Posted by: Borderless Borderguard | January 30, 2008

On the Europeanness of the concept of boundary

The boundary, the way we know it now, is largely a product of a European thought. Through colonization these thoughts and concepts were implemented elsewhere on the globe. The idea is that European concepts of state, sovereignty, territory, frontier and boundary were taken by the Europeans to various other parts of the world, for instance to Asia, Africa, South and North Americas, Australia. Since Central Asia is a focus of this paper, it is important to note that European concepts were brought to Central Asia and Asia in general. European powers (British, Russia as well) drew boundaries, built states, as well as buffer states, between large empires (British Empire, Russia, China). Prescott in his monumental study of boundaries explains “buffer states have been constructed in frontiers when two strong neighbours decided to reduce the possibility of conflict between themselves. Britain’s prime boundary strategy in the Indian subcontinent involved maintaining a system of small, weak states between British India and the territories of Russia, China and France. In the Himalayas Britain encouraged the existence of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan to separate China and India” (Mongolia in Sino-Russian relations, Afghanistan in British-Russian relations) (Prescott 1978:44). The European concepts of boundaries, territory and state are important in analyzing Central Asia, because these are the European thoughts and ideas which have shaped the political map of Central Asia today.

I believe the widespread concept of frontier is a European concept. However, Anderson (2001:13) suggests that ‘boundary making is universal human activity’: “it is difficult to identify human groups completely lacking a sense of territory, and a frontier or boundary between what is ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’ is implicit in any sense of territory” (Anderson, 2001:13). I do not argue that different cultural groups have their own perceptions of border. My statement is that the European concept of boundary influenced the boundary making all over the world, and became the universal one. Similarly, in the recent history, many other European values have acquired a universal nature, like human rights, freedom of speech, democracy etc…

Therefore, the literature I work with for this research is mainly written by European scholars: Malcolm Anderson – a political scientist, Prescott J.R.V. – a political geographer, Donnan Hastings and Thomas Wilson – anthropologists and others. The European and American scholars have contributed tremendously in the field of boundary studies. It is incredibly difficult to find non-European scholars or non-European thoughts regarding the theory on boundary. Nonetheless, as mentioned above, Central Asia has been influenced by the European thought of nation-states, which are now making up the political map of the region.



  1. […] —Nafisa […]

  2. […] Понятно, что у разных культурных групп существуют разные понятия границы, но именно европейское понятие стало в наше время универсальным, как и многие европейские ценности – права человека, свобода слова, и т. д. —Nafisa […]

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