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Borderlands Borders and Global Frontiers

The Puzzle Of Borderlands And Frontiers

These complications give rise to yet another, enduring aspect of borders, borderlands, and frontiers. On first glance they all seem the same or certainly similar. But with closer examination, each border region seems unique. This puzzling aspect of frontiers has fascinated and frustrated scholars who study frontiers comparatively. The sociologist Thomas D. Hall argues that this puzzling quality derives from the complex way in which frontiers are formed. In a nutshell, frontiers are constructed by the interaction of two or more different groups. The location, extent, duration, and changes in any specific frontier zone entail a complex mixture of factors external to the frontier zone and local factors, all mediated by the actions of the peoples who live in the frontier zone.

The broad similarity among frontiers derives from the small number of factors, in the following example numbering five, that shape most frontiers:

  • the types of groups that come into interaction (three types: nonstate, tributary [or ancient] states or empires, or capitalist [or modern] states);
  • the type of boundary involved (four types: local economic, political or military, long-distance economic, and cultural);
  • the types of nonstate groups (three types, such as those conventionally labeled bands, tribes, or chiefdoms);
  • the type of frontier (four types: buffer, barrier, internal, or external); and
  • the type of ecological environment (four types: steppe, sown, hill, or valley).

These few factors, when divided into only a few basic categories, will generate 576 different types of frontiers. This immense variety—which could easily be expanded with finer categorization—explains why each specific frontier seems unique. The point of this example is not the specific list of factors nor the number of specific categories into which they are divided. Rather, it is that with only a few factors divided into a small number of categories an immense variety of frontiers or borderlands can be described. This then "solves" the puzzle of how and why all frontiers seem similar at first glance but on closer examination seem unique. The similarity derives from the small number of factors involved; the uniqueness from the large number of ways they can be combined.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Boolean algebra to Calcium PropionateBorderlands Borders and Global Frontiers - Complications Of A Seemingly Simple Concept, Defining Borders, Borderlands, And Frontiers, Frontier As Membrane