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Internalizing Borders

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Universität Bielefeld/P. Ottendörfer
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Graphic Research Group Borders
Design: C. Mehl/Büro Paschetag


Volker M. Heins (Essen, GER)

Sabine Hess (Göttingen, GER)

Dana Schmalz (Heidelberg, GER)

Frank Wolff (Osnabrück, GER)

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Sebastian Lemme

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

October 2023 - July 2024

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 (Bordering and Knowledge Production) 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.

  • Group photo Kickoff Conference
    Universität Bielefeld/P. Ottendörfer
  • Group phto arrival first members of the group
    Universität Bielefeld/P. Ottendörfer

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If you want to be updated on the group's events, conferences, publications or other activities regarding the subject of "Internalizing Borders", you can sign up for the mailing list via this link.


Border Talk Series

Border Talk Series

The ZiF Border Talks are a series of online lectures. All talks of the series will be streamed on-site at ZiF and also livestreamed via Zoom at 18:15, CET.

13 Mar 2024
Nicholas de Genova (Houston): From Border War to Civil War: Populism | Fascism | Authoritarianism

28 Feb 2024
Magdalena Kmak (Turku): Mobile Law: Law, Migration and Human Mobility

08 Feb 2024
Todd Miller (Tucson, AZ), Franziska Grillmeier (Lesbos): The Changing Conditions of Journalism at the Border: Experiences from the US and Europe

25 Jan 2024
Lucy Mayblin (Sheffield) and Thom Davies (Nottingham): “Eco-Coloniality and the Violent Environmentalism of the UK-France Border”

18 Jan 2024
Annika Lindberg (Gothenburg): “On Europe's Attachment to Border Violence”

11 Jan 2024
Maurice Stierl (Osnabrück ) and Martina Tazzioli (Bologna): “Undoing the Decolonial Redux, Multiplying (Post-)Colonial Legacies”

16 Nov 2023
Ekkehard Coenen (Weimar): Knowledge and Violence - Sociological Perspectives


Kickoff Conference

8 - 10 November 2023

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? These and other questions will be addressed at the kickoff conference of the research group "Internalizing Borders".


The keynote on Wednesday evening and the discussion panel on Thursday morning are open to the public and will also be streamed (via Zoom). Registration is requested by 7 November, 2023.

Please contact the Research Group Coordinator Sebastian Lemme to register and, if you are attending digitally, to receive the links for the Zoom sessions:

Border Work and Authoritarian Transformation

13 - 15 December 2023

Dimensions of Border Internalization: Towards a Conceptual Framework

13 - 15 March 2024

Event Link

10 - 14 June 2024

27 - 29 November 2024


Volker M. Heins (Essen, GER)
Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities

Sabine Hess (Göttingen, GER)
Cultural Anthropology/European Ethnology
University of Göttingen

Dana Schmalz (Heidelberg, GER)
MPI for Comparative Public Law and International Law Heidelberg

Frank Wolff (Osnabrück, GER)
Modern History, IMIS
Osnabrück University

Dr. Jens Adam
Research group Soft Authoritarianisms
University of Bremen

Prof. Maurizio Albahari, PhD
Department of Anthropology and Keough School of Global Affairs
University of Notre Dame

Prof. Soledad Àlvarez Velasco, PhD
Latin American and Latino Studies Program and the Department of Anthropology
University of Illinois Chicago

Dr. Grażyna Baranowska
Hertie School Berlin
Centre for Fundamental Rights

Prof. Dr. Lisa Marie Borrelli
Social Work
HES-SO Valais-Wallis

Prof. Nicholas de Genova, PhD
Department of Comparative Cultural Studies
University of Houston

Prof. Dr. Tobias Eule
Sociology of Law
Bern University

Dr. habil. Mareike Gebhardt
University of Muenster
Center for European Gender Studies

Leslie Gross-Wyrtzen, PhD
Center for Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration
Yale University

Marijana Hameršak, PhD
Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research, Zagreb

Prof. Dr. Levke Harders
Gender History
Innsbruck University

Prof. Elissa Helms, PhD
Department of Gender Studies
Central European University

Prof. Azra Hromadžić, PhD
Department of Anthropology
Syracuse University

Dr. Arshad Isakjee
University of Liverpool
School of Environmental Sciences

Dr. Bernd Kasparek
Berlin Institute for Empirical Migration and Integration Research
Humboldt University Berlin

Lise Känner
Bielefeld University
Faculty of Law
Public Law and Information Law

Prof. Dr. Witold Klaus
Institute of Law Studies
Polish Academy of Sciences

Prof. Magdalena Kmak
Åbo Akademi University
Faculty of Social Sciences, Business and Economics, and Law

Dr. Jochen Lingelbach
University of  Bayreuth
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Prof. Danijela Majstorović, PhD
University of Banja Luka
Department of English

Dr. Albert Manke
University of Göttingen
Institute for Cultural Anthropology/European Ethnology

Prof. Itamar Mann
International Law, Human Rights, and Environmental Law
Haifa University

Brendan McGeever, PhD
Department of Psychosocial Studies and the Birkbeck Institute for the Study of Antisemitism
University of London

Prof. Dr. Sandro Mezzadra
Department of Arts
University of Bologna

Dr. Deborah Bunmi Ojo
Obafemi Awolowo University
Faculty of Environmental Design and Management
Department of Urban and Regional Planning

Johanna Paul
Bielefeld University
Faculty of Sociology
Sociology of Transnationalization and Social Anthropology

Dr. Dr. Maximilian Pichl
RheinMain University of Applied Sciences
Faculty of Applied Social Sciences

Almamy Sylla, PhD
Université des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines de Bamako (ULSHB)
Faculté des Sciences Humaines et des Sciences de l’Éducation

Dr. Martina Tazzioli
University of Bologna
Department of History and Cultures

Dr. Veronika Zablotsky
Freie Universität Berlin
Institute of Philosophy

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