This forum features scholars and activists engaged in a transnational discussion about border violence and border protests in North America, South Asia, Palestine/Israel, Europe/Mediterranean Sea, and North/South Korea. It originated in a roundtable, "Border Protests and Transnational Solidarities," hosted by the Mellon Research Initiative in Comparative Border Studies at UC Davis in February 2018.1 This event brought together activists and scholars from around the world to explore the role played by borders, and the work they do, in different sites of struggle against militarization, nuclearization, nativism, displacement, partition, and colonization. As a response to border tensions and violence, protest cultures have produced new political imaginaries and transborder communities that have helped rethink borders and transnational solidarity. However, these cross-border and "No Borders" movements coexist with a retrenchment and fortification of ethnic and national boundaries. This forum addresses how migrant rights, antiwar, feminist, anticolonial, and indigenous movements in different sites have used cross-border affiliations, cultural production, and digital technologies to mobilize against and across borders, but have also faced repression, criminalization, and nativist backlash. The essays here explore the impact of border conflicts and enforcement on ordinary people, and the epistemologies of borders produced in daily life as well as in artistic and activist projects.
Comparative Border Studies
While border tensions have been subject to scholarly inquiry for years, contemporary global dynamics as well as the transnationalizing of American studies call for a renewed and comparative focus on the making, unmaking, and fortification of borders. Borders—whether national, colonial, regional, continental—are by definition a global and transregional issue. Yet American studies scholars have pointed to the ways in which the internationalizing currents in the field have sometimes recentered a US perspective and privileged the concerns of US academics.2 In the last several years, border studies scholars [End Page 1021] have called for more cross-regional, comparative, and inter-American studies research that decenters the US.3 It was this need for a critical transnational perspective that inspired the Mellon-funded initiative in comparative border studies from 2015 to 2018, co-directed by myself and Robert Irwin, a scholar of Mexican and Mexican American history. We conceived of this program as an intervention into urgent scholarly and political debates about borders that would bridge American studies, ethnic studies, and area studies and rethink paradigms in critical border studies through direct engagement with grassroots activists.4 The initiative focused on not only the Mexico/US border but also those adjoining Palestine/Israel, Europe/Mediterranean Sea, and Afghanistan/Pakistan.
In American studies, border studies and border thinking have often focused on the US–Mexico borderlands, with the seminal critiques of Chicanx and feminist scholars who have engaged with issues of migration, hybridity, citizenship, (il)legality, gender, and resistance. Work on the southern border helped remap American studies in the 1990s by using the "field-imaginary" of the "borderlands" drawing on Chicana subaltern studies,5 analyzing the border as a space of transformation, hybridity, and resistance to US imperialism but also as a "shock culture, … a third country, a closed country" and a "war zone."6 However, the traditional critical tools of border studies do not adequately address the current moment, when xenophobic calls to close the borders are on the rise in the European Union as well as the US. Recent work, including by anthropologists, has challenged the "methodological nationalism" of US-based border studies that naturalized the notion of borders as territorial lines associated with national sovereignty7 and shifted attention to reconstitutions of and threats to national sovereignty and simultaneous processes of rebordering and debordering. The US has externalized its borders (as has the EU), mandating immigration checks inside Canada and Mexico, and also moved the border to the interior, far from the border with Mexico, underscoring that it is a fluid, racial, and not just territorial boundary.8
In their important intervention in critical border studies, Border as Method, Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson incisively critiqued the preoccupation with the border as wall,9 and thus a site only of exclusion. Viewing borders also as "devices of inclusion," and as temporal and not just spatial, Mezzadra and Neilson argue...