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Borders of war, borders of peace

Call for contributions for the issue 33 (2017-3)
Deadline for submission of proposals: 31 May 2017

Consulter cet appel à contributions en français

Coordinators of this issue: Amaël Cattaruzza ( and Anne-Laure Amilhat Szary (

This special issue proposes the exploration of an essential and yet under studied concept in political geography, that of peace: "Geographers have a long history of studying armed conflict and have by no means always been dedicated to peace" (Kobayashi, 2009 ). The reasons for this lack of interest are multiple, linked first to the history of the discipline (the link between geopolitics and power) and the idea that "geography serves, first and foremost, to wage war" (Lacoste, 1976). But any exploration of peace begins by assessing the difficulties in defining the term in other ways than negatively: the absence of war or the end of a conflict (Mamadouh, 2004). How can we challenge the binary opposition between war and peace and consider these notions as social constructs, with imprecise contours are vague and overlapping realities (Flint, 2005, Kirsch, Flint, 2011, Toal, Dahlman, 2011, Cattaruzza, Dorier, 2015)?

Approaches through stakeholders analys and individual practices of the space could disrupt these these initial assumptions, but they are very few up to now: only one single book attempts indeed to formalize modes of territorial collaborations (Bussi 2009) and a few endeavors to put the issue of conflict into perspective (Flint 2004 and a 2009 issue of the Annals of the Association of American Geographers) precede the seminal work on the geographies of peace (McConnell, F., N. Megoran and P. Williams, 2014). This programmatic book reflects on how spatial factors make it possible to understand and even facilitate peace, but also offers to analyze renewed of approaches of sovereignty, in order to propose original territorial solutions to conflict resolution.

1. Borders play a special role in the space alphabet in that they sediment power relations (Foucher, 1988) and thus toughen, in a symbolically powerful way, states of fact inherited from ancient wars. The very principle of the Westphalian territorial equilibrium rests on the idea that the tracing of a borderline can avoid future wars. Forms of irredentism show however, that despite the border settlements, states of peace can hide a latent and lasting conflictuality, as the modern and contemporary history of Europe has proven it. This order was deployed in a differentiated way in territories structured by ancient European powers and in the spaces they colonized, having previously declared them terra nullius, that is to say unoccupied land or whose sovereignty was not to be recognized. The delineation of the borders thus marked the emergence of a world respectful of a post bellum status quo, their objective being to set the conditions for the maintenance of peace through law. Yet the modern era has taken a completely different path from that of Kantian universal peace, despite the guarantees built up, little by little, by international law.

The link between peace, war and the border can therefore be revisited in this first way, by looking at the manners through with the various territorial solutions that emerge from conflict are more or less conducive to lasting stability.

2. But border studies have radically transformed approaches to this issue, considering borders as social constucts in motion, more dependent on the stakehloder game of both parties than on a physical materialization. Their forms are thus less and less reduced to the Westphalian line, and borders can be read as punctural, zonal, archipelagic or reticular figures. Ultimately, the border has even been described as deterritorialised and mobile (Amilhat-Szary, Giraut, 2015).

This issue of the L’Espace Politique thus proposes to follow this trend and renew our gaze on classical geopolitics that used to reduce borders to frontlines.

Indeed, while the existence of international borders is often linked to conflict, interpretations of this interrelation fluctuate. Some authors argue that the delineation of borders is a means of resolving conflicts, others that it stirs them up. Moreover, current events call for reconsideration of the conflictual or peaceful nature of border designs. No war can be witnessed between Mexico and the United States, nor between Hungary and its southern neighbors, and yet walls are rising upon these borders. Conversely, in a peaceful situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina or Kosovo, the population is increasingly divided around economic, political and social boundaries that are imbued in the very heart of the cities (Sarajevo, Mostar, Mitrovica, among others) and radicalize positions on both sides.

3. Today, however, states are no longer the only bearers of border violence, quite on the contrary. International organizations, the League of Nations and then the United Nations, played an important role in the evolution of our relationship to borders. Henceforth, the rules of international relations can no longer be reduced to an alternative between bilateral relations or the resort to international institutions at world level. The charters of many other regional organizations require from their member states that they have previously determined their external borders, encouraging possible recourses to the International Court of Justice.

Over the last fifty years, the regional level has been a determining factor in the management of border conflicts in Europe (OSCE) or in other regions of the world where regional integration processes are under way. It is probably in Europe (in the EU and its immediate periphery) that the impact of regional integration on the management of border conflicts is the most important, the most diversified as well as the most original in its implementation. In attempting to reduce inequalities around borders through economic, social and cultural actions, the EU has considerably altered situations of conflict at the borders. The inability to prevent war and massacres during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia (Toal, Dahlman, 2011) nevertheless leads to nuancing these proposals.

Nevertheless, the management of these social institutions must be understood in a global context where inter-State violence is generally on the decline, as illustrated by the accounting records carried out by the "Human Security Center" NGO. Civil wars have taken precedence over international conflicts in the second half of the 20th century, and even more so in its last quarter. This does not mean that the border areas are totally pacified zones. On the contrary, border conflicts are a dominant representation of territorial conflicts. No doubt this induration is due to their visibility, on the maps in particular: the parties involved can trace the perimeters they claim. It is in this paradoxical nuance that we must examine them.

4. Borders no longer function as an outline for the protection of individuals but are now places where, on the contrary, all face direct contact with the violence of globalization (Weber, Pickering, 2011). Conceived as an envelope intended to materialize the perimeter of extension of a sovereign power, borders are challenged in their universalizing project of marking contours within which a certain number of individuals see their rights recognized and defended. The recent evolution of the borders reveals a new violence, which is not that of armed conflict, but which can prove equally lethal, especially for those who try to cross them without holding the papers allowing them a smooth flow between national territories (Clochard, 2012, Rosière, 2012, Ritaine, 2015, Jones, 2016)).

We now face seemingly peaceful or pacified borders which level of violence is extreme. This violence at the borders questions in an unprecedented way the peace/ war binarity.

The coordinators of this special issue seek to bring together articles developping one or more of the four mentioned themes developed about the dialectics of peace and war at the borders. They will focus on the multiscalary factors that explain the recent geopolitical developments in these complex spaces, but also on the consequence of the changing role of states for the individuals.


Amilhat Szary, A. L. & F. Giraut, Dir. (2015). Borderities: The Politics of Contemporary Mobile Borders. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan.

Bussi, M., Dir. (2009). Un monde en recomposition: géographie des coopérations territoriales. Mont-Saint-Aignan, Publications des Universités de Rouen et du Havre.

Cattaruzza, A. & E. Dorier (2015), « Postconflit : entre guerre et paix ? », in Hérodote, n°158, 3/2015, pp.6-15.

Clochard, O. (2012). Atlas des migrants en Europe, Armand Colin

Flint, C., Dir. (2004). The Geography of War and Peace: From Death Camps to Diplomats New York, Oxford University Press.

Flint, C., P. Diehl, J. Scheffran, J. Vasquez & S.-h. Chi (2009). "Conceptualizing Conflictspace: Toward a Geography of Relational Power and Embeddedness in the Analysis of Interstate Conflict." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 99(5 (Geographies of Peace and Armed Conflict)): 827-835

Foucher, M. (1988). Fronts et frontières, Paris, Fayard

Jones, R (2016)/ Violent Borders: Refugees and the Right to Move, London, Verso

Kirsch, S. & C. Flint, Dir. (2011). Reconstructing Conflict, Ashgate

Kobayashi, A. (2009). "Editorial: Geographies of Peace and Armed Conflict: Introduction." Annals of the Association of American Geographers 99(5 (Geographies of Peace and Armed Conflict)): 819-826.

Lacoste, Y. (2012 [1976]). La géographie, ça sert d'abord à faire la guerre. Paris, La Découverte.

Mamadouh, V. (2004). Geography and War, Geographers and Peace. The Geography of War and Peace: From Death Camps to Diplomats C. Flint. New York, Oxford University Press: 26-60.

McConnell, F., N. Megoran & P. Williams, Dir.. (2014). The Geographies of Peace, I.B.Tauris.

Ritaine, E. (2015), « Blessure de frontières en Méditerranée » in Cultures et conflits, 3/2015 (n° 99-100), p. 11-24

Rosière, S. (2012), « Vers des guerres migratoires structurelles », in BAGF, 2012-1, pp.74-93.

Toal, G. & C. Dahlman (2011), Bosnia remade, Oxford University Press

Weber, L. & S. Pickering (2011), Globalization and Borders, Palgrave

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