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Contested Borders

Territorialization, National Identity and «Imagined Geographies» in Albania


Ilir Kalemaj

This book argues that power struggles between internal and diasporic elites play a central role in the development of political agendas that have the potential to shift national borders. The author uses Albania as the primary case study, examining how the understanding of the Albanian nation has taken on varying geographical borders over time and why different Albanian communities have often had differing perceptions of the borders of the nation.
On the basis of this case study, the author constructs a theoretical model that captures the dynamic of domestic versus international constraints on elite choices and analyses how this leads to the (re)construction of borders. The book explores the way in which competing elites manipulate national symbols to create the necessary environment for personal political gain, using both expansionist and contractionist versions of «virtual» borders that may or may not be congruent with internationally recognized borders.
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Borders, both in their material and virtual dimensions and in the overlapping between the two, remain crucially important. Most disputes and conflicts take place because of border claims by different groups and assertions over territory. Anthony Giddens once wrote that borders came into existence only with the modern phenomenon of the nation-state (Giddens 1985: 50). On the other hand, it should be noted that there are currently more than 313 land borders among nation-states (Donnan and Wilson 2011). Although it looks on the face of it as if border significance has decreased, due to the supranationalist aims of the European Union and the forces of globalization, which seem to work against demarcations of territory, the opposite argument may be equally valid, as borders persist in today’s world. As I have asserted throughout this book, and as other scholars have confirmed: “[b]orders can be created, shifted, and deconstructed by a range of actors” (Rumford 2006: 164). In other words, borders are no longer the exclusive domain of the nation-state, while increasingly border-shaping identities and imagination of borders plays a part in constructing the so-called “global village”. Jan Nederveen Pieterse rightly observes that: “[a] global sociology is taking shape around notions such as social networks (rather than ‘societies’), border zones, boundary crossing, diaspora, and global society” (Pieterse 2004: 81). These notions are important to consider not only out of purely theoretical interest, but above all for changes they generate and the political effects they produce.

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