Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster „Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration“

Migration and borders in times of increased mobility

Formed by migration to and migration from Europe, constantly growing and changing transnational networks have steadily tied the old continent to other regions of the world.

Despite the currency of a fortress-centered rhetoric and practice, people from other continents continue to find their way to Europe; at the same time, because of the continent’s recent crisis Europeans also try their luck elsewhere, not seldom in “southern” countries. In this manner, global constellations are continuously altered.

In urban centers, super-diverse configurations have emerged (Vertovec 2007), not only constituted by a multiplicity of individuals with diverse “migration backgrounds” but also by distinction according to a range of factors including legal, social, and economic status. In addition, as a result of the development of transnational communities (Basch, Glick Schiller, Szanton Blanc 1994) and transnational networks and subjectivities (Dahinden 2009), processes of social differentiation can now only be understood transnationally (Berger and  Weiß 2008). In this way, both in transnational and local contexts of origin, destination, and transit, complex economic, social, and cultural contradictions and tensions have emerged (Nieswand 2011).

Consequently, present-day migration cannot be considered a marginal societal phenomenon; rather, it is part of a process of social transformation increasingly marked by augmented mobility and circulation. In this framework, interpretive schemas approaching migratory movements in terms of one-dimensional transit (from country A to country B) are no longer adequate. Many people spend long periods in transit or live multi-local lives. These life forms are an immanent element of new, provisional, and fragile social formations, cultures, and economies that, however, endure and presume good social interconnections.

Over time the social, spatial, and temporal dimensions of human relations change. European and non-European societies display characteristics that have emerged not least of all through spatial and social mobility. This calls for correspondingly dynamic theoretical and analytic approaches which we develop on the basis of on-going social and cultural research.

The projects within this field relate to on-going discussions in mobility studies, which deal with the questions of mobility and immobility within all areas of life. They pay attention to the mobility, liquidity and circulation of imaginations, ideas and objects in particular, and of cultures, capital, economies and religions in general. Furthermore, mobility researchers are interested in regimes which try to limit, control or prohibit any kind of mobility. The projects with a focus on the various dimensions of human mobility and its regulation and control systematically seek the comparison with others which explore the (im)mobilities of other objects and themes.

The assumption that globalization brings about specific regimes of mobility and of immobility is intimately linked to the discourses and practices of border-making. On the one hand, the picture emerging here is of a globally interconnected world free of geographic borders—a world in which information, human beings, and commodities circulate in a smooth and barrier-free way (Castells 2000). On the other hand, objections are raised that what has really emerged here is a fragmented globe stamped by the development of new borders: interstitial zones calling into question the binary opposition between “global north” and “global south (Augé 2009, Basaran 2011). Partly in light of 11 September 2001, the gradual vanishing of borders that was imagined in the 1990s must be newly conceived and examined. Arguably, rather than focusing on a dissolution of state borders, we will here need to closely consider the selective nature of borders. In line with particular regulatory needs, state borders have become both more flexible and more impermeable (Andreas/Snyder 2000). In addition, they have expanded beyond established territory through a growing network of controls.

A shift in social-scientific research on borders over the past few decades attests to this shifting character of borders, a development that terms such as borderland, borderscape, and borderwork try to capture and reflect. Borders are less and less understood as fixed physical zones surrounding territory; rather, they are increasingly viewed as complex political, social, and discursive constructs implying both a specific global order and a certain definition of the state. For this reason, they need to be understood as constantly negotiated social products rather than stable objects (Berg/van Houtum, 2003). At the same time, borders and borderlands are themselves regarded (by scholars) as privileged sites for the empirical investigation of processes of globalization and world change underway (Wilson/Donnan 2012).

Taking an interdisciplinary perspective with an orientation towards cultural studies and the social sciences, the doctoral program explores the cultural and social consequences of these new constellations, together with their influence on the interconnections between Europe and the globalized world.


Andreas, Peter and Timothy Snyder (Eds.) 2000. The Wall around the West. State Borders and Immigration Controls in North America and Europe. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Augé, Marc 2009. Pour une anthropologie de la mobilité. Paris: Payot & Rivages.

Basaran, Tugba 2011. Security, Law and Borders. At the limits of liberties. New York: Routledge.

Berg, Eiki and Henk Van Houtum, Henk (Eds.) 2003. Routing Borders Between Territories, Discourses, and Practices. London: Ashgate.

Berger, Peter A. and Weiß, Anja (eds.) 2008. Transnationalisierung sozialer Ungleichheit. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Castells, Manuel 2000. The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture Vol. I. Cambridge & Oxford: Blackwell.

Dahinden, Janine 2009. Are we all transnationals now? Network transnationalism and transnational subjectivity: the differing impacts of globalization on the inhabitants of a small Swiss city, Ethnic and Racial Studies 32(8): 1365-1386.

Nieswand, Boris 2011. Theorising transnational migration. The status paradox of migration. New York: Routledge.

Vertovec, Steven 2007. Super-diversity and its implications, Ethnic and Racial Studies 30(6): 1024-1054.

Wilson, Thomas and Hastings Donnan. 2012. “Borders and Border Studies”, in Wilson, T. and D. Hastings, A Companion to Border Studies. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell: 1-24.

Research projects

(Un)equal lives of migrants. Comparing, reflecting and embodying processes of social stratification and cultural diversification in a Latin American city
Tilmann Heil, D.Phil.

Europas Grenzen durch Meer, Land und Luft. Eine kultursoziologische Untersuchung der Konstruktion des europäischen Selbstbildes, der Alterität und der Verschiebung von Gewalt an die Außengrenzen der EU
Dr. Estela Schindel

Kritische Stimmen an der europäischen Grenze. Nichtstaatliche Akteure und Vorstellungen eines anderen Europas jenseits der Festung
Larissa Fleischmann

Insular Border Regimes. Constructing, Crossing and Conceiving the EU-Borders in the French Caribbean (AT)
Corinna Di Stefano

Faire de l’asile. Zur Produktion und Organisation von Migration in städtischen Asylregimen
Philipp Schäfer

Cooperation partner

head Prof. Magdalena Nowicka, Humboldt University Berlin