Borders, Migration, and Human Rights

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 19, 2021 - August 18, 20217/19 - 8/184 WeeksOnlineCancelledOnlineRegina Pieck Pressly

Course Description

Borders are everywhere. They define our lives whether we are aware of it or not. Most of us live far away from the conflictual spaces that migrants seek to cross and nationalists seek to fortify, yet none of us is free from the influence of borderlands. Geographical, political, and physical borders play a central role in the self-understanding of peoples and nations—even the stateless find their lives defined and constrained by borders. The lands and people on either side of a border offer some of the most penetrating insights into the most pressing issues of our time, such as: personal identity and multiculturalism, globalization, free-trade capitalism, the movement of peoples, climate change, and nationalism.

This course will offer a critical introduction to the interdisciplinary study of borders and borderlands. To gain a deep understanding of the role of borders in contemporary life, we will read foundational texts in philosophy, political theory, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies, which we will supplement with contemporary works in literature, film, and the visual arts. The course will be divided into five units of border theory and culture corresponding to five significant border spaces around the world: Israel/Palestine, Spain/Morocco, United Kingdom/European Union, U.S./Mexico, and Mexico/Central America. The course will then end with a reflection on the case for and against open borders, and the question of whether we can ever really be at home. In this course we will investigate and answer questions like: Do we need borders? Is life possible without them? What do borders do? What are the ethics and politics of exclusion, refuge, sanctuary, hospitality, and statelessness? How does living on (or across) a border affect one’s life—and how are the lives of those who live distant from the border nevertheless affected by it? Students will investigate these questions and many more, and they will come up with answers by engaging with some of the most important thinkers and artists of the twentieth century. Students will read philosophers like Hanna Arendt and Etienne Balibar, cultural theorists like Thomas Nail and Sandro Mezzadra, and literary artists like Mahmoud Darwish and Valeria Luiselli, as well as scholars in political theory, history, law, and identity studies. To gain a cross-cultural understanding of borders and borderlands, we will look to a variety of cases from across the globe, from Israel to Morocco to the United States to Brexit. In studying these, we will build on our theoretical foundation by reading materials specific to each border conflict. By putting these readings into conversation with one another we will draw out lessons about borders across historical and socio-political moments. Students will have the opportunity to engage in online discussion and debate. They will also make group presentations at the end of the course. These final presentations will be the students’ opportunity to put all they have learned into action by drawing our attention to a contemporary or historical issue of borders and borderlands that interests them. Students will also be guided in the research and writing of a position paper connected to their final presentation. The professor is a lawyer who has worked in the Supreme Court of Mexico, for an international non-governmental organization, and as a speechwriter for the President of Mexico. The professor has a masters in law from Harvard Law School and is currently a PhD student in Hispanic Studies at Brown.

Students can expect to leave this course with a broad and deep introduction to the theory of the border as well as a critical understanding of border crises around the globe. They will gain experience and knowledge in the fields of political theory, ethics, cultural studies, identity studies, and law. Students will also gain experience in critical thinking and argumentation, in close reading of challenging literary and philosophical texts, and in the organization and presentation of arguments, both orally and in writing.

Prerequisites: None.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0984

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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