How do borders operate in the time of COVID-19?

This is a project about tracing the management of local, intra-national, and international borders during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019-2020. Some of these are established boundaries that have been reinforced since the pandemic began. Others, like county or state lines, have newly become sites of movement restrictions.

In the early stages of the pandemic, when little is known about the virus and a vaccine is far off, physical distancing has become the main strategy to mitigate the spread of the virus. Decisions about movement restrictions must balance limiting contagion with the need to provide essential services and maintain provision of basic goods. At the same time, some decisions taken under the cover of crisis have little to do with public health and may in fact be motivated by other ideological factors.

“the history of disease-driven border lockdowns has some sobering lessons.”

Charles Kenny, Center for Global Development

Border studies teaches us that borders are not only tools for dividing up a territory but also strategies for demarcating differences in society. Who is in, who is out, and who gets to make that decision are all politically charged choices with material effects on people’s lives.

…borders are, to some extent, designed to perform precisely this task: not merely to give individuals from different social classes different experiences of the law, the civil administration, and elementary rights, but actively to differentiate between individuals in terms of social class.

√Čtienne Balibar, What is a Border?

This public humanities project is an attempt to marshal these critical insights to respond to and make sense of these rapid changes. Areas of interest include the extent and timeline of border closure measures, as well as the impacts these have on how people navigate the world.

COVID Borders is coordinated by Juan Llamas-Rodriguez, Asssitant Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.