Emerging Issues and Perspectives in Boundary Studies

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Assistant Professor of Political Geography, Faculty of Geography, University of Tehran, Iran

2 PhD in Political Geography, Faculty of Geography, University of Tehran, Iran


As a dynamic phenomenon, boundary is one of the basic issues in political geography and geopolitics. It is not a geographical and fixed phenomenon; rather, it has its own internal dynamic features, creates new realities, and affects the lives of people and groups living in its vicinity. Different types of boundaries, such as political, social, economic, and virtual can be impenetrable or penetrable, simple or complex, and single or multiple. Classification of studies about boundary is always changing. In the past, most of the studies exclusively focused on state, but this view has changed today, so that one can witness development of the studies of boundary beyond the focus on hard international boundaries. Nowadays, they are not only borders drawn around land states, but also around nations, groups, religions and individuals. However, traditional views about boundary do constitute part of the vast discourse about them during the past decades and have not been totally abandoned.  Given the changes in today world and with regard to lack of a theoretical literature about boundary and its changes in political geography and geopolitics, the present study seems well-suited. Hence, this study, review the previous studies on boundary, tries to investigate the emerging issues and perspectives in today boundary studies in political geography.
This study is a basic theoretical study conducted through analytic method. The data collection method was library and computer searching.
Results and Discussion
In traditional view, the international boundaries are the lines which separate the land of one state from a neighboring state. This perceptive mostly addresses the typology of boundaries, with respect to the emergence and adaptation with ethnic-language groups (before residence, adaptive, imposed, and abandoned), adaptation with natural features (e.g. mountains, valleys, and rivers), and the function of international boundaries (separation, integration, difference, and conflict). However, in the new discourse, boundary is considered as the geographical sign and construction of “regulative authority” in social relations. As signs of power, boundaries are different with respect to social scale, importance, and stability from international boundaries. They are ranged from national states in unique racial, religious, and sexual borders to barbed wire borders which specify special areas such as processing-export and military regions. Therefore, the key point is that the boundaries are the outcomes of international contracts, economic conditions, or cultural considerations, and geographically a sign of a “regulative authority”. For instance, international borderlines have actively been constructed to create and enhance the norms of “national territory” and “national identity”, and work in line with preserving and supporting the dominance of the states. In the new perspective, the phenomena are perceived as dynamic social constructs. Such impacts have been organized around debates among “static nature” and “change”, “stability” and “dynamicity” of the “spatial bounding” of social construction and reconstruction of the boundaries. The recent interests in globalization reflect the importance of “spatial organization of social life” and “boundaries”, particularly, if it is related to hypothetical reduction of the importance of national states. In this view, boundaries – as drawing or limiting the space- are not solely a social construct, but crossing worlds are placed in numerous sets and interfering methods through them, as social world is full of different boundaries. Hence, politics not only considers different boundaries, but reconfigures different relations between different boundaries. This involves important issues including globalization and boundaries -how has globalization affected the concept and studies of boundaries-, boundary hierarchies in spatial scales, such as the study on administrative and civil boundaries which affect the daily lives of citizens more than international boundaries.  The “spatial distribution patterns of the phenomena” is affected by such boundaries), the social construction of boundary and identity (the novel studies address the complex process of the construction and maintenance of the boundary with respect to the role of identity discourse in the social construction of boundary). The management of boundaries following migrations, human force, and application of technology are some other issues related to the geographic feature.
Since 1990s, the study of boundaries has gained importance due to some factors such as the collapse of Soviet Union, Berlin Wall collapse, globalization, and at the same time, the rise of nationalism.  The superficial stability of the boundaries as the main feature of boundary studies during the cold war was challenged. In one hand, there is a new interest in “hard territorial lines” which are consistently drawing and marking the lines between countries, on the other hand, there is an increasing attention to the nature of bounding and the residence of people and groups within different social and spatial areas which have resulted in parallel but far discourses. In this respect, while in traditional perspective, most studies focus on international boundaries and their typology, in new perspective, the boundary is considered as a line which separates various spatial and social scales. Most of the present studies in critical geography reflect the interest in boundaries as dynamic social constructs and “boundary” has changed into a part of the more extensive cultural geography. The key point in work of geographers is that while boundaries are the outcomes of international contracts, economic conditions, or cultural considerations, they are geographically a sign of a “regulative authority” in social relations. However, not all boundaries have the regulative effect by separating “we-they”, such as the boundaries drawn for developing constituencies. Also, in some areas where there is a strong “state/society” boundary, drawing boundaries in places like courts and free business councils, can serve as a greatly competitive mediating process – through the emergence of power relations between the state and daily social life. This is full of geographical – political struggles and can be interpreted again. Hence, it can be argued that borders, rather than working as stable lines, serve as processes, discourses, symbols and networks. Also, the study of boundaries in today’s word requires a hierarchical and multi-dimensional perspective.  


Main Subjects

  1. بدیعی، مرجان و فاطمه­‌‌سادات میراحمدی، 1392، نقش فناوری اطلاعات و ارتباطات در انقلاب در سال 2011 در شرق میانه و شمال آفریقا (مطالعة موردی: مصر)،مجلة جغرافیا و توسعة ناحیه‌ای، سال نوزدهم، شمارة 2، صص 143- 175.
  2. بدیعی، مرجان، فیروزجائی، احمد و سلمان انصاری­‌‌زاده، 1391، توضیح تبیین مفهوم مرز در فضای مجازی، فصلنامة جغرافیا، سال یازدهم، شمارة 36، صص 291-313.
  3. حافظ­‌‌نیا، محمدرضا، احمدی­‌‌پور، زهرا و مصطفی قادری حاجت، 1389، سیاست و فضا، انتشارات پاپلی، مشهد.
  4. حیدری‌فر، محمدرئوف، 1389، بررسی انتقادی گفتمان جهان بدون مرز، فصلنامة ژئوپلیتیک، سال ششم، شمارة 2، صص 125-152.
  5. دادس، کلاوس، 1390، ژئوپلیتیک: مقدمه‌ای بسیار کوتاه، ترجمة زهرا پیشگاهی­‌‌فرد و محمد زهدی گهرپور، سهره، تهران.
  6. زرقانی، هادی، 1385، عوامل مؤثر بر امنیت مرزی با تأکید بر مرزهای شرقی ایران و افغانستان، مجلۀ علوم جغرافیایی، سال ششم، شمارۀ 1، صص 166- 191.
  7. کامران، حسن، محمدپور، علی و فرهاد جعفری، 1388، تحلیل کارکرد بازارچة مرزی باجیگران، فصلنامة جغرافیا، سال ششم، شمارة 18-19، صص 7- 25.
  8. کریمی­‌‌پور، یدالله، 1379، مقدمه‌ای بر ایران و همسایگان، جهاد دانشگاهی تربیت‌معلم، تهران.
  9. مجتهدزاده، پیروز، 1393، جغرافیای سیاسی و سیاست جغرافیایی، چاپ دوم، سمت، تهران.
  10. محمدپور، علی، احمدی­‌‌پور، زهرا و مرجان بدیعی، 1386، نقش تحول کارکرد مرز بر فضای جغرافیایی بخش باجیگران در مرز ایران و پاکستان، فصلنامة مدرس علوم انسانی، سال دهم، شمارة 48، صص 1-22.
  11. میرحیدر، دره، 1384، مبانی جغرافیای سیاسی، چاپ دوازدهم، سمت، تهران.
    1. Arcus, B. D., 2003, Contested Boundaries: Native Sovereignty and State Power at Wounded Knee, 1973, Political Geography, Vol. 22, No. 4, PP. 415-437.
    2. Badiee, M. and Mirahmadi, F. S., 2013, The Role of ICT in Revolutions in 2011 at Middle East and North Africa (Case Study: Egypt), Journal of Geography and Regional Development Research, Vol. 19, No. 2, PP. 143-175. (In Persian)
    3. Badiee, M., Firoozjaee, A. and Ansarizadeh, S., 2012, Explanation of Concept of Boundary in Cyber Space, Journal of Geography, Vol. 11, No. 36, PP. 291-313. (In Persian)
    4. Dodds, K., 2011, Geopolitics, A Very Short Introduction, Translated by: Pishgahifard, Z. and Zohdi Ghoharpour, M., Sohreh, Tehran. (In Persian)
    5. Dean, K., 2005, Spaces and Territorialities on the Sino–Burmese Boundary: China, Burma and the Kachin, Political Geography, Vol. 24, No. 7, PP. 808-830.
    6. Doevenspeak, M., 2011, Constructing the Border from Below: Narrative from the Congolese–Rwandan state boundary, Political Geography, Vol. 30, Issue 3, PP. 129-142.
    7. Fondahl, G. and Sirina, A., 2003, Working Borders and Shifting Identities in the Russian Far North, Geoforum, Vol. 34, Issue 4, PP. 541-556.
    8. Guibernau, M., 2004, Anthony D. Smith on Nations and National Identity: A Critical Assessment, Nations and Nationalism, Vol. 10, No. 1/2, PP. 125-141.
    9. Gregory, D. et al., 2009, The Dictionary of Human Geography, 5th Edition, John Willey and Sons Ltd.
    10. Hatuka, T., 2012, Civilian Consciousness of the Mutable Nature of Borders: The Power of Appearance along a Fragmented Border in Israel/Palestine, Political Geography, Vol. 31, Issue 6, PP. 347-357.
    11. Hafeznia, M., Ahmadipour, Z. and Ghaderi Hajat, M., 2010, Politics and Space, Papoli Publication, Mashhad. (In Persian)
    12. Heidarifar, M. R., 2010, A Critical Study of Discourse in a World without Boundaries, Geopolitics Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 2, PP. 125-152.
    13. House, J., 1980, The Frontier Zone: A Conceptual Problem for Policy Makers, International Political Science Review, Vol. 1, No. 4, PP. 456-477.
    14. Jones, R., 2009, Categories, Borders and Boundaries, Progress in Human Geography, No. 33, PP. 174-189.
    15. Johnson, C. et al., 2011, Intervention on Rethinking ‘the Border’ in Border Studies, Political Geography, Vol. 30, Issue 2, PP. 61-69.
    16. Johnston, R., 2001, Out of the ‘Moribund Backwater’: Territory and Territoriality in Political Geography, Political Geography, Vol. 20, Issue 6, PP. 677-693.
    17. Kamran, H., Mohammadpour, A. and Jafari, F., 2007, Analysis of Function of Bajgiran Border Market, Journal of Geography, Vol. 6, No. 18/19, PP. 7-25. (In Persian)
    18. Karimipour, Y., 2000, Introduction to Iran and Its Neighbors, Jihad Daneshgahi of Tarbiyat Moalem University, Tehran. (In Persian)
    19. Mol, A. and Law, J., 2005, Boundary Variations: An Introduction, Environment and Planning D, Society and Space, No. 23, PP. 637-642.
    20. Minghi, J. V., 1963, Boundary Sudies in Political Geography, Annals of the Association of American Geographer, No. 53, PP. 407-428.
    21. Mojtahedzadeh, P., 2013, Political Geography and Geopolitics, 2nd Edition, Samt Publication, Tehran.
    22. Mohammadpour, A., Ahmadipour, Z. and Badiee, M., 2007, Role of Evolution of the Border Function on Geographical Space of Bajgiran Area in Border between Iran and Turkmenistan, Journal of Human Sciences Modarres, Vol. 10, No. 48, PP. 1-22. (In Persian)
    23. Mirheydar, D., 2005, The Foundations of Political Geography, 12th Edition, Samt Publication, Tehran. (In Persian)
    24. Newman, D., 2006, Boundaries; In a Companion to Political Geography, In Agnew, J. (Ed), Katharyne Mitchell, Gerard Toal, 3rd Edition, Blackwell Publishing.
    25. Newman, D., 2003, On Borders and Power: A Theoretical Framework, Journal of Borderlands Studies, No. 18, PP. 13-25.
    26. Smith, A. D., 2001, Nationalism Theory, Ideology, History, Cambridge, Polity Press.
    27. Smith, A, D., 1991, National Identity, Penguin, London.
    28. Strayer, D. L. et al., 2003, A Classification of Ecological Boundaries, Bioscience, No. 53, PP. 723-729.
    29. Van Houtum, H., Kramsch, O. and Zierhofer, W., 2005, Bordering Space, In Wasti-Walter, D. (Ed.), Border Region Series, VT: Ashgate, Burlington.
    30. Van Houtum, H., 2005, The Geopolitics of Borders and Boundaries, Geopolitics, No. 10, PP. 672-679.
    31. Zarghani, H., 2006, The Factors that Affect Border Security, with Emphasis on the Eastern Border of Iran and Afghanistan, Journal of Geographical Sciences, Vol. 6, No. 1, PP. 166-191. (In Persian)


Volume 48, Issue 3
October 2016
Pages 541-555
  • Receive Date: 28 September 2014
  • Revise Date: 16 February 2016
  • Accept Date: 05 March 2016
  • First Publish Date: 22 September 2016