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Accepted Paper:

Borderlands of the Black Sea Region: an autoethnographic account  


Michael Thompson (University of Leeds)

Paper short abstract:

An autoethnographic account of crossing select borders in the Black Sea Region as an outsider, this research dissects the perceived homogeneity of post-Soviet borders, highlighting the differing roles of conflict, domestic politics and international relations with the EU and Russia.

Paper long abstract:

The resurgence of conflict in the Black Sea Region challenges the dominant focus of current migration research on Western European phenomena. This paper re-evaluates the notion of the ‘border’, exploring the production and enabling of the border environment within the context of re-ignited instability of the northern Black Sea littoral and the ethno-frontiers of the Caucasus.

By reading border ‘production’ in a constructivist manner grounded in personal agency, the ‘border phenomenon’ can be reinterpreted as a product of those who control and use it. To renegotiate the current paradox of border politics, we need to re-examine the production of the border institution itself: considering borders both superfluous to the design of the multinational super-state and an essential institution for national security remains deeply problematic. While the EU attempts to preserve the Good Friday Agreement and the relative harmony of its bordering processes, institutionalised corruption and conflict converge with abject poverty to create a hostile border landscape for locals and travellers alike.

The current paper uses autoethnography to redefine the everyday nature of bordering in the Black Sea Region. An analysis of micro-level borderscape hostilities across the region demonstrates the heterogeneity of modern regional borders. I demonstrate the mechanisms which enable the construction of a ‘Fortress Europe’ while highlighting the differences between democratic and autocratic regimes of border control across the Black Sea Region. Here, ethnic tensions and regional conflict highlight the toxicity of the ‘wall’ narrative, while outdated infrastructure and smuggling demonstrate the dualist nature of EU border politics.

Panel Mob01
Ethnographic explorations on the semiotics of borderlands - deconstructing hegemonic discourses through cultural transgressions at the margins