Professor L.H.M. Ling is “re-thinking borders” in her new book

Published on November 11, 2016

For the majority of the world, international politics is seen through a Western/ Westphalian framework. Most would not be able to explain what that means, but have an intrinsic understanding of the world using the “West” as a reference point and countries – or nation-states – as the primary way to identify themselves and relate to others. Not everyone believes this is the only way to see the world.

“Worldism” is a new way of thinking about International Relations (IR). It represents a new intellectual infrastructure in which global politics consists of a “world of multiple worlds” and their historical legacies. SGPIA Professor L.H.M. Ling  leads “worldism” in IR, studying world politics from a post-Western and post-Westphalian lens.

Professor Ling draws on worldism to re-imagine the “border problem” between India and China. Starting in 2008, she collaborated with five other scholar-activists to from the “Borderlands Study Group” (BSG):

We hailed from all corners of the globe, geographically and socio-culturally: “North” and “South,” “East” and “West.” Trained in different disciplines (Ecology, Geography, Politics, Sociology, Economics), we brought to bear different areas of expertise (scholarship, activism, policy).  Nonetheless, we all engaged with India-China’s borders and borderlands as our central site of investigation. And within that, we prioritized the people and everyday practices that made and, simultaneously, un-made these boundaries.

With the support of a generous grant from the India China Institute at The New School, Professor Ling and her colleagues Adriana Erthal Abdenur (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Nimmi Kurian (New Delhi, India), Mahendra P. Lama (New Delhi, India), and Li Bo (China) embarked on a two year journey of collaborative study. Payal Banerjee (Smith College, Northampton) joined the group at a later stage. To further their efforts, the BSG took weeklong field trips to both India and China, prioritizing their research on the voices and practices of everyday people:

We met with leading voices of local communities, whether they represented minority communities, local academics and journalists, state governments, or non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Their research revealed a common desire to broaden their investigation of the India China border to include the borderland areas. This was done to investigate the claim that the Westphalian notion of fixed borders, while providing assurance for self-determination, also created rigid nationalism that heightened a tendency for tensions, such as territorial wars. The consensus grew that re-thinking borders, then, required an investigation of not just the border, but also the regions surrounding them.

Compiled from a series of individually written papers, the book is the result of their research and meditation on “re-thinking borders and security” – an attempt to cross the India China border while honoring the borderland regions and their people. The authors from the Borderlands Study Group reconceive borders as capillaries enabling the flow of material, cultural, and social benefits through local communities, nation-states, and entire regions.

Together, the authors show that positive interaction among people on both sides of a border generates larger, cross-border communities, which can pressure for cooperation and development. India China offers the hope that people divided by arbitrary geo-political boundaries can circumvent race, gender, class, religion, and other social barriers, to form more inclusive institutions and forms of governance.

India China is available now online and in hardcover and paperback print.

To learn more about SGPIA student and faculty work, follow @Newschool_IA on Twitter.

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