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From frontiers to borders: the origins and consequences of linear borders in international politics

Goettlich, Kerry (2019) From frontiers to borders: the origins and consequences of linear borders in international politics. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis offers a theoretical analysis of the process by which borders have come to be precise, fixed, mappable, and infinitely thin lines traced over the surface of the earth. I argue that accounts of global modernity should understand the linearization of borders as a process related to, but relatively autonomous from processes of state formation and other structures and processes typically associated with global modernity. In other words, linear borders have their own causes and consequences, which the thesis aims to unpack. The contribution of the thesis lies within debates on the historical origins of modern international relations which often overlook the history of borders through a focus on sovereignty. The thesis theorizes modern linear borders as an outcome of ‘survey rationality’, drawing on theories of rationalization. Survey rationality is a mode of territorial governance which conceives of the location of predefined borders as a technical and non-political question, and therefore susceptible to measurement and calculation through surveys and other technologies. The central argument of the thesis is that survey rationality on its own is not a natural or necessary part of territorial rule, but must be articulated with other historically particular rationalities in order to be effective in practice. I illustrate this argument historically by examining two such historically particular rationalities: first, the logic of agrarian capitalism in the English colonies of North America, and secondly, the logic of the civilizing mission in the ‘Scramble for Africa’. Finally, I show how international politics are different in a world of formally linearized borders. Linear borders underpin hierarchies by altering the distribution of geographical knowledge resources, for example at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, and they contribute to a modular pattern of territorial partition, from Mysore and Poland in the 18th century to Vietnam and Korea in the 20th.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Kerry Goettlich
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Barkawi, Tarak

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