A Spatial Theory of Civil Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa

Lance Hadley | BIG Research Reports | #57

The state as a territorially homogenous container for sovereign power is typically utilized as a conceptual frame of analysis in intrastate conflict. However, observations of the territorial distribution of conflict in post-colonial weak states suggest geographic clustering in borderland territories. Especially in the Sub-Saharan African context, borders, despite the permeability and the arbitrariness appear to be a strategic territorial resource for alternative agents of sovereignty. While recent quantitative exploratory scholarship has suggested the significance of peripheral borderlands to intrastate war, little discussion has attempted to develop a formal theoretical framework (Buhaug 2010; Buhaug and Rød 2006; Buhaug and Lujala 2005) Combining a decade of empirical conflict observations from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) with an adaptation of Kenneth Boulding’s Loss of Strength Gradient (Boulding 1962), this paper attempts to develop a qualitative framework of state power that accounts for the spatial distribution of civil conflicts within states; or, why state power is often challenged in Africa’s borderlands. Select case comparisons are employed to explore this framework and suggest that borderlands in weak states are often spatially located where alternative sites of power can opportunistically challenge state sovereignty. Exploring the strategic importance of borderland areas, this paper seeks to elevate the discursively marginalized territory of state peripheries to the priority of developing states and the international development and security community.

Lance Hadley

A Spatial Theory of Civil Conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa

Determinants of Civil Conflict in Africa: Borders as Political Resources

Lance Hadley | BIG Research Reports | #58

Contemporary spatial research on civil conflict in Africa has largely focused on borders and the state periphery as spaces of limited political and economic opportunity. These studies largely adopt approaches that present borderland citizens as operating in structurally desolate spaces of poor governance, economic opportunity and political inclusion. While spatial analyses are permitting unprecedented focus on borderland structures, causal mechanisms that explain how the geographic opportunities present from nearby international borders inform strategies of rebellion remain undeveloped. To explore this, this paper repositions the socio-economic processes in the borderlands as the central unit of analysis. In particular, this paper conceptualizes international borders as a political resource that is exploited by borderland groups to access unregulated ‘in’ and ‘out-flows’ of strategic capacity. This access to alternative strategic capacities is hypothesized to provide the opportunity for border citizens to challenge structural grievances and attempt alternative (if unlawful) governance structures within the borderlands. Lastly, this paper concludes with a spatial theory of conflict specific to Africa’s borderlands whereby relative distances from the state capital, in combination with weak state capacity, creates sites of competing power structures and ultimately violent civil conflict.

Lance Hadley

Determinants of Civil Conflict in Africa: Borders as Political Resources

Special Section: Patterns in Border Security: Regional Comparisons

Commonwealth & Comparative Politics | Volume 59, Issue 4 | 2021

This special issue of Commonwealth & Comparative Politics raises the prospect of trust-based determinants of security communities other than cultural similarity. The case studies in this special issue document the emergence of cross-border and transgovernmental policy and enforcement networks that facilitate policy development, implementation and alignment through coordination, cooperation, and collaboration: nascent communities coordinate, ascendant communities coordinate and cooperate but struggle to collaborate, while mature communities coordinate, cooperate, and collaborate. Specifically, pluralistic forms of communication and interactions away from the actual borderline seem to play a key role in the emergence of friendly and trustful relationships among border dyads that need not necessarily be contiguous.


Foreword by Kunio Mikuriya

Introduction by Christian Leuprecht, Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, Todd Hataley & Tim Legrand

The United States–Canada security community: a case study in mature border management by Christian Leuprecht, Todd Hataley, Kelly Sundberg, Keith Cozine & Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly

Security beyond the border: exploring Australia and New Zealand trans-Tasman relations in a globalised world by Jamie Ferrill, Germana Nicklin, Tim Legrand & Haydn McComas

The European Union’s model of Integrated Border Management: preventing transnational threats, cross-border crime and irregular migration in the context of the EU’s security policies and strategies by Johann Wagner

Between triple borders: border security across Latin America’s Southern Cone by Adriana Dorfman, Rafael Francisco França & Julian Mokwa Felix

Border security management in the MENA region: models of nascent and ascendant coordination and cooperation by Daniel Meier

Border security in Africa: the paradigmatic case of the Sahel as the embodiment of security and economy in borderlands by Thomas Cantens

So similar yet so distant: border security management between India and Pakistan as a laboratory of non-experimentation by Dhananjay Tripathi


This work was supported by Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada [895-2012-1022].

Special Section: Patterns in Border Security: Regional Comparisons

BIG_Review 3.2

Spring/Summer 2022

This issue begins with a Special Section: Mexico’s Southern Border and Beyond, curated by guest editors Margath A. Walker and Jared P. Van Ramshorst. Mexico’s northern border with the United States has dominated our collective political imagination, leaving the Mexico–Guatemala border understudied. This Special Section builds on a growing body of literature that integrates findings on Mexico’s southern border into the broader study of borders. The small collection includes original research by both early career and established academics that touches on themes of immigration and border policy, the lived experiences of migrants at the border, survival strategies as a form of resistance, climate change and climate-induced mobility, and the importance of local solutions to regional and global challenges. Also included in this issue is an article by Lacin Idil Oztig that analyzes Israeli policy toward African asylum seekers and unauthorized migrants, highlighting the important roles of NGOs and judicial power.

In the Chief Editor’s-Choice Portfolio, The Social Life of Images, artist Mario Jimènez Díaz showcases his distinct mixed-media style, heavily influenced by the mixing of cultures he experienced growing up in Mexico near the US border. “Twin Cities Torn Apart”, for instance, featured on the cover, provides glimpses into the experiences of families and communities divided by the Mexico– US border, with actual ‘sutures’ evoking Mark Salter’s memorable border metaphor. Following the portfolio, our Poetry Section, edited by Natasha Sardzoska, includes the works of two wonderful poets—Lucilla Trapazzo explores migration as a consequence of a neglected humanity while Dubravka Durić’s work centres on the materiality of borders and the emotional relationship many have with bordering processes in the aftermath of the wars in Yugoslavia.

Edited by Elisa Ganivet, the Art & Border Section includes three essays. First, Madeleine Filippi introduces us to the work of Sarah Trouche, a performance artist who uses her body to challenge our conceptions of borders. To quote Filippi, “the choice to show her naked body, which engages and confronts audiences and renders herself vulnerable, becomes a living receptacle of the history of a territory in the service of potential dialogue between peoples and temporalities.” Then, published in French for the first time, we are excited to share Alberto Pacheco Benites’ Trois Regimes de Murs (“Three Regimes of Walls”), which outlines a new cartography of walls under the rubrics of ‘portable’, ‘transparented’, and ‘factual’ walls. The section closes with a short text in Spanish by Clara Bolívar that tells us a story of international art collaborations focused on border walls with reference the fall of the Berlin Wall. English translations are provided side-by-side to each of the three essays in this section. We conclude the issue with two film reviews, one by Hakan Ünay and one by Caroline Schmidt Patricio and Edgar Garcia Velozo, and two book reviews, by Chayanika Saxena and Sam Kerr.

BIG_Review 3.2

BIG_Review 2.1

Fall/Winter 2020

At time of publication (December 2020), more than 70 million people have been infected with the novel coronavirus worldwide, 1.6 million have died, and the global economy has contracted by about four percent. The virus is present in more than 200 countries and territories around the world, virtually all of them. In early December, there were more than 200,000 new infections daily in the United States alone, where because of the pandemic nearly 300,000 people have died since March 2020, making the U.S. one of the hardest hit countries in the world. Interestingly, the U.S. was also one of the first countries to close its borders (on March 20th) though the virus had already arrived. Since then, COVID-19 has spread particularly across poor, minority, urban sectors of the population. Recent news of expedited and promising vaccine trials are currently juxtaposed with surging and record levels of infections and deaths.

What is the role of border policy in confronting infectious disease? Can international boundaries contain pandemics? What are the impacts on local communities of using borders as blunt public-health instruments? What do COVID-19 border closures look like from inside borderlands? How have borderland communities responded? In what ways can border theory enhance both our understanding of and response to global pandemics?

This special issue of Borders in Globalization Review offers some preliminary responses and lays groundwork for developing research along these lines. The idea was conceived because, for many of our colleagues on the journal’s editorial board, the pandemic and global response demanded a critical rethink of border theory. We think, for example, the lead research article by Goeury and Delmas exemplifies some of the new work that is required in the era of COVID-19. The article contends that the global pandemic has not challenged or confounded international boundaries but rather accelerated historical processes of ‘bordering the world’ (a general thesis shared by Borders in Globalization researchers—namely that globalization was never about diminished borders).

Moreover, with most of the action and urgency in borderlands, we decided to document the moment of closure by inviting well-positioned colleagues to contribute a short essay on their borderlands of residence and expertise. Each scholar was invited to contribute a couple thousand words on their respective cross-border regions, comparing conditions before and after the onset of the pandemic, considering how governments and communities responded, and assessing whether border policies were effective. The 23 essays produced here, written by more than 30 authors,1 capture the experiences of borderlands under pandemic lockdown around the world, including locations in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, and North, South, and Central America.

The essays are followed by three art features that disclose quite-different borderlands under lockdown. The first is Marco Kany’s portfolio, a series of photographs of the closures of borders internal to the European Union in the region connecting France, Germany, and Luxembourg. The non-European viewer may be struck by the seeming minimalism of the European ‘closures’ (also pictured on the cover of this issue), certainly in contrast to other parts of the world. The second art piece on the theme of borderlands under COVID-19 lockdown is a video documentary by researcher Bertha Alicia Bermúdez Tapia and visual artist Mario Jímenez Díaz; it offers an empathetic view of resilient and creative lived experiences at the US–Mexico border. The third is a poem by BIG_Review poetry editor Natasha Sardzoska, written under lockdown; her work depicts the solitary human body as a kind of borderland.

That makes a total of 25 borderland-specific entries (not counting the poem) that are plotted and hyperlinked on the interactive maps.

BIG_Review 2.1

BIG_Review 1.1

Fall/Winter 2019

BIG_Review is a different kind of journal, traversing disciplinary boundaries and integrating the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Our aspiration is to make widely available academic and artistic explorations of borders in the 21st century. We seek to better understand the changing meanings, structures, and functions of international boundaries, borders and frontiers. These are no longer strictly territorial. Rather, they are increasingly noncontiguous, fragmented, mobile, and often attached to individuals and goods as they move through and between regulatory frameworks. We ask how, why, and what borders are fundamental. How do they impact people’s lives and the world we live in? These questions are increasingly important, with humankind altering global climate in ways that cannot be contained by borders, and at a time when more people than ever are on the move as migrants and asylum seekers.

Hence the primary goal of BIG_Review is to advance critical understandings of borders in globalization through new research and creative works of art. All articles and essays are double-blind peer reviewed and may be comparative, theoretical, multi-disciplinary and policy relevant; artwork includes painting, drawing, photography, poetry and fiction. Our contributors, along with our Editorial Board members, are based around the world. And the entire journal is free and available online in a variety of electronic formats as an open-access publication. We are committed to public access, quality research, policy relevance, and cultural significance.

Our inaugural issue displays this broad mandate. The following research articles explore transborder governance, identity, culture, precarity, and conflict in borderlands across the world, including the Aegean, Eastern Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab Gulf, indigenous Latin America, and more. The issue also includes academic essays on border-wall graffiti, aterritorial borders, and French thinker Paul de La Pradelle. We also feature a range of artwork, including an artist’s portfolio that imagines boundary lines and movement onto canvas, plus original verses from three poets on themes and sentiments related to borders. Book and film reviews round out the first issue.

BIG_Review 1.1

The role of cultural communities in immigrant retention

Alice Musabende | BIG Research Reports | #94

This paper presents findings from a research project funded by the Borders in Globalization network. The project investigated the role that cultural communities of African immigrants play in influencing the decision of these immigrants on whether to stay in the province of Nova Scotia.

Alice Musabende

The role of cultural communities in immigrant retention

BIG “Policy Forum” sur les frontières

Paris, France | July 7, 2016

Sécurité et développement : comment gérer la frontière?

Rapport – 2018 – Policy forum: sur les frontières

Les événements récents, de la crise migratoire aux menaces sécuritaires, ont mis les frontières sur le devant de la scène médiatique. Les frontières sont devenues un sujet éminemment politique. Pourtant, en tant qu’objets de politiques publiques, elles continuent à être perçues de manière fragmentée par les pouvoirs publics. Le Policy Forum du 7 juillet 2016 posait les bases d’une vision globale et intersectorielle d’un thème désormais incontournable. Pour ce faire, il a réuni des responsables de l’Etat et des institutions européennes, des acteurs territoriaux et des chercheurs venus d’Europe, d’Afrique et d’Amérique. Ce projet a été initié par l’Université de Grenoble et la Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière. La démarche s’inscrit dans le cadre d’un projet de recherche international, Borders in Globalization (BIG), qui a vocation à proposer de nouvelles pistes de travail pour dans les sphères de l’action publique sur les frontières. Ce Forum a permis aux acteurs de discuter des solutions qui visent à concilier la libre circulation à l’intérieur de l’Europe, le renforcement de la coopération en matière de sécurité et de contrôles, et le développement des territoires transfrontaliers au service de millions de citoyens européens.

Recent events, from the migration crisis to security threatens, brought borders into the media spotlight. Borders became an eminently political matter. However, public authorities still have a fragmented approach when considering them as subjects of public policies. The Policy Forum of July 7, 2016, laid the foundations of a global and cross-sectoral vision of a theme that we, from now on, cannot be overlooking at. To do so, it gathered heads of States and European institutions, territorial stakeholders and researchers from Europe, Africa and America. The project was introduced by the University of Grenoble and the Mission Opérationnelle Transfrontalière. It is part of an international research project, Borders in Globalization (BIG), which aims to offer new working trails to the public action spheres on borders. This Forum allowed stakeholders to discuss finding solutions aiming to reconcile the guarantee of free movement within Europe, the reinforcement of cooperation regarding security and checks and the development of cross-border territories benefiting millions of European citizens.