ZiF Research Group

Internalizing Borders:
The Social and Normative Consequences of the European Border Regime

1 October 2023 – 31 July 2024

Convenors: Frank Wolff (Osnabrück, GER), Dana Schmalz (Heidelberg, GER), Sabine Hess (Göttingen, GER) Volker M. Heins (Essen, GER)


State borders and their protection have resurfaced as highly controversial public and political issues in the past two decades. Hopes for a unified Europe and the stability of liberal states appear to presuppose the grim reality of the enforcement of repressive border controls against unwanted migrants. However, the return to borders as alleged safeguards of liberal sovereignty implies their material fortification, the employment of biometric databases, militarized border police, the forced immobilization in camps, and the criminalization of humanitarian activities and organizations. With the hardening of borders, violence, too, becomes an integral part of policing the mobility of populations on a worldwide scale. European borders are becoming both ubiquitous and openly violent. As border violence reportedly abounds, it becomes evident—in Europe particularly—that the new border policies conflict with liberal norms, international law and humanitarian values which constitute the historical and normative bases of the democratic nation state and the process of European unification itself. Against this backdrop, the proposed research group will explore the normative and social consequences of the fortification and closing of borders for the states and societies engaged in these processes. How do hardened borders and border violence perpetrated by state and non-state actors eat into the legal, moral, and social fabric of democratic societies, undermining the very norms on which the latter rest? How can we conceptualize the normative and social consequences of violent bordering practices?

Whereas the transformation of European border zones and the externalization of the European Union border regime deep into other continents have been thoroughly studied, the social and normative implications of violent bordering and its consequences for societies at large—which we conceptualize as border internalization—have not yet been systematically explored. These are the twin goals of the proposed ZiF Research Group: analyzing the meaning and consequences of border fortification for the societies engaged in this process and developing an interdisciplinary framework for conceptualizing the processes of border internalization. Each fellow will work on an individual case study focusing on aspects of Fields I-III and connect this research in different exchange formats with the larger group. Field I (Borders as a Laboratory) will examine how borders function as testing grounds, battle zones, and spaces of innovation for biopolitical norms and policies. Field II (Borders as Condition of Knowledge Formation) covers the processes of creating, exchanging, obfuscating, and erasing border knowledges and the discursive dynamics of bordering. Field III (Borders as Source of Social Conflict), finally, looks at how the entangled dynamics of enforcement, circumvention, solidarity, and (de-/re-)juridification create social conflict within bordering societies.

Please direct any inquiries to Susanne Fizell.

+49 521 106-2792