Current research projects

General Research interests

In my research I aim to make the often implicit and taken-for-granted construction and (normative) consequences of socio-spatial ordering and othering explicit and manifest (see our book B/ordering Space, 2005). I acknowledge that border politics always involve a contested and contextual quest for the just balance between the freedom we allow for others and the doubt, insecurity and uncertainty we allow for ourselves, because every border is a Janus-face (see article on Waiting before the Law, in Social and Legal Studies, 2010). My research interest feeds into such an overarching broader search for routes to constantly critically analyse, re-imagine and rethink our constructed definitions of territorial borders, identities and spaces of indifference. This consists of two main research lines, one that focuses on critical scrutinity of the existing implicit norms and ethis of borders and one that focuses on analysing the possibility of reframing, redesiging and remapping borders and borderscapes.

1. Towards a new morality of borders

For socio-spatial identities, and the territorial borders that co-construct and protect them, often are doors that are closed for some and open for others (see our Article in Space and Polity 2002). It is this constitutive process of imagining the sameness on the one hand and difference with and perceived fear for/threat of the Other on the other hand that must be considered crucial in the continuous reproduction of socio-spatial nationalities and localities (see my overview article in Journal of Borderlands Studies 2000). I believe that by analysing how we treat Others, much is revealed of how we see and constitute ourselves. That what is beyond the self-defined border of comfort, is often socially made legitimate to be neglected, creating spaces of indifference (see our Article in Geojournal, 2002, TESG 2004). The significant Others that I have been studying in-depth over the past years is the case of immigrants. And especially, the global humanitarian dramas of undocumented migration from one locality to another. It is this case that illustrates powerfully how we construct strangers, attribute risks and insecurity to others and thereby reproduce and reify our own national identities. The socially constructed inequality in access and global immobility for some people of this planet is increasingly leading to human crises and disasters, like we have seen in the Mediterranean in the last decade. At the external borders of the EU, in less than two decades around 30.000 people, coming from various places in Africa and the Middle East, have died in their attempt to safeguard or improve their livelihood, making this border now the deadliest border on earth. It has become clear that to a large extent the refugee and migration patterns to other places, like the EU, are a result of violent conflicts and the persistent global inequality in resources and quality of life (see our book Eerlijke Nieuwe Wereld, 2012). To this end, over the years, I have analysed and evaluated the wider geopolitics of human aid and development programmes and conflict preventions. And I have critically studied the attribution of insecurity and risk to some people and some countries. And how this results in border regimes and punitive policies of exception.  Increasingly, therefore, I have been focusing on the ethics of the making of territorial identities and borders (see the article in the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (2005), the article on EU as a Gated Community in Antipode (2007), the article on the ethically immoral external border policy of the EU, as it is based on which even could be called global apartheid (Society and Space (2010), leading to numerous deaths at the border Antipode (2009) and a colonial-like European Neighbourhood Policy (in Geopolitics, 2011). I preferably study the global contexts in relation to what happens ‘on the ground’ in specific local environments, such as in regions and cities. It is in local settings that global tensions and policy interventions become concrete and tangible (see our special issue of and introduction Article in TESG 2002, and  my article in Regional and Federal Studies 2003). It is this perspective of the ‘glocality’, that I find most helpful in critically understanding and evaluating border tensions, conflicts and disasters (see FM magazine ‘Glocal’, 2014). To study the richness of these topics, I have crossed borders between social disciplines in my academic career, and have studied and used insights from disciplinary fields like economics, critical geography, urban sociology, conflict studies, risk studies, critical migration and refugee studies and political philosophy.
2. Towards a new c/artography of borderscapes

Apart from a focus on the normative exclusion of and at borders, I have developed a key interest in on the critical scrutinisation of the symbolic and performative communication, framing and representation of borders and identities at various spatial scales, notably on the European, national and urban level (see my Dissertation, (1998), my article in TESG(1999), in Urban Studies (2001), Creative Geography (2002) and in HAGAR on Topoporno (2002), in European Planning Studies (2008), and see my research projects financed by the EU 5th (EXLINEA), 6th framework (EUDIMENSIONS), 7th framework (EUBORDERSCAPES). Within this line of research I have been analysing how borders and borderscapes can be represented and redesigned differently (see our book Borderland, 2013). And of particular interest within this line of research is the way how borders are represented through maps.