Borders, Citizenship and the Subaltern in South Asia

  • Nergis Canefe


This chapter will argue that borders consist of an overlapping and changeable set of boundaries with different and often contradictory functions, histories, meanings and roles. Furthermore, not only that they are the outcome of ‘bordering processes’ with social, economic and political underpinnings, they have to be permanently aligned, reproduced and justified while maintaining the simulacrum of fixity and stability. In Van Houtum’s words, borders are a ‘fabricated truth’ (Van Houtum, The mask of the border. In: Wastl-Walter D (ed). The Ashgate research companion to border studies. Ashgate, Farnham, 2011: 49). Their lived experience and the limits of their containment function are best observed in the way they define, undefined and redefine citizenship and belonging.

In the following pages, I will posit that shifting our emphasis from borders to relational geographies is the first step towards undoing the pre-existing ‘containment thinking’ that historically framed debates on citizenship. Whereas a certain degree of legal-political verity is required when addressing issues of sovereignty, the spaces of class, identity, ethnicity and in general alterity transcend the border. This is not a matter of transforming ‘thick borders’ into ‘thin borders’ with a magical sleight of hand but an invitation to expand the horizon of our understanding to an intertwined network of critical practices. Examining power practices within the bordering process itself and underlining the relational geographies demarcated by different types of boundaries illustrate why transborder activities could not be addressed only with reference to the geopolitical dimensions of the border. In this commentary, I will also argue for the relevance and importance of post-colonial theory to the study of not just migration and mobility but border maintenance and surveillance. Specifically, I suggest three possible interventions in this regard: stretching the boundaries of the spaces that encompass the post-colonial state, paying closer attention to the spatial connections forged between seemingly disparate places through migration and transborder activities and challenging hierarchical notions of identity and/or place in terms of effected populations’ citizenship status.


Post-colonialism State Subaltern South Asia Citizenship Borders 


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nergis Canefe
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PoliticsYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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