Noticing Borders Otherwise

Nicole Land thinking with Maria Wysocki, Selena Ha, Andrea Thomas, and Alicja Frankowski

While we were sitting on the logs around the sand last week, Andrea asked: what borders do we need to care well together? I think this question is important, because in living well together with the sand, I don’t think that anyone is suggesting relations of anarchy or disorder where we refuse all borders, or a romanticized anti-border world where we suggest that we are post-border or that we have created a space so harmonious there is no need for borders. I think, instead, Andrea’s question reminds me that we need borders; borders are part of world making – borders are a way of navigating, of standing for something, of making choices about care and attention and learning and life. I’ve been thinking about this question alongside a proposition from one of my favourite authors, Alexis Shotwell: “what it means to notice the world as a practice of responsibility” (p. 79). What would it mean to notice borders as a practice of responsibility, where borders are a way of being implicated in worlds and relationships? 

I’ve been thinking also about our inherited relations with borders that make us think about borders as a way of staking ownership: borders make in/out, mine/yours, they include/exclude. I want to wonder together what it would be to respond to moments of borders with the children outside this logic. When borders start to be about in/out, mine/yours, how do we respond in a way that steps completely outside this logic? What if, rather than negotiating these disputes within the same ways of being that enable them (let’s take turns, move away, make room), we generate responses that just totally disrupt the idea that borders are governed by laws of in/out or mine/yours or ownership? For example, I am thinking of a moment last week when M took my hand saying “in, in”, to get me to step over the logs and into the sand pit. I sat down and a few other children came over to chat, and the area we were in got very full. We jostled shoulders a bit and one of the children pushed at another child to make room. One of the logs kept rolling away as we squeezed in, making the space bigger. One of the children kept pulling the log back, making the space smaller. I moved my body out of the space, making more room, which smoothed over the disputes the children were having to have their bodies in the same space. I’ve been thinking a lot about my response – I decided to move my body out, maintaining the borders of that space. This feels, to me, like the in/out border logic: borders are the edges of a space and edges are exclusionary, they mark a space separate from another space. What if instead I’d paid attention to the log with the children: look at how the log won’t stay still. Let’s notice how the slight slope of the sand and the uneven shape of the log keeps pulling the log away from us – why? How can we move differently once the log has moved away? Let’s wonder together why we are all crowded here together? What happens when we move the log back into an edge? Or don’t? How do we move differently? How does having that log close or far change how we move together here? These are all questions I could very much have brought into the space with the children. I wonder how these might have complexified our relations with borders – or not? 

This moment and these questions remind me of another provocation from Alexis Shotwell: “contaminated diversity requires us to attend to stories that are not easy tools for knowing the world” (p. 81). How can we make borders these ‘not easy tools’ for knowing the world? How can we make different, unfamiliar, not easy relations with borders? How can we move differently, beyond in/out, mine/yours ownership relations with borders? What stories of borders might we notice to complexify our taken-for-granted stories of borders?

Shotwell, A. (2016). Against purity: Living ethically in compromised times. U of Minnesota Press.

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