GEOG 571
Intelligence Analysis, Cultural Geography, and Homeland Security

4.3 Borders and Boundaries Defined


The United States. Germany. Australia. North Carolina. California. Bavaria. Tasmania. “Chinatown.” “Little Italy.” “Little Poland.” These are all different ways that space has been carved up and segmented, whether at a local scale within a city, or at internationally recognized national borders, to separate people. These separations, often denoted in terms of lines and areas on a map, serve to create spaces of inclusion and exclusion (as discussed in the previous lesson), whether perceived or actual, and have significant impacts on our individual and community identities (Jenkins, 2008). 

The terms “boundary” and “border” are often used interchangeably in literature. Borders and boundaries are loosely some sort of line that separates space (National Geographic). This is an incredibly oversimplified definition of those words, but it is an important starting point in our discussion of them. The roots of the words "boundary" and "border" often stem from a military connection: a front (just as a military front) or place of “friction” (Szary, 2015). Szary (2015) also indicates that borders in terms of territorial limits were created with the signing of the Treaties of Westphalia to help create stability. This idea of borders as territorial limits and possession is just one inception of what borders are. Context is important to understanding boundaries, as well as the role those boundaries take (Popescu, 2012). 

Borders can be political limits of territory, an assertion of power and influence over a certain space. Borders and boundaries can also be symbolic, cultural, or economic. They can be delineated as a complex interaction between these areas. These borders can separate one group from another: separating familiar versus unfamiliar, forming zones of “inclusion” (those within territory) and “exclusion” (those outside of a given space) (Popescu, 2012). These borders and boundaries in addition to separating territory and people, provide points of contact and an opportunity for interactions between borders. The borders can be porous or rigid.

Borders are not static, and they are constantly evolving. Boundaries in their inception today will almost certainly be different years from now. Globalization is changing the way boundaries are understood and studied. Some researchers believe that, with globalization, boundaries and borders as we know it will disappear, while others believe that globalization may actually reinforce national and cultural identities that borders generate (Popescu, 2012).

Borders and boundaries are complicated.


Jenkins, R. (2008). Social identity. Routledge.

National Geographic (2011). Encyclopedia entry for the term Border.

Popescu, G. (2012). Bordering and ordering the twenty-first century. Rowman & Littlefield.

Szary, A-l. A. (2015). Boundaries and borders. In J. Agnew, V. Mamadouh, A. J. Secor, and J. Sharp (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Political Geography (13-25). John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.