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Researcher’s new book about borders aims for a wide audience

Friday, September 28, 2012

LAWRENCE — A border is much more than a line drawn on a map.

According to Alexander Diener, assistant professor of geography in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, borders are political, social, environmental and economic forces that shape our lives.

“Human beings experience borders on a daily basis,” said Diener. “If you shut the door to your room, that represents the use of a border to block out sound, or to restrict access to people. In general, most people cross a variety of municipal boundaries every day. On a broader scale, you have international borders that profoundly affect the way we live our lives.”

Now, Diener has co-authored a new book in the popular “A Very Short Introduction” series, published by Oxford University Press in September. Denier co-authored “Borders: A Very Short Introduction” with Joshua Hagen of Marshall University.

The series promises to offer “a readable evolution of the subject in question, demonstrating how the borders have developed and how they influence society.” Diener said that he welcomed the opportunity to present the history and significance of borders, along with an introduction to border studies, to a lay readership.

“Borders are changing in terms of their meaning and the role they play in people’s lives,” said the KU researcher. “That’s what we really tried to bring out with this book.”

According to Diener, permeability is one of the most interesting aspects of contemporary international borders.

“Increasingly, with transnational economics, permeability of borders is a must,” he said. “But coupled with that, you have issues of terrorism, illegal migration and these kind of things that make people want to make borders less permeable. The key for leaders is to try and find a way to effectively do both. It is incumbent upon academics to ascertain if such efforts are being carried out in an ethical manner that is helpful both for those within a given state and also for those who want to cross borders and contribute.”

In “Borders: A Very Short Introduction,” the c-oauthors lay out for the reader a general definition of borders as well as a history of border studies. They then discuss how borders functioned both in the ancient world and modern-day state system, how borders are used and crossed today, and finally how borders could be changed to bring about greater justice and benefit to the world.

Diener argued against the idea that a future world may lack borders and said that borders might instead grow in importance to humanity.

“There is a thesis that we’re evolving toward a borderless world,” he said. “But a lot of political geographers and international relations experts will take issue with that. To my mind, borders are part of our lives; they have been, and they will continue to be. But they are transforming. You can look at contingent sovereignties. Or indigenous sovereignties, which are radically altering the way borders function. Some countries have cordoned off spaces within their own territory to facilitate foreign companies having tax-free labor or providing unique legal regimes for first-peoples. That’s a very different approach to sovereignty and borders than has predominated throughout history.”

“Borders: A Very Short Introduction” will be sold at most major book retailers. But Diener is most enthusiastic about the idea that the book should be available on the shelves of airport shops.

“With this series, they usually have a rack at most airport bookstores, and that’s where I think the idea of writing it comes from,” he said. “If you’re getting on a plane, you grab a copy of this book — by the time you get off the plane, you’ll know something about the topic of borders.”