Asian Borderlands Research Network

Dynamic Borderlands: Livelihoods, Communities and Flows

The 5th Conference of the Asian Borderlands Research Network took place in Kathmandu, Nepal from 12-14 December 2016

Borderlands in Asia are often seen as marginal, isolated and remote. Social scientists are now recognising that borderlands generate a dynamism in and of themselves, and that cross-border linkages are far more central to historical change than previously acknowledged. In recent times, development across Asia has been markedly unequal and this has led to new borderland dynamics - both productive and destructive - that urgently need to be addressed.

Borderlands are also 'dynamic' in the sense that the realignment of borders and the creation of new kinds of borders are recurrent processes throughout history. Think of the exchange of hundreds of enclaves in India and Bangladesh, disputes over the construction of new island territories in the South China Sea, or the liberalisation of some Asian airline services.

In this conference we placed a special emphasis on borders and cross-border flows of people and objects that have not been highlighted in previous conferences, such as maritime borders, high-altitude borderlands, borderlands with a high risk of natural disasters, and nomadic and migratory communities.

During this 5th Asian Borderlands conference in Kathmandu, panels and papers addressed the following themes: 

  • Livelihoods: In the borderlands of Asia, everyday lives are increasingly subject to state power and/or neglect. What are the effects of changing infrastructures and access to resources on people's livelihoods in borderland areas? How do environmental and political crises affect cross-border labour, trade connections, and gender and class relations? In what ways can we highlight the dynamism of borderland livelihoods through research on topics such as tourism, infrastructure, development discourses, cross-border investments, militarization, education, overfishing in territorial waters, and the smuggling of (il)licit goods? 
  • Communities: New border alignments have considerable impacts on diverse ethnic, religious, and occupational communities, and these communities respond to such transformations in different ways. Papers will address diverse cross-border communities, as well as other kinds of 'border communities,' including border guards, security personnel, borderland rebels, refugees and displaced persons living in border camps. 
  • Flows: Panels will explore the flows of people, goods, and ideas across Asian borderlands, as well as obstructions to and redirections of such flows. Several papers will present new perspectives on less-tangible flows across borders, such as environmental hazards or diseases; the movements of animals and plants across state boundaries; and riverine border issues.


  • Deepak Thapa, Social Science Baha, Nepal
  • Bandita Sijapati, Centre for the Study of Labour and Mobility, Nepal
  • Sara Shneiderman, University of British Columbia, Canada
  • Tina Harris, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • Willem van Schendel, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands
  • Erik de Maaker, Leiden University, the Netherlands

The conference was organized by Social Science Baha; International Institute for Asian Studies and the Asian Borderlands Research Network (ABRN).

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