I just returned from the Association for Borderlands Studies annual meeting in Denver, Colorado. Part of the Western Social Science Association meeting, the ABS meeting is always interesting. Reasonably interdisciplinary, methodologically open-minded and intellectual generous, the meeting tends to be one of the more congenial. In other words, slings and arrows are rarely launched – whether concealed or overt – on the basis of one being “too positivist” or “postmodern” and so on. It’s also still a reasonable size, with plenaries where all attendees are encouraged to participate.
As with most conferences, many great discussions ensued outside the sessions. A dominant focus of many I spoke to was the desperate need for more critical engagement with the “Beyond the Border Agreement” and the far less touted but arguably equally important “Northern Border Strategy.” There’s a definite need to engage more directly with the differential conceptions of risk and threat on either side of the border, as well as the extent to which the strategy of “thickening the border” or proliferating borders and the discretionary powers of sovereignty that accompany it, is not as easily exported or harmonized, as the agreements might suggest. Also, of note, Joseph Nevins’ book Operation Gatekeeper and Beyond: The War on “Illegals” and the Remaking of the US-Mexico Boundary was awarded the ABS Book of the year.
The future direction of the ABS is also of particular interest now, as the executive secretariat moves from the University of Victoria to the University of Eastern Finland, putting it outside of North America for the first time in the history of the ABS.