AN463      Half Unit
Borders and Boundaries: Ethnographic Approaches

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Mathijs Pelkmans OLD 5.08


This course is available on the MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in Anthropology and Development Management and MSc in Social Anthropology. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

How do territorial borders influence human behaviour and thinking, and how, in turn, do people create, manage and manipulate such borders? These questions have become pressing with the intensification and politicisation of global interconnectedness. While a few decades ago the tearing down of the Berlin Wall seemed to herald a border-less world, today the loudest politicians promise to create "huge, great, great,beautiful walls." This course studies the numerous tensions accompanying global interconnectedness. Why is it so difficult to make borders impermeable? How do smuggling networks operate? What does the world look like from the perspective of undocumented migrants? What are the effects of new border fortification technologies? What is it like to live in a gated community? Are people boundary-drawing creatures? Why do borders play a central role in images of utopia? Why is it silly yet productive to ask: where is the border between Europe and Asia? These and other questions will be discussed by situating ourselves ethnographically in the borderlands, potentially making us realise that "the frontier is all around us."


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the MT.

This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual lectures, classes and online interactive activities. The contact hours listed above are the minimum expected.

This course has a reading week in Week 6 of MT.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to prepare discussion material for presentation in the seminars. Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the MT.

Indicative reading

  • Andersson, R. (2014). Illegality, Inc.: Clandestine migration and the business of bordering Europe;
  • Brubaker, R. (2004). Ethnicity without groups;
  • Berdahl, D. (1999). Where the world ended: Re-unification and identity in the German borderland;
  • Ingold, T. (2007). Lines: a brief history;
  • De León, Jason (2015) The land of open graves: Living and dying on the migrant trail;
  • Low, S. (2004). Behind the gates: Life, security, and the pursuit of happiness in fortress America;
  • Pelkmans, M. (2006). Defending the border: identity, religion, and modernity in the Republic of Georgia;
  • Wilson, T. and H. Donnan (eds) (2012) A Companion to Border Studies;
  • Reeves, M. (2014). Border work: spatial lives of the state in rural Central Asia;
  • Van Schendel, W. and I. Abraham, eds. (2005) Illicit flows and criminal things: States, borders, and the other side of globalization.


Take-home assessment (100%) in the MT.

The take home exam will be held the week following the end of the MT.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2019/20: Unavailable

Average class size 2019/20: Unavailable

Controlled access 2019/20: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication