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Border Theory

The Limits of Cultural Politics

Scott Michaelsen and David E. Johnson

Publication Year: 1997

Border Theory was first published in 1997. Minnesota Archive Editions uses digital technology to make long-unavailable books once again accessible, and are published unaltered from the original University of Minnesota Press editions.

Challenging the prevailing assumption that border studies occurs only in "the borderlands" where Mexico and the United States meet, the authors gathered in this volume examine the multiple borders that define the United States and the Americas, including the Mason-Dixon line, the U.S.- Canadian border, the shifting boundaries of urban diasporas, and the colonization and confinement of American Indians. The texts assembled here examine the way border studies beckons us to rethink all objects of study and intellectual disciplines as versions of a border problematic.

These writers-drawn from anthropology, history, and language studies-critique the terrain, limits, and possibilities of border theory. They examine, among other topics, the "soft" or "friendly" borders produced by ethnic studies, antiassimilationist or "difference" multiculturalisms, liberal anthropologies, and benevolent nationalisms. Referring to a range of theory (anthropological, sociological, feminist, Marxist, European postmodernist and poststructuralist, postcolonial, and ethnohistorical), the authors trace the genealogical and logical links between these discourses and border studies.

A timely critique of a field just now revealing its explosive potential, this volume maps the intellectual topography of border theory and challenges the epistemological and political foundations of border studies.

Contributors are Russ Castronovo, Elaine K. Chang, Louis Kaplan, Alejandro Lugo, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, and Patricia Seed.

Scott Michaelsen is assistant professor of English at Michigan State University. David E. Johnson is lecturer in the Department of Modern Languages at the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Published by: University of Minnesota Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-viii

My work on this book could not have been accomplished without help from two sources: first and most important, a year-long Fellowship for 1995-96 from the American Council of Learned Societies and, second, a faculty development grant (spring 1995) from the University of Texas at El Paso.

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Border Secrets: An Introduction

David E. Johnson, Scott Michaelsen

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pp. 1-40

A "border" is always and only secured by a border patrol. Where Scott Michaelsen works, in El Paso, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border, one sees the most clearly virulent form of border production literally in the backyard of the university. Along the Rio Grande are miles upon miles of cement trenches, chain-link fences, light-green paddy wagons, ...

I. The Borderlands

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One: Reflections on Border Theory, Culture, and the Nation

Alejandro Lugo

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pp. 43-67

If we wanted to carry out an archaeology of border theory, how would we identify its sources and its targets? Where would we locate its multiple sites of production and consumption, formation and transformation? What are the multiple discourses producing images of borders almost everywhere, at least in the minds of academics? ...

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Two: In the Borderlands of Chicano Identity, There Are Only Fragments

Benjamin Alire Sáenz

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pp. 68-96

My wife and I go to an opening reception at the newly opened Barnes & Noble bookstore. We are disappointed because it looks like a mall. What did we expect? The store is full of people who gather around food tables and gawk through the aisles. People visit and chat with one another. ...

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Three: On the Border with The Pilgrim: Zigzags across a Chapl(a)in's Signature

Louis Kaplan

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pp. 97-128

In the annals of silent film comedy, there is neither a more beloved nor a more invested signature than Charlie Chaplin's. It is literally legendary in that the signature carries its legend along with it. The mythos of Charlie Chaplin has established a fixed context of description and association over the past decades in the mere mention of the proper name or its illumination upon the silver screen. ...

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Four: The Time of Translation: The Border of American Literature

David E. Johnson

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pp. 129-166

In the Latin Americas, wherever they are, there are, perhaps still to come, two steps to the border. These two pasos will have been thought under the auspices of two proper names whose propriety goes unquestioned: Paz and Borges. They will have taken sides where perhaps there are none. ...

II. Other Geographies

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Five: Run through the Borders: Feminism, Postmodernism, and Runaway Subjectivity

Elaine K. Chang

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pp. 169-194

As Anglo-American theorists of women's autobiography have shown, female subjectivity is characterized both by women's experiences in social contexts not of their own making and by their lack of access to means through which to represent the specificity of these experiences (Jelinek, 1980; Personal Narratives Group, 1989; Bell and Yalom, 1990; Smith and Watson, 1992). ...

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Six: Compromised Narratives along the Border: The Mason-Dixon Line, Resistance, and Hegemony

Russ Castronovo

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pp. 195-220

Although literary critics, writers, and intellectuals have emphasized the diversity and newness emerging along the "border" zones of literal geopolitical boundaries as well the more figurative limits of subjectivity, accounts of the people and texts who inhabit these liminal spaces tend to coalesce into a single, undifferentiated narrative line. ...

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Seven: Resketching Anglo-Amerindian Identity Politics

Scott Michaelsen

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pp. 221-252

Daniel K. Richter's magisterial history of early Iroquois politics and identity, The Ordeal of the Longhouse (1992), moves from the deep past (approximately 1000 A.D.) forward: "The story perhaps best begins in the beginning," reads the first line of the text (8). Richter is able to accomplish this feat through the process that historians call " 'upstreaming,' ...

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Afterword: Further Perspectives on Culture, Limits, and Borders

Patricia Seed

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pp. 253-256

As a teenager I thought that culture was principally a verb, "to culture." It meant growing an unidentified substance often in a gelatinous medium inside a petri dish. Culturing was a means of distinguishing something not visibly identifiable and, in all likelihood, very unpleasant. ...


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pp. 257-258


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pp. 259-266

E-ISBN-13: 9780816688173
E-ISBN-10: 0816688176
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816629633

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 1997

OCLC Number: 191934252
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Border Theory

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • Boundaries.
  • Boundaries in literature.
  • Geopolitics.
  • Political anthropology.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Multiculturalism.
  • United States -- Boundaries -- Mexico.
  • Mexico -- Boundaries -- United States.
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