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Europe at the Edges : The Boundaries of a Continent

What is an international border? How is it manifested? How do human beings relate to geographical space? The research group “Territorialité, identité dans le domaine européen” (TIDE)1 attempts to answer these questions.

The TIDE research group comprises geographers, legal scholars, political scientists, sociologists, socio-linguists, and civilisationists specialising in German, Italian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Czech, and Turkish. Its work is to reflect on  the importance of identity issues in the process of territorial definition within the European area.
TIDE's goals and practices differ from standard geopolitical or cultural geography approaches to these questions. The group's findings are for the most part based on observing new territorial behavior patterns as they emerge over the long term rather than focusing on current events and developments. Field research provides material for conceptual work on the types of borders, as well as of grids, networks, diasporas (both within Europe and from Europe to the world), minorities, and center/periphery domination.
Europe's quest for coherence, whether seen along the edges (the Caucasus, Turkey, the Baltic Isthmus or the Black Sea Isthmus) or in its relations with the rest of the world, seems to be carried out through a series of territorial models, against the backdrop of globalisation. The group's working hypothesis is that with or without the influence of globalisation, Europe is better understood as a bundle of different sorts of margins or edge areas than as a set of large homogenous spaces.

The importance of margins
TIDE's research efforts focus on the complex interactions observable between human beings and geographical area, as well as between identity and territory. Taking a look at the paradigm of Europe, some researchers are looking at the Union from a point of view of its enlargement to the east, which completely recasts the question of the eastern boundaries of Europe. One main line of questioning runs through their work: how do the new institutional transnational structures interfere with the pre-existing territorial structures? Working to identify the implications of new norms and values as they are superimposed by these new structures onto older patterns of social custom, TIDE researchers aim at a definition of the true territorial boundaries of this entity known as Europe.
Conversely, the group also seeks to understand the attraction exercised by the Union on populations to the east, at a time when the EU is about to expand in an unprecedented fashion. On the eastern borders, Poland is becoming a member while its neighbors (Ukraine, Belarus) are not. Turkey is considered as a candidate but with no date nor even certainty of its entry. The group's researchers are drawn thus to examine diasporas and transnational spaces in Europe and the world. Their approach is comparative, as a way to understand the slow maturing of the process of nation-state building occurring on Europe's eastern frontier.

The role of language
The other main axis of TIDE research is the relationship between language and boundary, particularly as seen in the experience of minority languages.
Minority languages are not of themselves an object of study at TIDE but rather as part of a wider configuration in a context marked by nation-state traditions and especially the emergence of official languages of States. Minority languages face problems of recognition and of maintenance which make them useful for those wishing to grasp the notion of boundary in its broadest sense. The linguistic boundary, which interacts with the political boundary, is used in this way as a paradigm for boundaries, as it includes notions of the external limits of a language as well as various internal limits. The former can be determined by studying linguistic zones while the latter include administrative and political-identity limits, limits derived from usage, and finally those inherent in representations. The interactions among these different types of limits or linguistic borders gives rise to a typological analysis. One of the potential fruits of such analysis is a better understanding of the role of multilingualism in the reconfiguration of the European space.
Europe's multilingualism requires new approaches and procedures specifically conceived for reactivating and stabilising contacts between on one hand the major languages of communication or official State languages and on the other hand languages less widespread.




Françoise Rollan
Senior scientist at the CNRS

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