Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Columbia University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2015
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Columbia University
In Defense of Frontiers, and Mending Fences with China – Why Do Borders Become Indelible from the New Territories in Hong Kong?

This research deals with the space-shaping capacity of subnational borders between Hong Kong and China. Since 2006, the Hong Kong government has argued that borderlines between New Territories and Shenzhen were arbitrarily drawn and did not reflect spatial distinctions "on the ground." This presumption that borders are hypothetical divides interrupting the coherence of geographical uniformity—and that such uniformity may be readily restored when borders are removed—has anchored official discussions around partial abolitions of the Hong Kong-China borders. Adamant that cartographical boundaries do not alter human or natural landscapes, this narrative resonates with earlier scholarship on border studies that prioritizes the wounded homogeneity of local geography over produced signs/sights of distinction. I argue, however, that political frontiers are not cadastral abstractions removed from topographical realities. Rather, borders anticipate spatial reinventions of geographical and human dis/continuities. I contend that distinctive arrangements of land utilization, topsoil vegetation, ecological distributions, and socioeconomic activities astride the Shenzhen River emerge as a result of bordering practices, while these empirical differences proceed to naturalize spatial disjunctures adjudicated by political demarcations. Based on fieldwork conducted at three frontier villages in both Shenzhen and New Territories, my research asks how the materiality of bordered landscapes retroactively confirms the legibility/tangibility of cartographical contradistinction; how accruals of spatial distinctions make the "porosity" of borders a less inevitable proposition; and how contemporary withdrawals of borders may appear as deeply "unnatural" to local inhabitants as were their initial impositions. Keywords: Borders and boundaries, bordered landscapes, frontiers, political geogrpahy, Hong Kong