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Crossing Border(s) Crossing

Fourth Editorial Article

When we first selected the theme for this issue, we were quite bemused. We had heard from our colleagues at Critical Edge Alliance, that the conference in New York would be about Border Crossing. Though we knew what it meant, it was also something that very soon opened up many questions, for what exactly is border crossing? Isn’t it a phenomenon much deeper than just crossing from one national border to another? And what is a border?

We found out quickly that this was something of importance, mainly as we realized its connection with many of the problems we knew about and that we are experiencing. We had numerous discussions about this and we have to this point not yet been able to reach any truly all-encompassing definition of a border. Despite that, we would like to share our preliminations and some of the conclusions we reached during our discussions.

In our childhood, our parents and teachers taught us what we could do and what we could not, what we should think and what we certainly should not. Later in our education we had faced borders, when from an early stage, we were told that some things were simply impossible for us. “You want to become a musician? That is impossible, if you want to feed yourself and earn a living”, our teachers would say. We were told which jobs and subjects are “good” and which subjects are equivalent to wasting time.

There were tests for us when we wanted to make a choice, and some of us were lucky enough to pass, and some of us were not. We are lucky. Most likely, if you are reading this magazine, you are enrolled in a university, and perhaps quite a good one, after crossing layers of borders on your way. Those who are left outside the borders experience the rain falling down every day—they end up with the consequent imposition more profoundly than those who are included.

We all know that, and we often take the borders to be natural or fine(1). Because as long as we are the “winners”, we will have the good life promised to us.

But now these promises of good life are debubbling around the world, and borders are increasingly strengthening the existing order. Facing this, we should question the imbalanced bordering system and the consequences it creates. We must try to imagine: What if one day every person who wishes to, could go to university and receive education according to their needs, regardless of their backgrounds?(2) From there, we might build a vision and reality for the good life for all.

Photo Ryan Miglinczy, Unsplash.

I. Borders crossing

Jean Jacques Rousseau famously wrote: 

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” 

Jean Jacques Rousseau
On the Origin of the Inequality of Mankind 1754

From this famous quotation by one of the most influential and famous philosophers, we can understand borders as something that was created, and that is continuously being created, sustained, or reproduced. In that sense, the moment a border is drawn, it is in fact an essential moment of change. So is the moment that the border is crossed or abolished. Consequently, the creation of borders and crossing over the borders are in many ways essential to the processes of change.

Before discussing the concept of border crossing further, it is quite important to understand what constitutes a border.

Borders are generally created through processes of constant homogenization and differentiation. When a group of people feel or think they are different from another set of people, they make barriers between themselves which may eventually turn into impenetrable spatial or non spatial borders. Human beings derive a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’ based on shared forms of identities. The social solidarity formed out of shared identifiers such as race, religion, interests and ideologies (to name a few), in its extreme forms, can create stringent physical or abstract barriers guarded with positive or negative sanctions on individuals’ actions and choices.

While visible boundaries come with manifested rules and sanctions out in the open, there are boundaries which are more unspoken in nature. These intangible boundaries may not have a legal basis, but often can only be experienced in violating them. In this sense, these unspoken, intangible, informal boundaries form the basis of the do’s and don’ts of society with formal or informal negative sanctions on the latter. These are more deep seated in the society precisely due to a certain normalization i.e. their power of going unquestioned or un-resisted. For instance, racial discrimination is an illegal and punishable offence in most parts of the world, yet we often see fashion brands lightening the dark-coloured models’ skin in their product advertisements(3). In this, the large global corporation hiring non-white models is a tangible border crossing in order to create a commercial image. At the same time, these models not questioning why their skin tones were lightened up in the advertising photographs shows the intangible border that remains impenetrable and beyond the ambit of legality.  

Capitalism as border creation and border crossing

As we also brought up, in our first editorial article, our society today is witnessing more and more border crossing. Originally we called it exchanges and communication and we described how the world is becoming smaller and how the world economy is increasingly allowed to develop.(4)

This is related to the increasing scope and power of the market(5), as many of our countries already experience this. Under the world market, the logic of capitalism rules, and permeates every sphere of life. It is not only a mighty creative power but also a mighty destructive force. As Marx and Engels already long ago stated in the Communist Manifesto:

Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

Karl Marx and Friederich Engels
The Communist Manifesto, 1848

In light of this powerful socio-economic structure, everything is already in a constant state of border crossing, in flux. And it is clear that nothing remains the same; nothing is eternal; everything can change from one day to another. Even our lives go shattered, lose their meaning, or become commodified as we unconsciously and anxiously cling to them when we try to stretch our best to “win” the rat race of survival, or when our lives are perpetuated by the growing proletarization and precarization of every stable structure: welfare state, civil rights, human rights, family, friends, and even abstract concepts such as love, truth and beauty.(6)

Despite capitalism being an explosive spirit of innovation, change, and revolution, it is also a system that creates millions of borders and categories, regulations and restrictions on people and nature. Just think about the similarities between a nation and a workplace, neither of them allows us to leave freely.(7)

To continue thinking within this framework, it also becomes clear that there is something highly stagnating, something fundamentally monotonising about the multitudinous and revolutionizing machine of capitalism that runs through all the continents, and forms everything after its will. Some things seem to be reproduced again and again.

An element here, is at least a reproduction of stability, not only of family structures, state-models and laws, even infrastructure, city planning, and aesthetic, and even say ideas(8). The most visible picture this reproduction of stability is McDonalds, the arch symbol of monopoly capitalism of the global era. Here we see a reproduction of stability, of franchization. Within capitalism’s instability, the customer can find peace, homeliness, and familiarity for a moment in the bosom of its lulling commodities– anywhere in the world McDonalds is (to a large extent) the same or tastes the same.

Talking about borders and border crossing, we can thus not avoid talking about capitalism as well – as it is the central driving activity behind both of them today.

Photo by Fang Keping, Jiayuguan, China.

National borders as imagined

In relation to this growing monotonization of the world by globalization, as described above, borders seem to appear more and more everywhere. In Europe and North America, borders are closed more and more tightly, as the consequences of economic exploitation, war, and climate change are causing innumerable crowds of people to seek new places of security.

Simultaneously to this escalating tendency, it also seems that borders are being repeated and reproduced into many different spheres of social reality. One can take the special case of how more clearly marked borders between different cultures based on nationality are increasingly made, even as our world is getting more and more globalized. There seems to be a necessity, for those who create these borders, to be able to distinguish between you and me more clearly: This is mine and that is yours. 

Nations and cultures that are relatively new, are heavily investing into the creation of their own distinguishing characteristics, national myths, religions, and artifacts to boost their own difference, and the unity of the people of their countries. Benedict Anderson, famously called these for the imagined communities — these communities, nations, only exist in so far as the inhabitants think them to be so.

II. Borders in education

Education is seen by many as the entrance point for everyone to reach equality. But the reality is in fact different: Education systems around the world are ridden with complexities, many of which are brought about by political interventions. Education bordering remains as an important reality, and often becomes a hindrance to many young people around the globe.

As shown by sociologists such as Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Claude Passerson, the nation state is a crucial agent for controlling the content and form of education, with the objective to reproduce and maintain the status quo of power in society, they write:

The symbolic strength of a pedagogic agency is defined by its weight in the structure of the power relations and symbolic relations (the latter always expressing the former) between the agencies exerting an action of symbolic violence. This structure in turn expresses the power relations between the groups or classes making up the social formation in question. 

Pierre Bourdieu and Jean Claude Passeron
Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture, 1990

In short, pedagogic agency is, in the simplest terms, the authority of an educator over those seeking education in any setup involving exchange of information, for the purpose of social and cultural reproduction of dominant values. 

Education can become a tool to propagate the existing dominant power structures of nation states and societies. This means that the reason why a nation state would show great interest in its education system is to retain its own power, which often is the power of the dominant classes. This thus spells into desirable and undesirable knowledge pursuits, and the resulting consequence is the creation of borders within the education system where certain kinds of knowledge pursuits enjoys more financial resources, greater socio-cultural respectability and employability. Borders in education are created so as to perpetuate existing power structures and normalise them. And it is often in the violation of these normalised borders, that this power is felt.

Borders in education

How does this reflect in the education that we receive? As students writers, participating in the creation of this international student magazine, we each have very different experiences – experiences that despite their differences share many similarities.

In the small wealthy north European welfare-state country of Denmark, the education system, like the rest of the well-fed bureaucratic system, is permeated by a fever for more and more efficiency. This can be seen by the increasing focus on testing these years. Today even children from 2nd to 8th grade (8 to 15-year-olds) are being tested every year.

The idea that higher education is the only way through life is instilled in one’s mind from a very early age. One must get good grades throughout primary school, attend high school, and then head to the university. After that, one must get a well-paid job and thereby contribute to the economic growth of the welfare state. Why is this happening? It seems that students are increasingly being pushed through the educational machinery, and a sense of non-autonomy and indirectioness is felt among the students enrolled in the ruling dreams. Indifference grows towards everything other than that which is relevant for one’s own career.
Another example comes from India, where a vice chancellor of a top university of the country in her joining statement said, “Jamia needs new courses and I feel many areas have old-fashioned courses” and further added:

If we approach the government rightly, funding will not be a problem. We also have to learn to earn. That is what the government wants. For long, the central universities are being spoon fed by the funding of the government.

Najma Akhtar
Vice Chancelor at Jamia Millia Islamia

The statements are prime examples of how education becomes restricted and ridden with constraints due to the ongoing political narrative. Studying only those courses which will put individuals in the market as workforce are encouraged in such a narrative. Theoretical and philosophical courses, which do not fetch employment in large corporations thus become ‘old fashioned’ or devalued. The reduction of education to skill training is dangerous for anyone willing to study liberal arts, social sciences or languages. It is not that these courses are devoid of any value or have no scope of future employment. But rather these courses often don’t have employability due to the entire neoliberal narrative of prioritizing skills over knowledge. For a student, this creates a nearly impenetrable barrier.

In China, the education bordering is also clear. During the 1940’s until the 1970’s, education was a collectively owned and public affairs. Across the country, local communities and various social groups actively ran their education systems to help increase literacy and build agency among the proletariat and young generations. People were united to learn and become self educated builders of a socialist country in the early difficult years. 

Over the past four decades, along with China’s great economic and social transformation, is a rapid change of values in the Chinese society. The march towards a market economy and modernized social order has broken the borders of both traditional and collective values which orient towards community or public goals and interests. Personal, familial interests have triumphed over the common goals, or social responsibility. Education has mainly become an engine for economic development: a highly selective, competitive, and unbalanced education system (especially in K12 education) was created for the most talented students and practical subjects. Ironically, today when the public education system is larger than ever and provides free basic education for over 93% of the children, more and more people are dissatisfied with the public education system and seek to escape it. Privileged groups and classes are investing in and establishing their own schools, choosing and buying education which serves them the best, while disadvantaged local communities continue to face a challenging and even deteriorating future. 

Photo by Xiong Liqi, China.

Crossing borders in education

All the above examples illustrate the multifarious creation of formal and informal barriers in education, and reveal to us a crucial link between economy, politics, and borders in education. Education is not the sole sphere where borders are seen in itself, but also constitutes as central institutions for separating the sheep from the bucks. In the age of massification of education in many parts of the world, more invisible, sophisticated, and internalized borders are instilled in education systems by global market forces and neoliberal policy trends, replacing the previous visible borders of education provision, quantity, and selection.  

Today, the educational goals for students are predominantly centered around developing transferable competencies, building useful characters, and optimizing the self in all aspects, so that they will be selected by the fast changing global market.  

Scholars have observed this phenomenon and pointed out the self-centered and individualistic ideology permeated in educational institutions and discourses internationally. The emphasis on personal choice (of school), knowledge acquisition, competence building, competitiveness and employability are, to some degree, helpful to revolutionize learning from the traditional banking model(9). However, they amplify the causes of education inequality, by leaving education to the hands of private decisions (survival of the fittest), making the goals of education be that of the markets’ demands of humans, degrading the idea of “being educated” into acquiring the habitus of the bourgeois class.

In these regards, education bordering is going through an important upgrade and shift, to make the competent, assimilate the different, and ultimately strengthen the existing global economic order. Students who cannot be assimilated, due to whatever reasons, will be left out as losers or inadequate workers. Because of this, the borders people are so eager to cross are the ones that keep them away from the existing order of power and privilege. Only those who take the difficult route of challenging these borders are able to discover them. And it is the responsibility of these students to reimagine a new borderless education system and work toward it. 

III. Critical students internationally and potentials for crossing borders 

One of the most elusive elements in the concept of borders is that with every vantage point, our ideas and understanding of it can change. This multiplicity of vantage points can often reveal to us the problems in comprehending its difficult nature: What is unthinkable in one context can be taken for granted in another. This multiplicities of contexts and acknowledgement of a diversity, is therefore fundamental for our magazine, and for students around the world to gain deeper perspectives on the difficult common problems we are faced with.

The current issue of the Critical Edges is a culmination of student voices from several parts of the world. These voices are reflections of diverse but yet common vantage points. In this issue you will be able to read about many different experiences and ideas that might be challenging your own perceptions. The articles range from the issues of migration in a seemingly progressive Danish society to the daily negotiations an African student undergoes in a Chinese environment.

Reflections on transgression and stability

We represent a growing international student community, therefore it is essential for us to ask ourselves which borders are the most important to be addressed in our time. 

Coming from a wide scope of nations and different classes, we are separated to begin with. That is not to mention the numerous other divisions there might be among us, such as identity, ethnicity, gender, caste, etc. Among all of these, one important question emerges and remains open for interpretation: which borders do we have to cross; which to guard? We must say that an exact and very clear answers for that does not lie with us.

While we already established that capitalism was the central border-crossing phenomenon in the beginning. We would perhaps now think that this border-crossing is the central problem itself, and that more “firmly rooted” (border) societies and ways of being are better, in contrast to the fleeting and border-crossing ones, such as our present age of modernity.

But this way of looking appears absurd. In reality the problem cannot be rooted in the simplified and abstract dichotomy of borders versus border crossing, of movement versus stillness, transgression versus stability. Nonetheless, for the purpose of analytical clarity and critical reflection, these terms help to break down the problem: This means that they can be critical concepts, which can help us challenge and transgress our own borders, or the ones of the established (dis)order, whether that be conventional habits, understandings, ethics or knowledge. We have to insist on that truth which is outside what we already know or believe in. We have to insist on challenging ourselves and our slumbering societies.

Border crossing is central to all critique

Today, to insist on ethics and politics in itself, can be considered as a transgression of borders, in other words, the humanization of the social and political sphere. This means taking active choice and doing that which goes against the dominating logic of self-prominence, of strategic assertiveness and of pursuit of the (purely) individual dream – which can be termed the capitalification of the life-world(10).(11)

Here, it is important to remember that crossing a border does not necessarily mean that you have to go into an entirely different terrain; often times, it is the same part of our landscapes that are denied from us.(12)

Capitalism operates in the same way: It creates a rift in us, it takes away the best from us and dedicates it to something entirely abstract and instrumental. How many extremely resourceful, smart and innovative people nowadays from creative, industries, though in the state precarization, are not forced to negate this logic that their lives have been centered and structured around? The way they do it is often through radical movement – of border crossing – in their career, in which they say goodbye to their field or try to start a new life with much more free time on their own.(13) This example indicates how something good is being colonized by an entirely alien and autonomous force, which seems to be a driving force that operates as a center around which the individuals sustain themselves and their productive and creative processes. These creative individuals are therefore both taking benefit of these structures, and having their free individuality repressed.

This movement of the individuals trying to liberate themselves, seems to be an attempt to overcome one of the central contradictions in today’s world. But even though the subject’s change in career or lifestyle might (seem to) be radical to itself, it is often not radical enough

Photo by Xiong Liqi, China.

The ways forward

While the question of how to cross (or abolish) a border still remains difficult to answer, approaching the problem is nonetheless of importance. Despite the limitations we have seen and experienced, there seems to be something pointing towards a way out of all of these problems.

As students, many of us already have experienced educational migrations, during which we might have moved along the ladders of educational institutions, travelled from rural places to big cities or even to foreign lands. In the process, we might have taken leaps beyond our mental and social limits that once confined us. However, the ability to traverse these distances, to cross these barriers can often be a matter of privilege which must be accounted for.

Isn’t this a small proof that crossing borders is still a possibility? That it is still an option to reverse things for the better?(14)

We need to cross borders as critical students

Today, more than ever, we must follow these wishes. Without upholding it as an abstract and alienating ideal, we must regard border crossing as a critical concept. 

A critical concept should avoid to fall prey to abstraction or the creation of a separate identity. The identity of border crossing cannot exist without contradicting itself(15). Instead, border crossing should be seen for what it is: a process, belonging to no one, except for those who, in the moment of border crossing, are emerged in it and transformed by it.

Border crossing is to see beyond these, and to try to see clearly despite the fog.

We, as critical students from Critical Edges, can only share a minimum amount of advice to our fellows: That we must reach out to one another. We must experiment and identify the imagined borders that have been dividing us for decades. It is clear to many of us already. 

But we keep falling back to upholding these imagined borders, despite that we are perfectly capable of abolishing them if we wanted.

Dreams of the future

Another aspect is the borders that we are constantly setting up to ourselves. It is our parents’ voice, our teachers’ voice, or our societies’ voice telling us: You can not be like this.

Isn’t this the most present border for most of us? If we are women, we are taught, directly and indirectly, that we can or should not be as men, and that we should be submissive. In the end, many of us fall into believing that. This is just one typical example of other very prevalent phenomenon.

If we belong to different caste, or class, or if the so-called test results are not good enough, we are denied to enter the university. Is this what we call the free information society? Free access to knowledge? We as critical students should call for free and accessible education for everyone of us!

Only by giving access to education to everyone, we can truly say that education is free and democratic. That it belongs to everyone.

Only if everyone can access and create knowledge, all of us can become the owners of society.

Let’s break the monopoly of knowledge! Let’s open the door to education for everyone!

Editorial Board and Editors, June the 6th 2019

Adrian Ortega Camara Lind
Adriana Escandon Meza
श्रेया उर्वशी Shreya Urvashi
উষশি পাল Ushosee Pal
ஜகந்த். ஜி. Jaganth. G.
Freya Julia Madsen
潘燕 Thea Pan
Doğan Balta
Lisa Trebs

Edited on August the 3rd 2019


1. Even though this is true, a person enrolled in a university can feel borders pervading in the education system, as the common university, in the present form, is a highly hierarchical institution — this is just one example.

2. Arguing for the right for everyone to be able to access education, or enter university, is of course different than arguing that everyone is obliged to go to university. Though we wish for open and different universities, we are also critical towards how the recent years of massification of the university has deteriorated the quality and goals of education. Giving equal access to (good) education, breaking down barriers is more difficult than simply letting more people in—though this is not at all a bad thing in itself.

3. Idiva.com – Abhay Deol Points Out Obvious Photoshop, Estée Lauder Take Cue!

4. For good but also for bad as we increasingly see on the violations on nature and people by contemporary capitalism.

5. Which somebody wish to c all the “Free Market”. In reality, as most of us know, the market is not so free.

6. While the latter examples (of ideas and values) are of a different and more complex character, their detorriation nonetheless appear at the same time as we witness the development of late capitalism before our eyes.

7. Unless we have a VISA or a permission to work from home.

8. Say for example, democracy, but also ideas about the good life – and these ideas are often highly linked together with the commodities they represent. A good life is a good car, etc.

9. The banking model of education was a concept introduced by Paulo Freire, an education philosopher and activist from Brazil, to criticize the traditional way of education. In this model, students are viewed as containers for information and knowledge, teachers as the giver and transmitter. Students are in a passive position of acceptance, unable to make inquiries, discuss with the teacher, or exercise their own power to understand/shape the environment around them. 

10. Borrowed from Habermas’ Lebenswelt concept.

11. This of course owes to the persisting logic of protestantic capitalism that Max Weber already famously discovered

12. We can see how this is true by looking at for instance, Israel and Palestine, Mexico and Baja California, Pakistan and India — all of these places have many geographical and cultural similarities that often strike us clearly. And we ask ourselves, how can these be two different countries, and why are we not allowed to cross? In other words, a border crossing does not have to radically affect anything else than the border in itself, which in its crossing can either be weakened or abolished.

13. In contrast, those who are able to do this are often those who have been able to save up enough capital during their often relatively highly paid jobs. Thus quitting is in no way at all an option for everyone.

14. Not that the remaining “freedom” of being able to cross some borders, is a sign of us living in a desirable world, but that these possibilities for us, should be seen as possibilities not for the individual alone, but possibilities for us students, in solidaric community — to give force and power to the underprivileged and to do away with all the (unnecessary) borders that keeps us separated, unfree and in inequality.

15. Not that containing contradictions is in itself a problem. We would mainly like to stress that an understanding, or an attempt at understanding these contradictions are important before simply taking these values to oneself. Something that is easier said than done, but which must be a requirement for any critical thinking individual.

Critical Edges is an international magazine made by and for critical students around the world. Our hope is for many different students to have a platform to share their experiences, and to learn about the problems that the students around the world are either working with in their academic lives, or experiencing in their daily lives. Through this, we want to promote mutual understandings, dialogues, and collaborations among our global student community who actively work for the betterment of our societies and education systems.

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