You can be a citizen or you can be stateless, but it is difficult to imagine being a border

(Green, La Folie privée, 107)



Imagine you are standing on the shore of a sea staring across at a landmass opposite, which forms your horizon. You know, although they are not visible to you, that beneath the surface of this sea are the corpses of thousands of people who tried to cross it in order to arrive where you are now standing. Your horizon, then, is a border.

(Tsilimpounidi, Carastathis, The ‘refugee crisis’, 405)




In addressing the question of ‘what is a border?’ Étienn Balibar points to the complexity of the notion and proposes three ways of understanding it: overdetermination, polysemy, heterogeneity (Politics and the Other Scene). In their long history, borders have always been overdetermined, he argues: ‘no political border is ever the mere boundary between two states, but is always overdetermined, and in that sense sanctioned, reduplicated and relativized by other geopolitical divisions’ (79) Their poysemic natur means that borders are never experienced in the same way by subjects with different, social, cultural, ethnic, political or gender identifications, ‘they do no have the same meaning for everyone’ (81) Finally, borders are heterogeneous and ubiquitous and ‘some borders are no longer situated at the borders at all in the geographico-politico administrative sense of the term.’ (84)

Women’s stories were not so much about understanding borders and their contested politics; it was rather about defying territorial restrictions: borders were there to be crossed at any cost. As Derya, a Turkish refugee woman put it beautifully in her story: ‘It was a two hours’ journey and I was trembling throughout. But at some point, the captain said that “now we are within the borders of Greece”. It was one of the best moments of my life. I felt free after two years, I really felt free! We had crossed the borders, it was wonderful’.


But it is not just crossing the borders that women’s stories were about, but also about surviving the borderlands. As Michel Agier has put it: ‘a whole life is organized in these border places, marked by the uncertainty of the moment and the immediate future, as well as the uncertainty of the gaze directed at them.’ (Borderlands, 3) Women’s stories revolved a lot about their struggles of inhabiting borderlands, whether as workers, students, volunteers or through their kinship roles and relations: widows, run away wives and daughters, mothers or just single women.

Please reference as: Maria Tamboukou (2018) ‘Borders’,