The Changing Meaning of Territorial Borders

A Source of New Kinds of Social and Economic Inequality?

Seminar Paper, 2014

22 Pages, Grade: 1.0


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Definitions
2.1 Static Boundary Classifications: Antecedence vs. Subsequence
2.2 Functional Boundary Classifications: Open vs. Closed

3 The Meaning Of Borders
3.1 Artificial and Natural Borders
3.2 The Necessity of Borders
3.3 The Future of Borders: the Changing Meaning
3.4 The Complexity of Borders
3.4.1 Wishing Boundaries Away?
3.4.2 Borders Are Everywhere

4 Borders and Inequality
4.1 Inequality Through Migration
4.2 Global Cities
4.3 Theory of Fragmenting Development
4.4 Gated Communities
4.5 Problems of Inequality and Possible Solutions

5 Conclusion

6 Literature

1 Introduction

Amin (2004: 33) points out that it is odd that the mainstream view of cities and regions is still one of territorial entities, although recent developments have been “transforming cities and regions into sites immersed in global networks of organization and routinely implicated in distant connections and influences” (ibid. Amin). These developments have become known as globalization and were they reason why spatial configurations (e.g. territorial borders) are no longer necessarily territorial or scalar, because “the social, economic, political and cultural inside and outside are constituted through the topologies of actor networks which are becoming increasingly dynamic and varied in spatial constitution” (Amin 2002 cited acc. to ibid. Amin). This paper intends to outline the circumstances and consequences of the development identified by Amin in terms of the creation of new forms of inequality and disparity. The first part deals with definitions in the realm of borders and boundaries, the second part treats the historical, current and future meanings of borders and the third part draws the connection between borders and inequality.

2 Definitions

Before it is possible to deal with the notion of “border”, its changing meaning and its implications for inequality, it is necessary to clarify some conceptual details. The English language knows three main terms in this respect, which can sometimes be used interchangeably, but nevertheless have their fine differences when it comes to connotation. These three terms are “border”, “boundary”, and “frontier”. In the following, a list of definitions from dictionaries and scientific literature shall be presented, which is then discussed in more detail:

- border

“a point or limit that indicates where two things become different”

(Merriam-Webster Online1 2013: s.p.)

- boundary

“a line separating one country or state from another /  a boundary between places”

(Merriam-Webster Online2 2013: s.p.)

“Boundaries, by definition, constitute lines of separation or contact. This may occur in real or virtual space, horizontally between territories, or vertically between groups and/or individuals.”

(Newman and Paasi 1998: 191)

- frontier

“an area in proximity to the border”

(Newman and Paasi 1998: 189)

Judging from these definitions, it seems that of the three notions, “boundary” is used in the most general way. According to Newman and Paasi (1998: 191), it is not limited to territorial lines of separation and can even refer to virtual space, too, which is probably why this concept is the term used most widely in the literature researched for this thesis. Whenever authors speak of lines of separation between ideas, values, social classes, etc., they tend to use the word “boundary”. “Border”, on the other hand, virtually always denotes something territorial. The term is mostly used to make it clear that the author speaks of boundaries between places, such as countries, regions, or even supra-state organizations.

While “borders” and “boundaries” basically define the sheer lines of separation, “frontiers” are meant to constitute not only the line itself, but also the land surrounding this line – the so-called “borderland”, the area in proximity to the border. The term very often bears a connotation of previously untamed, unsettled, and uncivilized land, probably dating back to the times of the early US settlers moving west in North America. It has since been used most prominently in popular culture in the opening credits to the science fiction series “Star Trek”: “Space – the final frontier” are the first words of each episode, used by the authors of the series to illustrate that in the 23rd century, there are no more border(land)s on earth itself, but only in (outer) space.

In the course of this thesis, the term “boundary” shall be used most widely – due to its universality. It can incorporate (territorial) borders as well as frontiers, is not limited to physical constraints and can thus also refer to mental lines of separation. Whenever necessary, however, the more specific terms shall be used to make matters clear and to be as precise as possible.

2.1 Static Boundary Classifications: Antecedence vs. Subsequence

Especially in the larger context of boundaries and inequality, it makes sense to further classify boundaries into antecedent and subsequent ones, as it has an effect on such phenomena as segregation, polarization and exclusion – all of utter importance when it comes to inequality. Antecedence denotes the creation of a boundary prior to the settling of a region, e.g. the US settlers going west in the 18th and 19th centuries. This means that the boundaries are first (politically) created and only then do people move into the region that is confined by them. Subsequent boundaries, on the other hand, are formed and superimposed upon existing patterns of human settlement, as in borderlines drawn by the prevailing powers after a war (Newman and Paasi 198: 190).

What is important in terms of inequality is that migrants and refugees normally come to antecedent boundaries, i.e. to areas already settled by other people(s), and are usually forced to conform to the pre-existing society, rather than preserving their existing cultural identity. In the case of non-conformance, exclusion is often the result and therefore also inequality in terms of social and economic integration and lastly, also marginalization and poverty (ibid. Newman and Paasi).

2.2 Functional Boundary Classifications: Open vs. Closed

Functional boundary classifications refer to different levels of contact (“openness”) or separation (“closure”) between peoples and states on both sides of the boundary (ibid. Newman and Paasi). Paasi (2011: 13) sees this functional role of borders as especially crucial for economists who want to analyze their meanings as barriers and thus also the question of how to cross them. The transformation of frontiers from barriers into active spaces has been one of the key issues of European (economic) integration over the past twenty to thirty years and lowering the boundaries between states has been the key motive of European Union spatial politics. A prominent Austrian example is the EU funding of the Burgenland region (now in the phasing-out stage) in order to make this borderland between Austria and Hungary an economically prospering, active space.

3 The Meaning Of Borders

3.1 Artificial and Natural Borders

In order to be able to discuss the change in the meaning of borders that has taken place roughly over the past half-century, one must first have a look at how those boundaries and borders that are changing came into existence in the first place. In a way, the question whether boundaries are natural or artificial (i.e. man-made) can be compared to the chicken and egg dilemma – was the creation of borders a result of the creation of humanity or did borders already exist before mankind? Modern geographers almost completely agree that every border must have been created artificially by mankind, but followers of geographical determinism used to believe in the God-given nature of borderlines until as late as the 19th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, at least a distinction between natural and artificial borders was common, and in the year 1907 a man like Lord Curzon of Kedleston – later to become the British Secretary of State – did not find natural boundaries like mountains, rivers, or forests utterly important any more, but saw them replaced by artificial borders having their “origin in the complex operations of race, language, trade, religion, and war” (Curzon 1907 cited acc. to Redepenning 2005: 169). Curzon was in pursuit of the “good” drawing of borders, by what he meant artificial borders in harmony with natural borders and saw geographical knowledge as most important in this affair. After all, borders cannot be drawn too artificially or else they would lose their authority and legitimacy. Ratzel (1892, cited acc. to Redepenning 2005: 170) supports this theory by stating that the activity of drawing borders is the more successful the more it adheres to natural conditions.

Ever since the times of Ratzel and Curzon, drawing borders and setting up boundaries is therefore seen as an act of humans, which can be done more or less fittingly according to the degree of congruence with natural boundaries, however these might be described, as the human eye sees a high degree of harmony as a result. In this context, Hartshorne (1933, cited acc. to Redepenning 2005: 170) speaks of “boundaries marked in nature”.

3.2 The Necessity of Borders

As shall be discussed in chapter 2.4, some scholars argue that there is no need for the existence of borders. The overwhelming majority, however, is of the opinion that a world without borders would be a world without distinctions and without distinctions, the world cannot be visualized. Some scholars argue even that without borders, nothing at all can be recognized – only boundaries render human beings capable of handling the world (Luhmann 1994 cited acc. to Redepenning 2005: 175). According to this strain of thought, all the objects and things we use in our daily lives receive their identity only because of a certain distinction we make by drawing some kind of border. Redepenning (2005: 176) agrees with Luhmann and adds that the things we distinguish on a daily basis in the same way become the more powerful the more often we make those distinctions. A spatialization of such distinctions entails an objectification or naturalization thereof, and so gives a special authority to the drawing of borders.

3.3 The Future of Borders: the Changing Meaning

At the end of World War II, the last major “official” change of borderlines of a bigger extent took place. The world was laid out according to the plans of the winning nations and divided into the “East” and the “West” – the Cold War had commenced. Only twelve years later, however, starting with the Treaty of Rome in 1957, which marked the beginning of what we now know as the European Union, a process took off which was to change boundaries again, although in a much slower and subtler way. Borderlines were not simply done away with, but boundaries were altered firstly in the minds of politicians and secondly on a supra-state level.

During the past 15 to 20 years, the major social and political transformations taking place all over the world (the collapse of the rigid Cold War geopolitical divide between West and East) gave the change in the meaning of territorial borders another push. The rapid development of information and communication technologies provided the background for the accelerating globalization – partly generating it and partly illustrating it. The result was the rise of the political and economic importance of regions, as the national borders became less and less important. Nowadays, regions need not necessarily end at a state border, but have become cross-border regions in some cases – a development promoted especially by the European Union in its INTERREG programs. The European integration of many former communist countries in its expansion process starting in 2004 also played an important part in the changing meaning of borders. In general, the functional role of borders and boundaries in Europe as defined in chapter 2.2 shifted from a state of relative closure to a more open one (Paasi 2011: 1ff).


Excerpt out of 22 pages


The Changing Meaning of Territorial Borders
A Source of New Kinds of Social and Economic Inequality?
University of Salzburg  (Department of Geography and Geology)
Seminar: Geographies of Inequalities
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ISBN (Book)
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inequality, justice, border, borders, social geography, territorial, territoriality, Ungleichheit, Gerechtigkeit, Sozialgeographie, Grenzen, Grenze, Territorialität
Quote paper
Mag. phil. Martin Payrhuber (Author), 2014, The Changing Meaning of Territorial Borders, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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