Politics of (In-)visibility (Academic Panel)

The analytical value of boundaries, particularly with regards to the creation meaning and the process of identification, has been widely acknowledged within a variety of social sciences and beyond. However, within development theory there are two distinct aspects of boundaries that remain under-conceptualised: First, little attention is given to on-the-ground social practices involved in the material and ideational creation of boundaries. Second, Development theory tends to discuss boundaries solely in the context of inequality and marginalization, and thus as something to overcome, ignoring their creative role in processes of individuation and as an area of contact. Yet, theoretical insights into the productivity of the concept of boundaries that have been developed by post-foundational approaches, building on the philosophical traditions of Deleuze, Lyotard, Bourdieu, Foucault, Latour, Butler, and Laclau to name but a few, may very well inform a critical reflection of the relationship between development and the ordering of social and geographic space.

This panel provides a space to discuss the theoretical deliberations that underpin the concept of boundaries and their connection to development theory and practice, as well as empirical questions informed by or arising from them. We invite panellists to discuss how the production and productivity of boundaries is performed and perceived; how relations are formed, entangled or cut; how these relations are involved in the production of scale, agency, identity, inequality and antagonisms; and how boundaries help to showcase some things while excluding others. This panel thus aims at addressing the politics of (in-)visibility and how they play out in the field of development theory and practice.

The panel aims at multidisciplinary contributions from a variety of fields such as (but not limited to) Political Science, (Human) Geography, Gender Studies, Peace and Conflict Research, and Development Research. The paper should critically engage with the nexus of development, broadly conceived, and the concept of boundaries. In this context, the papers may focus on issues such as:

  • Mapping–as the drawing of geographic and social boundaries
  • Scaling, the creation of boundaries, and the politics of (in)visibility
  • The role of boundaries in establishing social relations
  • Empowerment revisited: conferring agency and defining social relations through drawing boundaries
  • The role of boundaries and social antagonisms in the creation of identity and social order

In order to ensure the coherence of the panel and to focus the debate, the panel encourages the contributions to reflect upon the status of borders, and the performativity of bordering, in either of the terms of: the creation of social and territorial reality; the perception of social and territorial relations; and/or the consequences for politics and policy-making. We very much welcome also empirically-oriented paper, but we would like them, on the grounds of their empirical findings, to explicitly reflect upon these issues.


Theodor Aalders and Richard Georgi, School of Global Studies at the University of Gothenburg