Yesterday, I read an excellent piece by Stuart Elden, Territory without Borders. Elden argues that the construction of territory–or space–precedes the construction of borders. In his words:
It is the understanding of political space that is fundamental, and the idea of boundaries a secondary aspect, dependent on the first…[B]orders only become possible in their modern sense, as boundaries, through a notion of space, rather than the other way round.
I emphasize the two words–political space–to signify that this space is already framed within and by notions of belonging. Elden says,
As the French writer Paul Alliès suggests in his book L’invention du territoire, “To define territory, we are told, one delimits borders. Or to think the border, must we not already have an idea of homogeneous territory?”
Elden frames this homogeneous territory within a scientific, geometric configuration of mathematical (empty) space. However, one can put pressure on this homogeneity, drawing out the racial and gendered reproductive logic of descent and belonging. Before the border, homogeneous space, that is, a space for our belonging.
This homogenous space–a space for reproducing the people–explains the ambivalent appeal of the border in our American context. One one hand, we have embraced a series of border transgressions, most notably in the transgression of other borders in the War on Terror. The presumed universalism of American life–of the American people–presses us towards an extreme openness, engulfing other countries and ways of life as we attempt to restructure and stabilize the Americanized global world. On other hand, the homogenous space is severely threatened by the reproduction of aliens and alien ways of life, notably the concern over immigrants from Latin America and Muslims. The “ideal humanity” of “racist internationalism” (E. Balibar, Race, Nation, Class, p.61) is open to all (universalized through our military and economic expansion) and yet is threatened by and must close itself to these unassimilable peoples.
In this instance, one sees clearly that the border is simultaneously open (expanding outward) and closed (repelling outsiders). The “border disputes” are secondary to the production of this space of belonging, the space of the social body, where whiteness is simultaneously hidden in the appeal to the universal and deployed against those who contaminate or fail to embrace–reproduce–this universal human life.