Territorial Phantom Pains and Other Cartographic Anxieties

23 May 2012, 12:00 - 14:00

Alison Richard Building, ground floor, SG1

Dr Franck Billé (Social Anthropology) presents at the CRASSH Postdoctoral Research Seminar.

Abstract

The study of borders has traditionally been the remit of political geography. Territorial disputes in particular have frequently been approached in terms of their economic and geopolitical significance. However political geography has found it notably difficult to account for a nation’s strong emotional attachment to territories that are often small, with little material or geopolitical value. In fact, if territorial disputes are conceptualised as disputes at state level, resolutions are frequently hampered by the emotional attachment of ordinary citizens to these ‘tiny specks of largely uninhabited and essentially useless isles or peaks’ (Chung 2004). State leaders are forced to play a two-level game of negotiations, with the other country as well as with their domestic constituents.
 
Such emotional responses bear testimony to the intimate melding of individual and national identities. Socialised into seeing themselves as inherently tied to the nation in its current physical incarnation, individuals frequently perceive the loss of national territory as an assault on bodily integrity. In revisiting the common trope of the nation-as-body through inclusion of valuable insights from neuroscience, my paper will explore what happens when a lack of fit intervenes between the physical geographical extent of the nation and the mental map held by its inhabitants. Such a disconnect becomes especially visible when a nation loses part of its territory. ‘Lost’ territories, no longer included within the national body, remain nonetheless part of a previous national incarnation. As such, they frequently draw national sentiments and affect, producing what can be labelled ‘phantom pains’. Similar disconnects can also occur when a nation finds itself in rapid expansion: as the borders of the nation extend outwards to include more and more territory, the divide between self and Other becomes clouded, and the mental map of that nation’s citizens requires constant reframing.

 

The event is free to attend but registration is required.  Please click on the link on the right hand side of the page to book your place online.

About Franck Billé

Franck Billé is a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Social Anthropology, and member of the Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit, Cambridge. His current project focuses on representation and mimicry in the twin cities of Blagoveshchensk and Heihe, on the Sino-Russian border. He previously carried out research in Mongolia where he investigated the prevalence of anti-Chinese sentiments. He has published articles in Inner Asia, Cambridge Anthropology and Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism. He is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Spectral Presences: Anxiety, Excess and Anti-Chinese Speech in Postsocialist Mongolia.