For understandable reasons, there is a heavy emphasis in borders research on contemporary security issues. But it remains important to focus on the manner in which cross-border communities relate to the borders that separate them through practices that variously subvert, appropriate and internalize them. This, of course, has a bearing on the larger political question of why these borders persist. In some contexts, it is helpful to think of these engagements as a kind of ‘infrapolitics’ that does not challenge the existence of the border directly, but nevertheless helps to shape it in subtle ways. In this panel, we are interested in comparing social dynamics within different African borderlands – taking account of daily life at the margins (e.g. trade, marriage and visiting relatives), but also the cyclical events that communities consciously engage in, such as religious and cultural festivals. We are also interested in how these different activities relate to one another. The historical dimension is of fundamental importance because the manner in which people relate to borders in their midst is informed by their understanding of multiple ties of affinity as well as the distant origins of the borders themselves. Borderlanders tend to be attuned to comparisons and to have a sharpened sense of history as process. For that reason, research on the social lives of the border does not merely throw up rich empirical material of a comparative nature, but also raises some fundamental issues concerning the methodologies for studying African borderlands.

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