Report by Anna Grichting on a conference held in Montreal in May 2011 on "Fences, Walls and Borders : State of Insecurity? International Conference"
Co-Organized by the Raoul Danduran Chair of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies of the University of Quebec in Montreal and the Association for Borderland Studies (ABS) the conference on “Walls, Borders, Fences: States of Insecurity” opened with the question? “Do good fences still make good neighbours”? The organizers, Elizabeth Vallet and Charles-Philippe David - Professors at the Raoul Dandurand Chair - both underscored the increasingly multicultural and interdisciplinary nature of the field of border studies and gave the opening remarks of the conference. From artists and curators, to policy makers and planners, geographers and cartographers, political and social scientists and representatives from the naval and customs academies, – a wide range of disciplinary fields and geographic sites were represented. The principal themes of the conference - security and insecurity - were addressed through the lens of International Relations, Legal Dimensions of Walls and the question of Walls and Identities. Discussions included historical case studies, global analysis of the resurgence of borders, artistic representations and media narratives of walls, borders, the flows of migrations, environmental and social impacts, borderland security and the Security-Industrial complex.
Vallet evoked the return of the theme of Walls and Fences in Political Science and International Relations despite the prediction of the end of the nation state and the territorial flows resulting from globalisation. Indeed, many papers addressed this dichotomy between the development of transnationalism and the preservation of national sovereignty. A scholar of political science and public policy and a geographer-cartographer gave the two keynote speeches. Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly addressed the questions of agency and power in the borderlands - «Walls, Power, Politics and Borderlands: The Structure and Agency of Power » - while Philippe Rekacewicz illustrated the forms and methods of representation of borders – “Map Making and Confronting Walls”. Heather Nicol, Professor at Trent University and President of the Association of Borderland Studies gave the concluding remarks, commenting on the rich interdisciplinary participation in the conference and concluded with an appeal for the conference attendees to join the Association of Borderland Studies - the co-organizers of the conference. The Association for Borderlands Studies (ABS) is a group of borderlands scholars, students, policy-makers and other individuals interested in a variety of borders, borderlands and border regions worldwide.
The adjective “Post” was used repeatedly during the conference to situate and define global territorial, economic and societal changes, amongst them Postmodern (beginning around 1972 according to David Harvey), Post-Soviet (1989) and Post 9/11 (2001). The Post Soviet, or Post Cold War era, marked by 11/9 – the date of the fall of the Berlin Wall on the 9th November 1989 – heralded the dawn of a borderless world, a territory of flows, an end of the nation-state, an increase in the power of multi-national corporations, the emergence of multi-level and regional governance, and the rise of global civil society. The Post 9/11 phase is marked by an increase in military spending, the securitization of borders, the sophistication of biometric controls and a rise in the construction of walls and fences - Firewalls (China and Iran), Security Walls (Israel), Immigration fences (USA) and UN Military Buffer Zones (Kuwawit-Iraq).
In his keynote speech, Philippe Rekacewicz, a geographer and cartographer, questioned the objectivity of maps, emphasizing that the representation of borders generally depends on who is drawing them or publishing them. For example, you will not find the representation of the Morocco Bern - a Desert Wall that defines what is considered by the United Nations to be a non-self governing territory between the Western Sahara and Morocco, - on a map of the Kingdom of Morocco, as it lays claims to this territory formerly occupied by Spain. Rekacewicz defines the map – which he places at a nexus between Science and Art - as a selective tool of representation of a territory, our interpretation of the world as we see it or want to portray it. Mapmaking is an art that transmits a thought, an idea, a project, an ideology and it is communicated through a graphic semiology - the language of the map - which uses colours, symbols, lines and surfaces to describe a reality or projected reality.
In the 1960's Buckminster Fuller proposed a “great logistics game” and “world peace game” (later shortened to simply, the “World Game”) that was intended to be a tool that would facilitate a comprehensive, anticipatory, design science approach to the problems of the world. The use of “world” in the title obviously refers to Fuller's global perspective and his contention that we now need a systems approach that deals with the world as a whole, and not a piece meal approach that tackles our problems in what he called a “local focus hocus pocus” manner. The entire world is now the relevant unit of analysis, not the city, state or nation. The World Game that Fuller envisioned was to be a place where individuals or teams of people came and competed - or cooperated - to: “Make the world work, for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation, without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone.”
Another line from Frost’s poem - Something there is that doesn’t like a Wall – was the title of a paper on Transnational Communication in the Electronic Age presented by Helen M. York, a PhD Candidate at the University of Maine, as part of a panel on “Strategies Aiming at Bypassing the Wall” which included a case study on Hebron by Brigitte Piquard, Reader in Humanitarianism and Conflict at Oxford Brookes University and Université de Paris Est Créteil. Brigitte Piquard’s work looks at the social and spatial impacts of the wall – how it affects work, agriculture, family life, health and education of both the sedentary and nomadic (Bedouin) populations of Palestine. Piquard relates how the building of the Security Barrier, with its walls and towers, recalls the construction of Kibbutz settlements in the 1930’s, Home Umigdal – Wall and Tower – with the rapid elevation of a surrounding wall and a watchtower. The Homestead Act of the Frontier settlement in America during the 19th century had a similar tactic of rapid settlement and improving of the land to gain ownership. The research demonstrates a very strong civil society in Palestine, and investigates the artistic acts of resilience.
Overall the conference presented a unique eclectic set of papers from many disciplines and marks an important milestone in academia's efforts to think "beyond borders" -- both figuratively and literally.