Jasnea Sarma: Infrastructures on the Edge – Let the Borders Speak For Themselves

This paper explores the material and discursive nature of the “border infrastructures” globally. It then empirically and comparatively situates border infrastructures in two volatile border spaces in Asia and Africa – the Spanish Moroccan border in Melilla and the India-Bangladesh border in Assam. Based on ethnographic research, we first explore the internal, external, formal, informal, human and non-human ways in which infrastructures of the border have multiplied, materialised and evolved along with the concomitant politics of bordering. Second, the paper brings out ideologically and politically diverse ’bottom’ voices and narratives not from the state or those who make policy decisions on these structures, but from those who directly constitute or are impacted by them – including guards, police , migrants, border residents and crossers/smugglers, tribunal workers and villagers. With these, we animate how space, place and finally violence is lived, symbolized, experienced, resisted and naturalised in and around border infrastructures. Guided by Ben Anderson’s and Ed Soja’s call for comparing these seemingly incompatible spaces across two continents, we urge the reader to critically contemplate their similar histories of border violence and migration crises and use that to complicate the globalised/ proliferated nature of violence above and below the fence – and what that means for human mobility in an age of migration.

Jasnea Sarma is a PhD candidate in Asian Studies and Political Geography at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Her PhD thesis titled “Seeing From the Periphery – Small People, Big Resource, and the Lines in Between” uses ethnographic methods and GIS mapping in several sites on India and China’s borders with Myanmar to critically analyse spatial transformations in sites which not only traditional borderlands (remote/ethnically conflicted/refugee and humanitarian grounds, illicit economies, and militarisation) but are also evolving as nascent ‘resource frontiers’ (geopolitically and geo-economically strategic for states and capitalist extraction). Jasnea is most interested to narrate these transformations through remote or unrepresented borderland voices and bring them into dialogue with critical border theory. For this academy, Jasnea will present a paper coauthored with Dina Krichker (NUS).


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