Crossing Borders: Negotiation, Provocation, and Transgression

Birkbeck Institute Graduate Conference, Birkbeck, University of London, 5-6th May 2017

Supported by the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities and the Birkbeck Institute for Social Research

Across the globe, borders are once again being erected, entrenched, and enlarged in order to contain, as well as to subject to the perpetual surveillance apparatus, people considered threats to the integrity of the national and supra-national state. From Calais to Lesbos, the camp has returned with a vengeance in Europe, supported by dubious claims for security. The spectre of the Jihadist and economic migrant haunts the political imaginary of the ‘advanced’ nations of Western Europe, who now spare no mercy for those displaced by civil war, environmental disaster, or material immiseration. Areas of conflict are increasingly being captured by drones, which, crucial for security, are profoundly redefining the borders between state, civil society, and privacy. Yet the very instantiation of the border speaks to and raises the possibility of its being breached, of forms of traversal, of lines of flight. This could be the contested borderland, a zone of indiscernibility where state violence regulates the movement of capital and labour, as in the case of the Mexico-US border and the region of Kashmir. It could also be the borderless world of ubiquitous data collection, which, paradoxically is recorded and stored in obscurely located and highly centralised data centres. Or, the faltering border between the conscious and the unconscious, whereby libidinal drives perpetually upset any stable sense of the sovereign self. Finally, ‘crossing borders’ poses a temporal question, directed to conceptions of historical change, the unpredictable instant of revolution which in shattering the known retroactively constitutes a border.

This conference is a call to intellectual arms, then, a provocation to think geographical, political, bodily, technological, and environment borders. What constitutes a border, how are they stabilised, and how can they be crossed, negotiated or transgressed? How are borders enacted, defined and re-defined by surveillance, technology, regulations and resistance? Are borders necessarily the logic of a colonial structure of thought, predicated on capture, division, and domination? How else might difference be thought and engaged? What is the discourse, language, imagery of the border? How are human bodies reciprocally shaped by the social environment? What model of the psyche can help us understand the rich diversity of socio-political mechanisms? How can we cross the border of rationality in order to explore and release the unconscious factors in our sense-making? And, crucially, how can we as academics cross institutional and disciplinary borders? We welcome submissions from across the Humanities and Social Sciences, and especially encourage contributions from artists and activists.

We are delighted to have Prof. Ranabir Samaddar from Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group (CRG), India as our opening keynote speaker. His keynote is provisionally titled ‘The Labouring Subject of Refugee Economies’.


Confirmed panels:

Mediatisation, Language, and Agency

  • Treasa O’Brien: ‘Filming Fast and Slow: Agency and Representation when Filming with Migrants and Refugees’
  • Louise Rolland: ‘Self-Translation or Self-Expression? How Clients Negotiate Linguistic Borders in Psychotherapy’
  • Giancarlo Sandoval: ‘Hybridizing Borders with Transmodern Users: Peruvian Memes and the Mutation of the Ideas’

Narrative as Border Zone

  • Carl Fraser: ‘Narratives of Border Administration’
  • Holly Parker: ‘What is the City but the People’: Communal Identity and the City in Ivan Vladislavic’s Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked
  • Lieven Ameel: ‘Crossing Into Uncertain Futures: Urban Waterfronts in Contemporary Fiction’

Visualising, Monumentalising, and Transgressing: Art and Architectures of the Border

  • Christina Parte: ‘Berlin Wall, Surface and Graffiti’
  • Katie Joice: ‘Degrees of Freedom: A Visual History of the Asylum Wall’
  • Milos Kosec: ‘Revolt on the Line: Spatial Representation of Resistance’
  • Kazima Khan: ‘Transgressing the ‘zones of silence’: Artist Networks in South Asia’

Calls to (B)order: Dis-Orderly Conduct and the Mis/Measure of Madness

  • Lindsay Miller: ‘Ante-Anti-Normative: The Refusal of Health and the Transvaluation of Pathology Itself’
  • Michael Miller: ‘The Classroom as a Site of Violence: On Passing, Failing, and Thinking Differently’
  • China Mills: ‘Calculating Lunacy: (B)ordering Disorder in the Global Quantification of Madness’

Engaging European Citizenship: A Human Rights Perspective

  • Marco Cellini: ‘Filling the Gap of the Dublin System: A soft Cosmopolitan Approach’
  • Ali Emre Benli: ‘Refugees Traversing Borders: An Act of Civil Disobedience’
  • Daniel Tkatch: ‘Can Art Promote Rights? A Case for Aesthetic Activism in the EU’

The full programme will be published in due course

Organisers: Senjuti Chakraborti, Güneş Tavmen, Thomas Travers, Chenyang Wang.