National Borders And Political Constructs Cultural Studies Essay


Since their very emergence borders delimiting territories became reflections of states' paramountry over people inhabiting delineated space. Therefore, existing until very recent times national borders, depicted on the maps in seemingly (more or less) precise and established manner, remained mainly political constructs, envisioned by intellectuals, politicians and other people in power (statesmen). However, no matter how accurately the borders are delineated or how well they are guarded, in practice they (are quite often superseded by people) do not always become sharp dividing lines between the people on both of the sides. Frequently enough borderland dwellers do not recognize state borders as the ones they are to comply with and ignore boundaries whenever it suits them, identifying themselves with their neighbours across the border rather than populations of their own state. Naturally, by doing so they challenge what Baud and Schendel (1997) called "political status quo of which the borders are the ultimate symbol". Eventually, such situations lead to governments' attempt to deeper incorporate borderlands in their own states in order to preserve state's territory and meanwhile suppress separatist movements. In doing so authorities on national level, opposed by regional or local borderland authorities, try to resort to various methods, the most common including the re-writing of history in order to create a desired perception of state and identity among the people in the periphery. To see and analyse whether states succeed in this and to what extent (by which means) is an aim of this article. To reach this purpose, our main focus will be centered around identity construction in borderland regions per see and Franco-Spanish border in particular. And though it can be argued that a case-study chosen for the topic is rather unique than typical, we act out of understanding that political, economic, social, cultural, religious and ethnic variables across Europe are vast, which makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find any overarching theory and case applicable all over Europe.

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Further explanation of why to study Franco-Spanish border stems from our intention to track down identity formation throughout a considerable time limit, to be able to see longue durée impact of the border on identity construction on both of its sides. Franco-Spanish border in that sense proved to be a perfect example, as throughout twenties century it was commonly claimed by a number of theorists to be a "frozen", "fossilized and "dead" boundary (Sahlins, 1991). Moreover, its study provides a complex context of nationalism and cultural ties connecting (or separating) both sides of the border, which may be observed mainly in Catalan and Basque identities, both very much distinguished from one another. Therefore, it is historical, cultural, social and political differences that we are aimed to look at in our study.

In order to tackle the issue in the best way possible, we divided the article in four consistent parts with each one of them having its own aim/conclusion (?). The first chapter (?), in its turn, will be sub-divided into three parts, dealing with definitions of main terms and concepts related to borders and identities and ending up with theories and models of identity construction in the borderlands. It will provide a general framework and facilitate an exposition of the case study. The second and third chapters will indicate and analyse ways and processes of identity construction in borderland regions such as Basque Autonomy and Catalonia from Spanish and French perspectives respectively. The concluding part will focus on European policies of cross-border co-operation in regard to the case under consideration. However, the forth part should be regarded as merely complimentary to the first three parts given that identity construction is a very time consuming process requiring entire decades. Therefore, we believe that people's identities have not radically shifted in the past decade and our research ending at the beginning of the XX century is still relevant until today.

Before applying theory to case-study on Franco-Spanish borders, several reservations have to be made, explaining the specific definitions and limits within the article's scope.

Boundary, border, frontier and borderland: definitions and concepts (interdisciplinary approach)

The last decades of the XX century have been marked with a significant rise of "border studies" - an interdisciplinary field, where borders are approached from historical, geopolitical, international relations', sociological, anthropological and many other perspectives (Prokkola, 2009, pp. ??). As a result, an immense interest in the topic which scholars coming from different backgrounds have taken has led instead of homogeneity to even more diversification in definition of terms and perception of concepts. For instance, "such etymologically related words as French frontière, Spanish frontera, and English frontier", as Baud & van Schendel put it, "have widely different connotations" (1997, pp.213). However, here we do not aim at going into the debates and discourses pertaining the field, but would rather indicate what do we imply while using the specific terms in the next chapters below.

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To begin with, a most commonly used term is a boundary, which generally means a "dividing line between different peoples or cultures" (Barth cited in Baud & van Schendel, 1997, pp. 213) and is frequently used in diplomacy to identify exact location of borders. Borders are therefore defined respectively as "linear dividing lines, fixed in particular space, meant to mark the division between political and/or administrative units" (Parker, 2000, pp. 373) with the last part being particularly important, as state borders do not always mark the division between linguistic groups or national communities the same way they delineate political entities, as mentioned above (Parker, 2006, pp. 79). The term frontier, in its turn, signifies a territorial expansion to "empty" areas (Baud & van Schendel, 1997, pp. 213) and eventually creates "a zone of interpenetration between two previously distinct people" (Thompson and Lamar cited in Parker, 2006, pp. 79). All in all, the three terms defined have different connotations and should not be used as synonyms (Kristof cited in Donnan & Wilson, 1959).

The last, but not the least term is a borderland, which refers to a land on both sides of the border where geographic, political, demographic, cultural and economic circumstances or processes may interact…" (Parker, 2006, pp. 80). Used in that sense, historical definition of borderland resembles considerably a geographical term border landscape and the one used in political science as a border region (Donnan & Wilson, 1999, pp. 55).

In the second chapter of our article we will explain how each term applies to our case study and name the ones we are going to utilize the most.

Sofia, please, insert it somewhere in the beginning, because I am hesitant to put it into my part without giving any historical background.

This is Geert's "classification": border as treaty of bayonne, boundary as stop of influence of france and spain, frontier as the historic dividing line between the two countries following the treaty of the pyrenees, and borderland as the total area influenced by catalan and basque culture.

However, I would put it slightly differently: Boundary - treaty of Bayonne, border - treaty of Pyrenees, frontier is not applicable, because there was no invasion to empty space and finally borderland - area of cultural, social, etc. similarity on both sides on the border, which is Basque Country and Catalonia.

Notion of identity and its elements

"Territory is identity to the extent that it gives physical place to the interactions of the self or arenas of identity that constitute social, political and economic life" (Berezin, 2003, pp. 10)

Similarly to borders, identities have long been a subject of interest to scholars from multiple disciplines, which managed overtime to develop a somehow consistent approach to defining the very notion and elements of identity (Deacon, 2001, pp. 10). To briefly simplify definition of identity for the purposes of our research, we would like to refer to Berezin, who described identity as "a cognitive form that lends transparency to the emotional dimensions of territory" (2003, pp. 11). Deriving from his description, identity is an inherent part of the self-being motivating participation in "meaningful patterns of social and political action" (Berezin, 2003, pp. 11). Thus, it is only through a net of social relations that individuals perceive themselves as belonging to some groups and being different from the others.

Two of the key elements of identity are its conditionality by territory and circumstances (Kaplan, 2000). Thus, territorial identities are 'multilayered' and 'complex', 'embedded in their particular historical contexts and material circumstances' (Hakli, 1999, pp. 123).

To prove the point, the example of what constitutes local, regional and national identity will be provided. It stems from a recent debate over the status and rights of the so-called "historic nations" in Spain, produced by previously rectified charters issued to Andalusia, Catalonia and Valencia. As revision has showed, what is regarded by one person to constitute a nation, is for the other merely a region within a state and what is for someone a "national language" is for the other one of the dialects within a country. Further complications in dealing with this issue are caused by an absence of a particular term defining this type of identity, because by simply utilizing a phrase "local", "regional" or "national" identity, as opposed to a religious or ethnic one, we tend to draw a hierarchical or qualitative distinction between the identities of one and the same kind, addressing however the geographical units of different scales. The problem with using these varying terms is that by doing so we automatically give primacy to national over regional and to regional in respect to local, relegating them according to their importance or status. However, there is no major qualitative difference between the types of identity described. Instead, they should all be referred to as geographical or spatial, taking meanwhile into consideration that they not necessary coincide with 'geo-cultural' or 'geo-ethnical' types of identity found simultaneously in the same area.

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Another approach to what Jan Mansvelt Beck called a "geography of identity" can be found in his work "An anatomy of Basque identity: a geographical analysis of identity patterns in the Franco-Spanish border area". Here Beck singles out five types of identities, which will be now described and applied to our case study in the following chapters. First type is formal identity, which includes entire population of a certain administrative unit, both nationals and migrants. Second type according to the classification is aspired identity, which resembles in its meaning 'imagined community' introduced by Anderson and explained in more detail later on. Third type is called ascribed identity and refers to outsiders' definition of who belongs to certain community and who does not. It is closely linked and distinguished by language spoken on the territory concerned. Psychological identity or the forth type in Beck's classification is defined as people's ethnic self-perception. The last is politicized identity, which may be observed through mobilization for nationalist political claims.

Another distinction between the forms and origins of identity building, which links us to the next subsection, is the one proposed by a scientist Manuel Castells (1997) in his book "The Power of Identity". According to Castells, legitimising identities are "introduced by dominant institutions of society to extend and rationalize their domination vis à vis social actors" (1997, pp. 8). In this respect, they are consequences of the nation-states era, when state governments extensively exercise their powers providing population with citizenship rights and rationalizing their paramountry over people by creating and reproducing national identities. Interestingly enough, these identifications are still relevant in modern Europe, in spite of integration processes intensification. Citizens object to surrender their traditional loyalties provided that state still remains a primary source for their citizenship rights (Dijkink 1996; Hirst 1997).

Project identities are typical for social actors seeking their roles in the society to be redefined. Using cultural materials whatever available to them, they construct new identities through their activities, which ultimately leads to a shift in the society in general. As mentioned by Häkli, "cross-border co-operation between institutional actors could well be seen to give rise to project identities". Deriving from Scott he asserts that such co-operation may result in emergence of transnational regions governed through institutional networks. However, this project identities apply only to a small group of people who share this vision and are therefore very much restricted (Hiikli 1998a, b).

Looking to the same subject from a different perspective, Castells also points out to the third type of identity, which are formed as a response to the dominant forces trying to undermine positions of local authorities and erode well-established traditions. An example, which he provides to prove his claim fits very well to our general discussion as well as particular case we are dealing with. As Häkli summarized it in his article,

"the fervent enthusiasm of the Catalan nationalists, and the emphasis they place on the traditional connection between people and homeland, may easily be interpreted in terms of resistance. Not only are they resisting the oppression by the Spanish and French national governments, but also the official discourses of cross-border co-operation that merely introduce new layers of government into the Catalan borderlands, instead of striving for a more radical territorial reform" (2001, pp. 118).

At this point of our discussion, when it became quite obvious that notion of borders and identities are very much intertwined and even sometimes referred to as different sides of one and the same coin (Newman & Paasi, 1998, pp. 194), let us turn to the key part of theoretical framework integrating both of them.

Identity construction in borderlands: theories and models

Bringing now two notions of "borders" and "identities" together, none of which is simple to be explained as argued above, we would like to discuss several models of identity construction in borderland regions, proposed by prominent scholars. The first model under our consideration would be the one by Benedict Anderson, who introduced a notion of an 'imagined community' into scientific world. His work depicts the nation from the point of view of those people who identify with it. In other words, share a sense of belonging to a particular nation. As the author argues, because of a considerable number of nationals, it is impossible for a person to know all his compatriots, therefore, he actually feels himself belonging to a national community, which is "imagined". National community, however, is only one of the ample examples of 'imagined' communities. Others may equally be religious or social groups of all kinds. Ditto a notion of 'imagined' community may be applied to spatial identities discussed above. The most important thing is that the process of reconstructing (or 'imagining') a community may take several forms, but it will predominantly be guided by people in power. If not, it can then appear in the minds of people from narrations, renderings, memories and 'shared' histories which become points of reflection about common ('shared') and remembered (imagined) past or envisioned and desired future. In this case, such stories are rarely scattered by central governments. Vice versa, they are cultivated by small minorities to oppose dominant powers. It is also clear that each citizen can belong to several 'imagined' communities simultaneously and that borders, like any other territories, can also emerge in the consciousness of people and represent the way in which they perceive other spatial identities.

Another simplified summary of a complex issue of identity construction can be provided by overview of Weber's work "Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France 1870-1914", which became a classics of centre-periphery relations model due to the focus on national identity construction through the erosion of regional and local identities by the centre. And though he was not the first in trying to convene the idea that central governments play pivotal role in planting national feelings among periphery dwellers, his unarguable achievement was his attempt to show this process from most of the angles of people's life, such as economy and money, housing, family life, folklore, language and religion among the other aspects. Weber's central argument was that the biggest impulse to creation of French national identity was provided by, first of all, massive economic modernization (consisting of transportation and infrastructure systems build-up), following by adoption of state education and compulsory military service, as well as creation of national and relatively democratic state institutions. All these factors stipulate population's mobility and had finally led to homogeneity of French culture, which emerged in the centre and was spread around the country. An approach described can be as well regarded as part of a wider theory of modernization, in which periphery plays only insignificant role of recipient in identity construction, at it cannot prevent this process and can only temporarily slow it down by resisting the dissemination of national culture.

However, although being quite popular and widely accepted, Weber's approach had its opponents. Take for instance, a study of history textbooks conducted in the late nineteenth century by Anne-Marie Thiesse, where she explains how local cultures tried to integrated their own histories into a wider scope of the national history narration,

"thereby encouraging the development of national identity not through the imposition of a unified national narrative throughout the periphery, but through the development of localised versions of national history which would have greater resonance because they were derived from local experience".

In her work the author argues that through the process of integration of local narratives into common history it is possible to create multiple layers of people's identities or, alternatively, different cultures may be collected under one umbrella of a national culture. A border, present in such narratives, might either complicate a process of creating a coherent history narration or may be written into it together with other elements of culture.

Integration of these political, historical and cultural processes into wider scope of national; histories may be termed 'cultural appropriation'.

"Distinct from assimilation, in which cultural practices change over time in order to conform with the national forms, appropriation of local cultural practices sees them remain unchanged, but reconceived and redefined so as to contribute to national identities, as they are integrated into local versions of a national narrative and re-labelled with national terminology".

Trying to find theories distinct from top-bottom and bottom-up approaches in identity construction, one may be interested in a chapter on 'Sovereignty, identity and borders' written by the anthropologist Thomas M. Wilson and published in a book "Borders, Nations and States: Frontiers of Sovereignty in the New Europe" in 1996. His main claim lies in what he called a 'dialectical relationship' between the two approaches described above and is revealed through potential controversy within borderland, because a state's 'projection of its "own" national culture may be at odds with the lived experiences of a variety of its populations' in immediate proximity to the border. Cultures on local and regional level may or may not be representative within national culture, either fitting into it or being incompatible. What is clear beforehand, is that identities emerge from local practices and not state policies.

The last, but probably the most important and appropriate model of identity construction in borderland discussed in this article will be the one by Peter Sahlins's, who conducted a long-term research on the Pyrenees and Franco-Spanish border in particular and came on his own to similar to Wilson's conclusions. In order to explain interaction of multiple identities in borderlands, Sahlins focused his attention on studying different spatial dimensions, such as village, county, region and state. The results of his research show that on each level of identity regular and simultaneous interaction can happen in two opposing to each other manners. In the first case, interaction between identities happens smoothly, without any contradictions, in a manner of overlapping or subordination. In other words, local identity held by population goes in line with people's other levels of identity on county, regional and national levels depicted by concentric circles. In the second case, however, identities on each level are in the state of mutual resistance to each other with local identities, for instance, opposing to neighboring local identities, county identities withstanding neighboring counties' identities and so on. Thus people's multiple identities can either overlap or oppose. The way an individual perceives a particular identity is circumstantial. To mention is also a fact that Sahlins's model suits best to our analysis as his study was built of tracking local rivalry between two villages of Palau and Aja situated in France and Spain respectively.

Jouni Hiikli: However, it is unlikely that the politics of belonging will be soon over (Appadurai 1996; Dijkink 1996; Wilson and Donnan 1998).

Borders can have rather different manifestations in different contexts and a border region is an arena for multiple spatial identities (Kaplan cited in Prokkola)…

Deacon B., PhD thesis - 'The Reformulation of territorial identity: Cornwall in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries', Open University, 2001