Seminar 1

“Border Narratives: Defining and Re-Defining Territorial Identity in the Age of Globalization”

Instructor: PhD student Karsten Levihn, Goethe-University Frankfurt/Main

When asked for her nationality, the mother of the narrator-protagonist of Thomas King’s short story “Borders” confidently replies “Blackfoot”. Which would, presumably, be an acceptable answer within Canada, or possibly even within the US. But unfortunately, the narrator and his mother are at the US-Canadian border, and here, as a sympathetic border official maintains, “you have to be American or Canadian”. As a result of the mother’s refusal to subscribe to either of the eligible nationalities, both mother and child get stranded in the no-man’s land between the US and Canada, unable to cross either border. However much globalization seems to make the nation state irrelevant as a political actor and as a container for cultural identity, King’s story suggests, here, at the border, the nation-state is very much alive, and it tolerates not contestation.

The seminar will look at the role borders play in the construction of national identity as something that is rooted in (or projected into) space. Drawing on research from human geography and cultural anthropology, we will explore how national borders function as instruments of the state’s power to include and exclude and how they are underwritten by subjective assumptions about who is ‘us’ and who is ‘them’, who belongs inside and who is to be kept out. We will then take a look at how various writers challenge these assumptions in their fictional accounts of border formation and border crossings. Besides Thomas King’s story mentioned above, we will also look at Janette Turner Hospital’s postmodern thriller Borderline, Amitav Ghosh’s novel The Shadow Lines and selections from Abdulrazak Gurnah’s novel By the Sea.


For purchase:


Ghosh, Amitav: The Shadowlines. London: John Murray, 2011.

Turner Hospital, Janette: Borderline. London: Virago, 1990.

Further Reading:

Held, David, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt, and Jonathan Perraton. 2003. Global Transformations: Politics, Economics and Culture. Cambridge: Polity.

Massey, Doreen. 1999. Power-Geometries and the Politics of Space-Time: Hettner-Lecture 1998. Hettner Lectures. Vol. 2. Heidelberg: Geographisches Institut.

Newman, David: “The Lines that Continue to Separate Us: Borders in our ‘Borderless’ World.” Progress in Human Geography 30.2: 146–61.

Wilson, Thomas M., and Hastings Donnan. 1998. “Nation, State and Identity at International Borders.” In Border Identities: Nation and State at International Frontiers. Ed. Thomas M. Wilson, and Hastings Donnan. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1–30.

Border Narratives_Levihn.pdf


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