ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Where is the borderland? Notes on space, scale, and borderness


Ghosh Sahana - National University of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore


16 – Re-orienting Borderlands:Beyond spatial fixations in South Asia


In the Indian and Bangladeshi borderlands where I have conducted intensive ethnographic research since 2011, I find little agreement on where the borderland is. While the Indian and Bangladeshi states have differing official delineations, it is not a simple opposition between state delineation and that of local residents. In border villages some would direct me to neighborhoods closest to the actual border; some others direct me away towards shops in nearby towns where the borderland’s economic life was most concentrated. Using these instances as provocations, I ask, where is a borderland, and, how do you know you’re there? Taking these questions as empirical invitations, this paper centers orientations in and towards borderlands as meaningful and contested spatial practice.

Mobilities across multiple scales have been considered fundamental to transnational lives, connections and political economies. Thus studying scales as key element of spatial formations provide us with a vantage point to understand what different sites mean to each other. Using orientation as an analytical frame brings the high politics of delineation from above and popular politics of delineation on the ground to bear upon each other. Following orientations, I suggest, can show how mobilities are scaled – as local, global, national – and how borderlands come to acquire spatial features.