Tag Archives: Boundaries

By Jillian Smith, University of Birmingham 

Lake Michigan (c) Jillian Smith

Lake Michigan (c) Jillian Smith

The Great Lakes–at the U.S. and Canadian international boundary–are the planet’s largest system of freshwater (Government of Canada, 2016). The five Great Lakes (Lakes Superior, Huron, Michigan, Ontario, Erie) represent more than twenty percent of the world’s freshwater supply (Canadian Geographic, n.d.). This oft-repeated axiom, however, is somewhat misleading. A mere one percent of the waters of the Great Lakes are renewed each year in rain and snow-melt (Government of Canada, 2016). This supply cannot be carelessly utilised without destroying the stock. Freshwater systems are not inherently sustainable; water abundance is a myth.

Recent record low levels in three of the five Great Lakes have leaders to lawmakers to environmentalists sharing the common interest of conservation and restoration in the basin (Boyce, 2016). Nevertheless, a small Wisconsin city narrowly outside the basin is thirsty for Great Lakes water. Waukesha’s 70,000 residents can no longer drink from the city’s depleted aquifer. What little water remains is contaminated with naturally occurring cancer-causing radium. Though Waukesha is outside of the Great Lakes watershed, the city’s engineers can almost taste Lake Michigan’s water – they just need a pipeline or two. Certainly, one small city’s request for water beyond the Great Lakes watershed does not seem significant, but is it? What does this mean for the Great Lakes basin? And perhaps more poignantly, what does this potential test case mean for other thirsty American cities in the context of a changing climate?

More than 35 million people rely on the five Great Lakes (NOAA, n.d). Another 70,000 people drinking from a straw (or rather, a pipeline) seems somewhat inconsequential. The concern, therefore, is not necessarily about Waukesha; the concern is about who might be next. Las Vegas? San Francisco? Nearly all states west of the Rockies have experienced “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought” conditions in recent years (USDA, 2017). It seems Waukesha could be poised to become a precedent-setting test case for moving water beyond the basin.

Water vaulting is nothing new – the Los Angeles Aqueduct, Qaraqum Canal, South-to-North Eastern, and South-to-North Central are just a few very large water diversions that immediately come to mind. Nonetheless, freshwater scarcity is a global problem just beginning to touch North America. Climate change impacts on freshwater supply and quality will undoubtedly intensify in coming years. Changes in precipitation patterns, increases in temperature, evaporation, and sea level rise will continue to threaten lakes, rivers, and coastal areas. While climate scientists are quick to point out that no single event can be attributed to climate change, extreme weather events are increasingly the norm and society will be forced to adapt to these altered patterns.

Understandably, adaptation is difficult. O’Neill and Graham (2016) note that adaptation decisions associated with climatic changes pose challenges to person-place bonds. In an era of changing climate and environmental quandaries, place attachments are at risk. While nobody wants to see Waukesha residents displaced due water travails, nobody wants to see the Great Lakes–one of the world’s most valuable resources–positioned for lackadaisical exploitation. To what degree have conservation efforts or alternate projects been considered in Waukesha?

Despite the deserved reverence for this remarkable resource, and our obvious dependence on it, modern society has proven to be a poor caretaker of the Great Lakes in the recent past. Pollutants, toxins, eutrophication, sewage, wetland loss, invasive species, climate change, and over-extraction are all threatening the Great Lakes and the species who depend on them. Is it fathomable that a large-scale diversion project could be a future threat? Waukesha is just one thirsty city beyond the Great Lakes basin, but it begs the question: who will be next? Waukesha could be precedent setting for water woes and climate travails throughout the parched United States.

References

books_icon Boyce, C. (2016). Protecting the integrity of the Great Lakes: Past, present, and future. Natural Resources & Environment, 31.2, 36-39.

60-world2 Canadian Geographic. (n.d.). The Great Lakes. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from http://www.canadiangeographic.com/atlas/themes.aspx?id=watersheds&sub=watersheds_flow_thegreatlakes&lang=En

60-world2 Government of Canada. (2016). Great Lakes quickfacts. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from Environment and Climate Change Canada https://www.ec.gc.ca/grandslacs-greatlakes/default.asp?lang=En&n=B4E65F6F-1

60-world2 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (n.d.). About our Great Lakes: Great Lakes basin facts. Retrieved February 26, 2017, from https://www.glerl.noaa.gov//education/ourlakes/facts.html

books_icon O’Neill, S. J., and Graham, S. (2016). (En)visioning place-based adaptation to sea-level rise. Geo: Geography and Environment, e00028, doi: 10.1002/geo2.28.

60-world2 United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). (2017). United States Drought Monitor. Retrieved February 26, 2017 from http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/Home/RegionalDroughtMonitor.aspx?west

Another Islamic State? The Shifting Tactics of Boko Haram

By Stuart Elden, University of Warwick and Monash University

Military Presence in Maitama, Abuja (image credit: Stuart Elden)

Military Presence in Maitama, Abuja (image credit: Stuart Elden)

The Sunni Islamic group known as ‘Boko Haram’, active in the northeast of the country since at least 2007, came to much wider Western attention in April 2014 with the kidnapping of the school girls at Chibok in Borno state. It then somewhat slipped off the radar with events in Ukraine and the rise of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq. The ‘Islamic State’ was formerly known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, and then as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. Al-Sham is frequently translated as either the ‘Levant’ or Syria, but part of the point is to encompass a much wider geographical area, and the group has been explicit about its aim of dissolving colonial-era boundaries between states. Foremost among these is the much-hated ‘Sykes-Picot line’ between Iraq and Syria, the result of the 1915-16 agreement between the French and British about how they would divide the lands of the Ottoman Empire if they were to defeat them in the First World War. The peace of Paris, following the end of that war, did indeed set many of these divisions, though it took two treaties for this region: the Treaty of Sèvres in 1920, which never came into force because of the Turkish war of independence, and then the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. The borders of Syria, Lebanon, Mandate Palestine, Iraq and Turkey all result from these agreements.

In West Africa, the territories of states are also determined by their inheritance of colonial-era boundaries. Many boundaries run north-south, whereas Muslim-Christian divisions tend to run east-west. What this means, in Nigeria especially, is a seemingly stark division in the country. All of the northern states that have implemented Sharia legal codes voted for Muhammadu Buhari in the last presidential elections, whereas all the southern states except Osun voted for Goodluck Jonathan. When Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died in office in 2010, Jonathan, as his vice-president, succeeded him. Jonathan has since won an election in his own right, and has recently declared he will run again in 2015. To win, he wants to stabilize the situation with Boko Haram, something that seems increasingly out of reach.

Nigeria has seen political violence and challenges to its territorial integrity before, with the Biafran war of independence between 1967 and 1970, and there has been a long-running challenge to the oil industry in the Niger Delta. Boko Haram has to be seen within Nigeria’s political-geographical context, as a group challenging Christian rule, the inequitable distribution of resources within the country, with an aspiration of a stricter form of Islamic law.

But it can also be seen in a wider regional context. Africa has long been seen as a focus of a wider ‘war on terror’, though most attention was paid to the Horn of Africa. But the stationing of a drone base in Niger, the French-led intervention in Mali, and the challenge of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM), especially since the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in Libya, has brought more attention to this region. Many claims for Boko Haram’s links to AQIM or to al-Shabaab in Somalia have been made, though these are likely looser than generally suggested.

In the past few weeks Boko Haram has been back in the news, after the Nigerian government announced a ceasefire had been agreed and the release of the Chibok girls was imminent. Unfortunately this turned out not to be the case. Some days later Boko Haram’s leader, Abubaker Shekau, gave an announcement stating that no such agreement had been made, and there have been a series of bombings, kidnappings and battles with the Nigerian military. But alongside these all-too-familiar attacks, Boko Haram have also shifted tactics, seeking to take over territory rather than just launch short raids. Several towns and villages in the northeast have been taken over, including, most recently, Chibok itself. The major town of Mubi was seized and the retaken by the state. Boko Haram have also declared themselves an ‘Islamic State’ and, on some reports, a Caliphate, though by this they likely meant simply an area ruled by Islamic law. While Boko Haram has long worked as more than a military operation, earlier this month former US ambassador John Campbell has suggested they are in the process of ‘moving toward governance’ (2014). Just as Iraq, Nigeria faces a profound challenge to its territorial integrity.

About the author: Stuart Elden is Professor of Political Theory and Geography at the University of Warwick, in the Politics and International Studies department. In this role Stuart spends two months a year at the Centre for Urban Science and Progress at New York University, and at Monash University where he holds an adjunct appointment as Monash Warwick Professor in the Faculty of Arts.

books_icon Campbell, J (2014) ‘Nigeria’s Boko Haram Moving Toward Governance?’, Africa in Transition: Council for Foreign Relations, November 7

books_icon Elden, S. (2009) Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

60-world2 Elden, S. (2014a) Boko Haram: An Annotated Bibliography. Progressive Geographies [open access]

books_icon Elden, S. (2014b) The Geopolitics of Boko Haram and Nigeria’s ‘War on Terror’, The Geographical Journal 180 (4), 414-25

60-world2 International Crisis Group (2014) Curbing Violence in Nigeria (II): The Boko Haram Insurgency, Africa Report 216 [open access]

60-world2 Mantzikos, Ioannis ed. (2013) Boko Haram: Anatomy of a Crisis, Bristol: e-International Relations [open access]

60-world2 Walker, Andrew (2012) “What is Boko Haram?”, United States Institute of Peace Special Report [open access]

 

Badgers, borderlands and biosecurity

By Helen Pallett

Bio-Security_Warning_Sign_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1213945

Picture credit: Paul Farmer

Concerns about the threats to food and agricultural systems, and to well-loved landscapes and green spaces, from animal and plant diseases have been an ongoing theme in Britain for many years, and have received much media coverage in recent weeks. This media coverage has focussed largely on the eventual and much-debated piloting of the badger cull by the UK Government, aimed at reducing the spread of Bovine Tuberculosis and therefore ameliorating its effects on cattle and the resulting financial losses for farmers. The spread of ash dieback and other tree diseases have also been an area of increasing interest throughout the year, quietly simmering in media coverage and public discourse. Not to mention frequent discussions of swine flu, bird flu and other potential human pandemics.

A key point of contention in the  media coverage of the badger cull is the extent to which the policy can be justified by the current scientific evidence (for example, see here). And indeed this has long been the terms on which this debate has rested in government. Furthermore, substantial efforts to collect the necessary data to justify or rule out that badger cull policy, including the controlled trials overseen by Lord Krebs in the 1990s, have proved inconclusive, or have been claimed by both sides of the debate as evidence in their favour. In many corners of the media, the scientific evidence is seen as insufficient to draw firm conclusions on the likely effectiveness of a cull or even to determine baseline figures such as the number of badgers in an area in order to assess the outcomes of the current pilot.

A recent paper by Steve Hinchliffe and colleagues in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, has gone further than challenging merely the evidential basis for such approaches to dealing with the spread of disease, by questioning the very assumptions about and geometries of disease on which they rest. The destruction of ‘pathological’ badgers and infected trees are both illustrative of attempts to contain the spread of disease; to limit the geographical extension of diseased, unhealthy bodies. For Hinchliffe and colleagues this approach has a distinctive and fixed geometry, which they argue is out-dated and misguided.

The authors offer three critiques of enclosure as a practice of biosecurity. Firstly, they contend that borders between different species, environments and geographical areas are necessarily permeable for “life to live”. They act as contact points which can be enriching as well as threatening. Secondly, they argue that the containment of life is no guarantee of safety as there can be multiple threats to biosecurity from within any given population or group. Finally, Hinchliffe and colleagues critique the theories of disease on which approaches to containment are based, with their assumptions that disease occurs when new pathogens cross into a population. They argue, in contrast that disease does not always emerge from outside of population, but rather is often already present, emerging instead through a complex set of mutations and translations.

As a result these authors advocate an understanding of and approach to disease which recognises the existence of pathogens in all forms of life. For them it is most important to be aware on a much more fine-grained level of how different organisms circulate, through trade and other forms of travel, and how they are entangled in relationships with other species and populations in different ways and with different levels of intensity. This fine-grained analysis would be likely to recommend  localised ways of dealing with the problems of Bovine tuberculosis or Ash dieback which are based on a detailed understand of multi-species interactions, in contrast to the national level policies based on large data sets which are currently pursued. They would advocate an approach not about building and securing borders, but exploring the rich interactions occurring in the borderland’s of our food and trade systems.

books_icon Steve Hinchliffe, John Allen, Stephanie Lavau, Nick Bingham & Simon Carter, 2013 Biosecurity and the topologies of infected life: from borderlines to borderlands Transactions of the Society of British Geographers  38 531-543

60-world2 Badger cull: first photo of shot animal emerges The Guardian, 16 September

60-world2 In pursuing the badger cull, the government is being anti-science The Guardian, 26 August

60-world2 Badger cull: key questions answered The Guardian, 27 August

60-world2 Somerset badger cull numbers quizzed in the commons BBC News, 13 September

60-world2 Ash dieback spreads to Minehead woodland BBC News, 13 September

From Beginnings and Endings to Boundaries and Edges

by Josh Lepawsky and Charles Mather

The authors: Josh Lepawsky is  Associate Professor and Charles Mather is Head of Department both at the Department of Geography, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada.

Lepawsky J and Mather C 2011 From beginnings and endings to boundaries and edges: rethinking circulation and exchange through electronic waste Area 43 242–249

[N.B.: This is the first open access paper published in the journal Area, which means anyone can read it for free rather than having to pay a subscription to access it]

Bearing the scars of change: post-socialist Poland and divided Germany

by Fiona Ferbrache

August 1961, and East and West Germany were being physically divided by soldiers of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) starting construction on the Berlin Wall, a boundary that was to be in place for 28 years (The journal.ie, 2011).  As the wall was erected, families were split apart, as Evans (2011) reveals, unable to reconnect between West and East Berlin.

50 years on and Germany marked the anniversary of the Wall’s construction on 13 August (BBC News, 2011).  However, the Berlin Wall is more than a memory for some people for, as Evans (2011) reveals, it continues to impact the psychological and daily lives of many people.

There are some connections between this media article and Burrell’s forthcoming article in Area – Opportunity and uncertainty: young people’s narratives of ‘double transition’ in post-socialist Poland – where Burrell focuses on the impact that large-scale economic and social changes have had on ordinary people.  ‘Double transition’ refers to the life-course transition from childhood to adulthood (for young people during the 1990s) and the simultaneous societal changes brought about after the collapse of socialism.  Drawing on interview data, Burrell illustrates how the contemporaneity of such changes impacted heavily on her respondents (Polish migrants in the UK) through various temporal and spatial challenges.  Central to this article is a narrative of migration and settlement in a post-socialist society and, just as Evans refers to scars created as a result of the Berlin Wall, Burrell’s article deals with the scars of post-socialist change.

   BBC News Online (2011) Germany marks 50 years since Berlin Wall.  BBC News 13 August, 2011

  Burrell, K. (in press) Opportunity and uncertainty: young people’s narratives of ‘double transition’ in post-socialist Poland.  Area.

  Evans, S. (2011) The Berlin Wall sickness that lingers today.  BBC News  11 August, 2001

  The Journal.ie (2011) In photos: 50 years of the Berlin Wall.  13 August, 2011

Area Content Alert: Volume 43, Issue 3 (September 2011)

The latest issue of Area is available on Wiley Online Library

Articles

From beginnings and endings to boundaries and edges: rethinking circulation and exchange through electronic waste (pages 242–249)
Josh Lepawsky and Charles Mather

Public perceptions of jaguars Panthera onca, pumas Puma concolor and coyotes Canis latrans in El Salvador (pages 250–256)
Michael O’Neal Campbell and Maria Elena Torres Alvarado

The value of single-site ethnography in the global era: studying transnational experiences in the migrant house (pages 257–263)
Ruben Gielis

Anthropogenic soils in the Central Amazon: from categories to a continuum (pages 264–273)
James Fraser, Wenceslau Teixeira, Newton Falcão, William Woods, Johannes Lehmann and André Braga Junqueira

On Actor-Network Theory and landscape (pages 274–280)
Casey D Allen

Sinking the radio ‘pirates’: exploring British strategies of governance in the North Sea, 1964–1991 (pages 281–287)
Kimberley Peters

Changing meanings of Kyrgyzstan’s nut forests from colonial to post-Soviet times (pages 288–296)
Matthias Schmidt and Andrei Doerre

Being Angelica? Exploring individual animal geographies (pages 297–304)
Christopher Bear

The role of French, German and Spanish journals in scientific communication in international geography (pages 305–313)
Artur Bajerski

Gardens and birdwatching: recreation, environmental management and human–nature interaction in an everyday location (pages 314–319)
Paul J Cammack, Ian Convery and Heather Prince

Where music and knowledge meet: a comparison of temporary events in Los Angeles and Columbus, Ohio (pages 320–326)
Robert R Klein

Local nuances in the perception of nature protection and place attachment: a tale of two parks (pages 327–335)
Saska Petrova, Martin Čihař and Stefan Bouzarovski

Actor-network theory as a reflexive tool: (inter)personal relations and relationships in the research process (pages 336–342)
Rebecca Sheehan

‘So, as you can see . . .’: some reflections on the utility of video methodologies in the study of embodied practices (pages 343–352)
Paul Simpson

Greening the campus without grass: using visual methods to understand and integrate student perspectives in campus landscape development and water sustainability planning (pages 353–361)
Lee Johnson and Heather Castleden

Participating and observing: positionality and fieldwork relations during Kenya’s post-election crisis (pages 362–368)
Veit Bachmann

Continue reading

Border Abstractions: Competing Notions of Sovereignty

The Himalayas: a traditional physical boundary. New geographies have complicated political and cultural borders. Wikimedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

THE AMERICAN raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday, 1 May raised Islamabad’s concerns that its borders could be so easily breached by a foreign power. Washington cited Pakistan’s inability to control traffic through its borders as a factor behind the US decision not to inform the Pakistani military or the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) prior to the operation’s execution. Beyond the immediate coldness in Pakistani-American relations, however, is the broader relevance and role of boundaries in international affairs.

Physical geography defined the earliest boundaries. The first empires—including those of South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa—followed the course of rivers and hugged the sands of oceans. As civilisation moved into less-hospitable territory, Earth’s extremities became natural dividers. In the Americas, the wax and wane of the occidental mountain ranges determined the edges of the Mesoamerican civilisations. In Africa, the Sahara drew a nearly impassable barrier across the belly of the continent, fostering the development of multiple, distinct peoples. Perhaps most prominently, the Himalaya range sharply divided the Indian and Chinese civilisations from one another; even with tremendous cultural exchanges, the mountain peak-boundaries have changed little in the last two thousand years.

Political boundaries relied less on topographical geography. Products of nation-state organisation, many (but by no means all) political borders were formed from the machinations of seventeenth-, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European empires. Their efforts resulted both in regions of relative geopolitical harmony (North America) and, as documented by Ieuan Griffiths in a 1986 article, vicious instability (Africa, the Indian Subcontinent). RGS explorers and scholars have long been fascinated with how these borders came to be. In 1836, Colonel Don Juan Galindo read a paper to the Royal Geographical Society of his recent Central American travels. He classified borders along strictly political lines:

Central America comprehends the five states of Costarrica [sic], Nicaragua, Honduras, Salvador, and Guatemala, united in one federation, and whose seat of government is at the city of San Salvador, within the federal district… (121).

As well as physical boundaries:

The principal points of the boundary towards Mexico are the ruins of Palenque, the river Nojbecan in latitude 19° north, and the Rio Hondo. Towards New Granada the river Escudo of Veragua, which falls into the Caribbean sea [sic], and the river Boruca, which runs to the Pacific (121).

A similarly traditional article appeared in the May 1927 edition of The Geographical Journal. W E D Allen documented the dissolution of the Tsarist Russian ‘Vice-Royalty of the Caucasus’ in favour of the new, ‘people’s republics’ that, after a very brief period of independence, were brought under Soviet control.

But physical and political boundaries only tell a small part of the story. Transnational borders, as the name suggests, are more difficult to quantify. They cover a vast spectrum of diasporas, international organisations, historical and contemporary treaties and various attributes of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power. In 2005, John Pickles (University of North Carolina) asked how the European Union and the collapse of formal empires have radically altered continental perceptions of borders in a Schengen Agreement world. Geographers are also returning to historical movements that transcended political boundaries. Morag Bell (Loughborough University), for instance, extensively documented the rise of ethical-environmental standards across numerous borders in the last years of the nineteenth-century.

The haziness of contemporary cultural and nation-state boundaries often allows multiple border layers to overlap and contradict one another. A now famous example occurred in 1983, when the United States invaded the small Caribbean island of Grenada. Grenadian authorities protested that the invasion violated their sovereignty. The United States responded, arguing that the island’s Communist coup had endangered the lives of Americans studying there, thus threatening US borders. London also formally protested an incursion into what it saw as its own sphere of influence; Grenada is officially a constitutional monarchy, with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

The current row between Washington and Islamabad is similarly complex. Pakistan’s assertion of sovereignty violation is based on traditional, geopolitical boundaries. But if we look deeper, the truth is less precise. Since partition, Islamabad has enjoyed an intimate, if complicated relationship withWashington. These long-term bilateral relations permeate throughout both cultures—from Karachi’s markets to Chicago’s Diaspora community. Strong bilateral relations thus gradually bend the country’s relative boundaries with each other as trust builds. Too, the United States’ continuing role as the ‘World’s Policeman’ (and Pakistan’s official support, or at least acquiescence of that arrangement) further reshape bilateral boundaries. It is a point reviewed in Reece Jones’s (University of Hawai’i) ‘Geopolitical Boundary Narratives, the Global War on Terror and Border Fencing in India’.

W E D Allen, “New Political Boundaries in the Caucasus“, The Geographical Journal 69.5 (May, 1927): pp. 430-41.

Morag Bell, “Reshaping Boundaries: International Ethics and Environmental Consciousness in the Early Twentieth Century“, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers New Series 23.2 (Jun, 1998): pp. 151-75.

Don Juan Galindo, “On Central America“, Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 6 (1836): pp. 119-35.

Ieuan Griffiths, “The Scramble for Africa: Inherited Political Boundaries“, The Geographical Journal 152.2 (Jul, 1986): pp. 204-16.

Reece Jones, “Geopolitical Boundary Narratives, the Global War on Terror and Border Fencing in India“, Transactions of the Institute for British Geographers New Series 34.3 (Jul, 2009): pp. 290-304.

John Pickles, “New Cartographies’ and the Decolonization of European Geographies“, Area 37.4 (Dec, 2005): pp. 355-64.