Borderlands and the Claims of Justice (Working Paper #122)

Yvonne Aimé Gastélum, University of California – San Diego

Introduction: Citizenship and borders shape the ways we conceive of justice in the modern world of nation-states. They delineate the contours of membership and territory we perceive as our own, and provide the institutional framework within which we construct justice. However, the particular moral order they create, its protections and exclusions, is inadequately considered within contemporary theories of justice that fail to recognize how borders are bridged and membership is renegotiated over time.

The boundaries that enclose political communities, denoted by citizenship, immigration and naturalization law, and territorial border control, are negotiated closures subject to political choice. The institutions of the modern nation-state and the conditions of the interstate system structure and limit these choices. For these are the instruments by which political communities retain their coherence, and by which liberal democratic communities sustain their conception of themselves as self-governing. Border structures, by which the boundary institutions of the state may be understood, delimit from the inside out—that is, they are perceived as having only one relevant side, that which is our side.

This exclusive dimension dominates the ways in which we delimit justice claims, assign their reach and consider the relevant social vantage point from which to adjudicate them. Yet beyond the narrow realist frame1 that often dominates these considerations exists a further negotiation. While the modern state binds political and territorial integrity, the cross border practices of transnational non-state actors significantly alter the context of state sovereignty. The cross border movement of people and their renegotiation of social and political membership create specific “borderlands” that develop in the social overlap generated by the interaction of different peoples as their nationals relocate themselves in the “near abroad.”2 Borderland contexts complicate justice frameworks by disrupting and refashioning relationships within and across national borders. In crossing borders, persons create “transnational social fields”3 that modify the dynamics of national political communities and the kinds of justice claims articulated within the public sphere. For borderland contexts denote a disjuncture between citizenship, membership, and rights theorized within liberal democratic justice frameworks and located in the modern nation-state.

Working Paper #122»