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The political geography of border-crossings: geopolitics of scale in tourism and migration

Authors: Arie Stoffelen*, University of Groningen
Topics: Tourism Geography, Political Geography, Migration
Keywords: Bordering, territorial sovereignty, geopolitics, cross-border mobility, international relations
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This conceptual paper analyses the political geography underpinning two seemingly disconnected yet, in practice, strongly related forms of border-crossings: tourism and irregular migration. Despite their differences – tourism as a voluntary, leisurely activity and irregular migration as a forced, economic/humanitarian issue, with different generating regions and destinations– both mobility forms concern people crossing borders to move from one location to the other. In a globalizing society increasingly characterized by transnational networks and flows, both are at the basis of the material, social and discursive composition and interpretation of borders and international relations. As such, the paradoxical (and ethically contentious) situation exists in many borderlands that border-crossings of people are simultaneously framed as a socio-cultural bridge-builder and as an undesired development within the same geographical location. As I will show in the paper, the reason for this is that both types of border-crossings are underpinned by contrasting discourses on sovereignty, development and cultural identity. These discourses are organized and fought out in contrasting multi-scalar geopolitical configurations, resulting in them being discussed in parallel rather than being actively negotiated. This situation results in the practical juxtaposition of cross-border investments with contradictory objectives of stimulating the cross-border mobility of some while blocking the mobility of others on a local/regional level in borderlands. In the final analysis, the contrasting geopolitical framing of both types of border-crossings reflects the struggle of nation state-centred geopolitics to balance potentially positive and challenging aspects of the increasingly networked, fluid and mobile nature of present-day societies.

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