lead to the rise of borderland regions as economic and political power regions in their own right?
At the same time, the territory as a technique is not simply going to vanish into thin air. Quite the contrary is the case in some areas such as migration. Here, international governance structures such as the EU increasingly concern themselves with an attempt at limitation of inward migratory flows – and thus a hardening of new external boundaries for this category of flow. Although international migration remains stable at about three percent of the world population, there are phenomena that affect quantity, and overall population growth will only increase immigration toward international economic centres.
Separately, how do international non-state actors, both private and non-profit – businesses, trade unions, NGOs, political parties, churches – participate in this wider process?
There are also a number of concrete and high-profile policy topics that can only be tackled on a trans-boundary basis. Digital surveillance and the World Wide Web have a global reach, as do infectious-disease pandemics, the spread of antibiotic resistance, and a range of ecological phenomena, from climate change to biodiversity loss. What is the nature of the international governance structures – from the UNFCCC to the WHO to ICANN – that oversee these policy areas and how do they differ?
Dr. Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly at the University of Victoria and Dr. Elisabeth Vallet at the Université de Québec à Montréal lead the Governance theme.