Culture, Migration and Policy in Multilevel European Borderscapes

Conceptual and research work in the EUBORDERSCAPES Working Package on “Border-Crossing and Cultural Production” might help to shape and foster innovative border policies by showing that these could be finally enhanced only by grasping and critically addressing the multilevel complexity of the border-migration nexus – from the geopolitical level to the level of social practices and cultural productions. This would represent a significant shift in border policy perspective that might offer a real opportunity to fully capture the many implications that the constantly changing historical, political, and social contemporary world’s contexts imply at different scales.

In line with Johan Schimanski’s recent post on the Border Culture blog, I would argue that our conceptual and research work gives us the opportunity to productively apply the borderscaping approach while highlighting its conceptual and methodological potential to foster innovative border policies and practices. It does so by raising three arguments that are still understudied in border research and that deserve much attention as I have emphasized in my contribution to plenary panel “Location and Dislocations of Borders: Theoretical Discussion” at the EUBORDERSCAPES Policy Conference held at the University of East London (10-12 November 2015) as well as in my guest lecture at the Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies, SOAS, University of London (2 December 2015). These arguments are:

  • The politics-aesthetics nexus and the need for considering that political implications of border imaginaries are closely interweaved with aesthetic activity, at the same time bringing into the foreground aesthetic languages’ crucial position in the articulation and transformation of spatial imaginaries, which, in their turn, translate into beliefs, rules, policies, and practices.
  • The need for a ‘genealogical’ viewpoint in elaborating border policies (Brambilla, 2014).
  • The need for a novel methodological approach, which is conceived as political, participatory and performative.

In terms of border policies, conceptual and research work in WP 10 calls for European and national institutions to be more attentive to the specific contextual conditions and to promote regulations in line with their specificities and their problems. Not only should European and national institutions be more attentive to the specific contextual and historical conditions of contemporary borderlands, but it would also be important to start broadening the spectrum of actors involved in border policies.

In the light of this, it would be important to advance border policies based on complementary perspectives capable of grasping the dialogic nature of bordering processes and imaginaries, as well as the tension between institutional formal modes of political agency and social non-formal modes of agency that co-constitute contemporary borderscapes.

Taking this perspective, policies should be elaborated adopting a novel gaze on contemporary borders, which could be defined as both “kaleidoscopic and double” (Brambilla, 2015a). It is a gaze that, just like the lens of a kaleidoscope, is able to convey complementary and dialogical perspectives, grasping the interaction between political visions and everyday socio-cultural practices, as well as social representations and artistic imaginaries (Brambilla, 2015b). It is also a double gaze able to grasp the configurations assumed by the border on a small and large scale, globally and locally, and taking into account not only the “big stories” of the nation–state construction, but also the “small stories” that come from experiencing the border in day-to-day life (Brambilla, 2010). In this way, the notion of the borderscape provides an opportunity to move one step further towards “new methodologies of the everyday” in studying the contemporary configurations of the border–migration nexus (Dittmer, Gray, 2010).

In this framework, the following are, in my opinion, the priorities to be addressed at different levels by the EU(rope) and neighbouring states that conceptual and research work in WP 10 greatly helps to highlight in order to foster productive border policies to improve not only economic but also social and cultural cooperation:

  • Advance a perspective which gives voice to a multiplicity of individual and groups’ stances on contemporary borders lying in the realms of identities, perceptions, beliefs, and emotions, while also looking into people’s practices and experiences of dealing with the border interactions, both political and territorial, as well as symbolic and cultural. At the same time, this grounded diversity of perspectives and practices must be related back to the broader geopolitical, economic and socio-cultural shifts defining contemporary fluctuating borders, in order to better understand the dialogue between the various scales of action through which borderscapes are made and experienced.
  • Involve different and sometimes new actors who can constitute the nodes of cooperation networks across borders, to facilitate relations and improve dialogue thereby adopting a ‘bottom-up’ perspective.
  • Carry out a multi-sited, interdisciplinary participatory research aimed to foster not only participation but also engagement of a wide range of different actors.
  • Advance an act(or) centred approach based on innovative ethnographic methods involving participant and non-participant observations, cultural cartography and counter-cartographies, notes related to the research process, photographic documentation, informal interviews and correspondence, aesthetic, multi-sited ethnographic and geographic fieldwork. Special attention should be given to people’s perceptions, interpretations, experiences and representations of borders by adopting participatory and performative methodologies.
  • Adopt video and cinema as a geographic and ethnographic practice and method for social research, understanding video as an aesthetic, communicative and analytical tool, not only for visually describing social practices and discourses, but also for understanding how space is constructed, perceived, reshaped and represented by its inhabitants.
  • Move beyond the ‘fabricated’ rhetoric of crisis by rethinking borders as spaces of creativity, spaces of possibilities for new political agencies and subjectivies. Following this, innovative border policies should be able to productively act on the creative positive potential of borders as both “markers of belonging” and “places of becoming” (Brambilla, 2015a, 2015b).

Chiara Brambilla


Brambilla C., “Borders Still Exist! What Are Borders?”, in Riccio B., Brambilla C. (eds), Transnational Migration, Cosmopolitanism and Dis-located Borders, Guaraldi, Rimini, 2010, pp. 73-85.

Brambilla C., “Shifting Italy/Libya Borderscapes at the Interface of EU/Africa Borderland: A ‘Genealogical’ Outlook from the Colonial Era to Post-colonial Scenarios”, ACME – An International E-journal for Critical Geographies, 13(2), 2014, pp. 220-245.

Brambilla C., “Exploring the Critical Potential of the Borderscapes Concept”, Geopolitics, 20(1), 2015a, pp. 14-34.

Brambilla C., “Navigating the Euro/African Border and Migration Nexus Through the Borderscapes Lens: Insights from the LampedusaInFestival”, in Brambilla C., Laine J., Scott J.W., Bocchi G. (eds), Borderscaping: Imaginations and Practices of Border Making, Ashgate, Farnham, 2015b, pp. 111-121.

Dittmer J., Gray N., “Popular geopolitics 2.0: Towards New Methodologies of the Everyday”, Geography Compass, 4(11), 2010, 1664-1677.


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