Appel à articles : Dossier « Borders and circulation in the Middle East », L’Espace politique, n° 28 — LIMITE : 31/01/2015

Call For Papers – L’Espace politique, n° 28 « Borders and circulation in the Middle East »

Coordination Véronique Bontemps (CNRS), Philippe Bourmaud (Université Lyon III) and Cyril Roussel (Ifpo)

Deadline for submission of proposals: 31 January 2015

Unfolding events in the Middle East, lately in Palestine or Iraq, and now in Syria, are a constant reminder of the importance of international borders. They remind us of the significance of the location of borders as well as of the patterns of border crossing. Constant trips back and forth organize the life of many inhabitants of the region, such as travellers, migrants, scattered families, refugees or displaced populations. All experience inter-state mobility, whether it be voluntary or forced. We invite contributions to this issue that articulate notions of border (and by this, we mean a demarcation dispositive between two states or two national entities) and circulation (including both individuals and goods).

Borders and the depth of their borderlands are never neutral spaces : they imply a fare share of uncertainty, risk and impredictibility. They are generally areas fraught with tension and militarized spaces where circulation is hindered and crossing is kept under control. Let us take the point of view of the people who cross borders and that of the populations living along them : borders are then also the site where neighbourly relations are established and where spatial processes and social relations are constantly redefined. The circulation of goods and individuals undergoes frequent adaptations between the phases of opening and closing of the border, and between moments of tensions and moments of quiet.

Whether we consider formal or informal circulation, those processes of adaptation to the constraints weighing on border crossing are not well known as a rule. Yet they mobilize various and numerous actors ; they involve know-how and knowledge that enable populations to keep in touch, to make a living from cross-border trade, to wage political battles, to go round embargoes, in short to assert themselves. The goal of this issue is to tackle systems of actors surrounding the borders. Given that Middle Eastern spaces are suffused with politics and that they are impacted by the persistance of border tensions between neighbour states, how do these systems of actors emerge? What kind of adaptation to border constraints do they undergo in order to keep up the flow of migrants and goods?

The papers should analyze cross-border dynamics and the way they were formed. Have they been strengthened, were they reorganized, or did they fade since the breakup of the Ottoman Empire? The research should put those phenomena in perspective with the evolution of relationships between states on a political and diplomatic level. We further welcome papers intersecting ethnographies of border control mechanisms and of practices among « border crossers ». They should aim at analyzing the transformations undergone by types of hindered circulations, and the changes taking place in borderlands refashioned as control mechanisms. We privilege here ethnographic approaches and multiscalar observations. We want to question dichotomies produced by the states or border authorities, such as distinctions between « legal » and « illegal » crossing, and asymmetries between what is « authorized » and « prohibited » on both sides of the borders. This should help us produce an alternative cartography of the region, one that shows territories as various actors experience and make use of them; one that also confronts these experiences and uses with administratively determined territories and state delimitations.

We suggest three configurations. These are not fixed framework imposed on the papers, but threads we think should run through the papers.

1) Borders as hindrances and « transgressive » circulations

Most classically, borders are thought as obstacles imposed on mobility. They are tools and symbols of prohibition, control and selection. The hindering dimension of borders is now a very real and present concern in the Middle East : suffice it for us to mention the wall of separation straddling the spaces between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the many obstacles on the road between the West Bank and Jordan, or the sealed border between Israel and Lebanon. Yet border are also a site of transgression and indeed, of motion; it does not prevent keeping up links between the two sides of it; the nexus of borders and cross-border relations creates specific forms of relational spaces, and it is up to us to define this specificity : we may mention here interlopers across the borders, or strategies of circumventing a given border by transiting through a third country. For the populations that borders run across, keeping cross-border relations is especially important in a region still considered a single unit in many cases. Why and how do transgressive circulations emerge? What are its actors, its resources and its profits?

2) Restructuring borders: producing trade spaces between the « legal » and the « illegal »

Today’s Middle East presents borders that are relatively recent. Mostly, they are a result of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918 and then, from 1948 onwards, of the succession of Arab-Israeli conflicts. Those borders have been strongly impacted by recurrent conflicts and the ensuing cross-border migrations of masses of refugees. Many social groups, be they families, tribes, clans, communities, have found themselves scattered all of a sudden within their home countries (displaced persons) or abroad (refugees). In this new context, pre-existing links on a family or community basis, for instance, may become economic resources. They may serve the interests of various categories of actors (work migrants, conveyers, itinerating merchants, cross-border businessmen…) who have to travel often cross-areas that are now borderlines. How do individuals, families, yet to-be-defined specific types of social groups managed to bank on their closeness to and knowledge of the borders, for all the obstacles erected by the administrations on the border? How have they organized their circulation, their trade and their businesses vis-à-vis these obstacles, somewhere between the « legal » and the « illegal »?

3) Easing circulation flows through the erection of borders

In the Middle East, certain borderlands are development areas worthy of investigation. These spaces have often undergone intensified circulation in the wake of an intensification of economic exchanges. Particularly enlightening here is the example of the border running between Turkey and the Kurdish Region of Iraq. In these spaces, a political will to strengthen exchanges and give fluidity to border crossing comes on top of strong and ancient cross-border links, through free-trade agreements between neighbour countries for instance, or through cross-border cooperation policies. Then, resulting spatial changes may be quick and spectacular1. Such is generally the case of places where the international border is no longer or nearly no longer a place of tensions and territorial claims. Central in the papers should be the analysis of the borderland interface between two distinct political and territorial organizations, of cross-border systems of actors, and of the ensuing process of spatial refashioning in between territories.

Proposals (4000 characters) should be sent to Véronique Bontemps (, Philippe Bourmaud ( and Cyril Roussel (cyr.roussel72@gmail.combefore the 31st of January 2015.

15 February 2015: proposals selection

30 April 2015: article submission (60 000 characters)

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