Elastic Borders: Rethinking the Borders of the 21st Century

NOMIS Research Project

In a world of nation-states, we usually think of borders as static, as a fixed line of demarcation between sovereign states, marking the boundary of their territory and the limit of their authority. While this perception has rarely captured historical complexities of the past, it is no longer viable in the 21st century. Processes of globalization, securitization and digitalization continue to transform national borders all around the world, turning them into dynamic, technologically advanced and highly securitized spaces.

The project Elastic Borders: Rethinking the Borders of the 21st Century advances a rethinking of the border, building on the concept of elasticity. Thinking of borders as elastic offers new avenues to understanding not only how state borders stretch and retract, but also how they create fields of stress and violations in the very processes of extension and retraction. Borders become elastic when they are extended notably either beyond, or behind, the territorial confines of a state. Borders can be extended and retracted by the institutional or noninstitutional actors enforcing them, and thus are turning into elastic devices of governmentality. This can be observed not only at the European Union’s external frontiers but around the globe.

Taking the case of the EU’s external frontier, the project carries out a qualitative, interdisciplinary and multisited study that will explore the properties, means and sociopolitical effects of the elastic border at the horizontal and vertical level. The horizontal analysis offers a broader, bird’s-eye view of the enactment of the elastic border while the vertical analysis focuses on three critical nodes in Greece, Spain and Tunisia for an in-depth analysis of its sociopolitical impacts on the ground. The innovative combination of these two levels enables a comprehensive understanding of the transformation of the EU’s elastic border over a timespan of 10 years, from 2015 to 2025.

The Elastic Borders project is being led by Bilgin Ayata at the University of Graz (Austria).