This workshop will compare and analyze the social history of urban spaces in the so-called “border towns” and “border regions” of Northeast Asia (Russian and Soviet Far East, Siberia, Northeast China, Mongolia, Korea, and Japan) during the first half of the 20th century. This area and period present a complex history of competing powers and diverging colonial interests. Japan, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, China, the United States, and other Western powers pursued their own economic and geostrategic objectives in the region. One of the outcomes from this power struggle was the prevalence of encounters between different social, political, ethnic, and cultural groups in addition to the emergence of boundaries beyond traditional borders as defined by nation-states and empires.
Special attention will be given to this question: In various public spaces of everyday city life, to what extent were the cross-border phenomena shaped by individuals, groups, and institutions and by their respective performative actions? Important topics include economy, culture, religion, entertainment, politics, and social organizations.
The objective of this workshop and the subsequent publication is to deepen our understanding of the different levels of borders demarcated by imperial peripheries. The discussion should also focus on the function of borders in the daily lives, actions, and experiences of local citizens and their organizations. In view of the object of investigation – multicultural border towns and border regions in Northeast Asia – we are especially interested in transcultural urban spaces and cross-border phenomena. Of further interest are the conflicts and processes of demarcation in and beyond these border cities and regions.
In this context, borders should not be exclusively understood as state borders or frontiers. Instead, they should be traced and analyzed apart from their topographical definitions traditionally dictated by nation-states. Border towns are understood as urban settlements located directly on the state border, on which the town’s existence often depends. Furthermore, cities such as Harbin, China, and Vladivostok, Russia, though far from the state border, can be understood as border cities because of their multicultural population, colonial concessions, ethnic ghettos, and/or competing political systems.
A key topic of this workshop is to study borders (social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic, or religious) in everyday life among various groups within the shared urban space. Some examples are markets, bazaars, train stations, ports, streets, public squares, parks, promenades, and sport venues. These urban spaces are understood as contact zones in which groups of people with different conceptions of life, various sets of values, and diverging habits of living met and lived together. Their relationships would be established, tried, and renegotiated throughout the time they lived together.
For example, one can look into the actual design of the city – its planning and architecture – to understand the relationships among various groups of inhabitants. Moreover, certain locations and their symbolic meanings and performative actions (festivals, demonstrations, processions, etc.) can be analyzed in regard to their forms of communications, strategies of demarcation, and sharing of public space. How are borders formed, and how should their development be described and analyzed?
Topics of the workshop papers can be focused toward the following research questions:
- How can a city transcend its geographical limit or its political state to become a border city? How exactly can one conceptualize a border town in Northeast Asia in the first half of the 20th century?
- Which ethnically, nationally, culturally, religiously, socially, or economically defined borders in public space constitute a border city?
- Which contact zones can be found in border towns? How are these real or imagined spaces determined?
- How were borders created (perhaps through the visualization of the picture of a street or based on a map of the region)? How did certain communities live together or separately under different categories of borders?
- How were borders overcome? Did certain borders lead to alliances among groups that would not have been possible in a homogenous space?
- To what extent can a city or empire’s periphery be described as a global and/or transcultural space that deviates from the national and cultural identity defined by traditions? Which interactions and connections existed among the borders of various spaces and groups of people?
- Which forms of cross-border phenomena can be identified in the urban space? What do they say about the participants of these phenomena?
- Considering their transcultural relations and exchange processes, in what ways or forms are these cross-border phenomena demonstrated? Which conflicts and demarcations could evolve from these cross-border phenomena? How did the groups involved handle these conflicts? Which stakeholders are represented? What role did the political powers and leading elites play during the process?
The workshop will be held at Heidelberg University (Germany), November 25-27, 2010. The presentations, summarizing key statements, and research questions should not be longer than 10 minutes. Applicants should submit an abstract (300 words max.) and a short CV to firstname.lastname@example.org by April 15, 2010. Successful applicants are to submit the paper (6,000 words max.) until September 30, 2010. The papers will serve as a basis for discussion during the workshop. A selection of these papers is expected to be published in an edited volume.
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