The idea of border imperialism was put forward by South Asian organizer, activist, and author Harsha Walia. Border imperialism calls attention not only to the ways borders are operationalized, but also interrogates the relationships they have with intensifying neoliberal practices of empire. The term urges us to think beyond national boundaries as mere static delineations of territories and to make the necessary connections between borders and colonialism, dispossession, displacement, and racism, all of which interlock and continue today. Walia argues our understanding of borders are incomplete without a comprehensive analysis of how borders actually function, and in particular, the ways in which they govern, discipline, and oppress people who are traversing colonial territories, particularly Indigenous people and racialized people. As a concept then, border imperialism defies relegating matters of immigration to that of any single state or government, and instead links the politics of borders to global systems of power and repression, systems which find their roots in ‘othering,’ colonization, and slavery.
Another key element to understanding border imperialism is that, like the state and the Westphalian order, borders are neither natural nor apolitical. Rather, borders are artificial constructions. From this perspective, it is essential to recognize the hierarchical exercises of regulatory control that borders perpetuate by analyzing the ways in which they surveil bodies, manage exclusion, and administer punishment. Border imperialism as a concept thus enables us to understand how borders function as instruments of segregation, and ultimately, as weapons of empire. In this way, Walia demonstrates that borders are apparatuses of state violence, and – that borders kill.
Related concepts include border thinking, ‘crimmigration,’ governmentality, and biopower, all of which may also be of interest for those who wish to learn more about the workings of border imperialism.
Walia, H. 2014. Undoing Border Imperialism. Oakland: AK Press.
Anderson, B., Sharma, N., Wright, C. 2009. ‘Editorial: Why No Borders?‘ Refuge 26(2):5-18.
Lustgarten. A. 2015. Refugees Don’t Need Our Tears. They Need Us to Stop Making Them Refugees. April 17, The Guardian.
Walia, H. 2015. The Making of the Migration crisis. June 19, Telesurtv.net.
Are all states complicit in border imperialism? Are some more complicit than others? How?
Imagine a world free of border imperialism. What would such a world look like?
Reflect upon your relationship with borders …how does your story go?
Submitted by Elise Hjalmarson and Levi Gahman