PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2014, Vol. 33 ›› Issue (7): 969-978.doi: 10.11820/dlkxjz.2014.07.012

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Conceptualizing border from a social constructionist perspective: current progress and implications for future research

Xueqiong TANG1(), Xihao YANG2, Junxi QIAN2   

  1. 1. School of Landscape, Southwest Forestry University, Kunming 650224, China
    2. Center for Cultural Industry and Cultural Geography, School of Geography, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China
  • Online:2014-07-25 Published:2014-07-25


The demarcation of borders is a process in which spatial orders and relations are configured. It is central to the understanding of the production of social relations and cultural meanings in border areas. This article uses a social constructionist view to capture the variegated meanings that border procures during social changes and social processes. In doing so, this paper understands border as inherently a social product. Its social significance and definition is not fixated a priori, but constituted and negotiated within networks of relations and events. In the meantime, recent advancement in human geography has made a powerful claim that space and spatial relations are important constitutive elements in all social and cultural processes. The border is certainly no exception. The transitional zone defined by geographical borders is not simply a container of social, economic and cultural processes. On the contrary, the production of space and spatial relations is a critical dimension in the constitution of society and culture. With these theoretical points of entry in mind, this paper suggests that border as a social construct can imply closure and simultaneously openness. Social groups in different positions interpret the meanings of borders in radically distinct ways. The power of borders in defining spatial and social orders lies in the production of sociocultural differences and hence the division between "us" and "others". Borders not only delineate respective nation-states, but also create differentiated spaces of identity and belonging. Besides, borders situate different political and social entities in divided social, economic and political contexts, thus holding the potential to create gradients of regional development. In this sense, borders imcubate possibilities of exchange and cooperation in order to reconfigure established orders and relations. Following this view, this article develops a re-conceptualization and re-interpretation of the border. It reviews the current literature of border studies in human geography by engaging with a number of parallel topics. The main body of the article starts by briefly reviewing some conceptual explanations of borders and border areas. It then moves to elaborate on the sociocultural significances of borders, with specific focuses on implications of closure and openness. The following section turns its attention to the issue of openness in particular, and review extant studies of cross-border spatial practices. Three viewpoints can be concluded from discussions in this article. First, the border is an important symbolic marker. It defines the social and cultural differences between "us" and "others". It also allocates social members to different social and political entities, thus creating differentiated spaces of belonging. Second, because of the existence of borders, regions at the two sides of the borders are thus embedded in radically distinct social, economic and political contexts. This results in cross-border regional disparity, which in turn creates opportunities for cross-border exchange and cooperation. Finally, for a significant number of social members, the border is constitutive of their everyday social life. It is a socio-spatial order that they need to constantly negotiate and respond to. Often, they are set to challenge established spatial orders, but in the meantime they are able to take advantage of the spatial relations defined by borders to create new possibilities of life.

Key words: border, constructionism, border area, meaning, cross-border practice

CLC Number: 

  • K901