Conflicts evolving from (re)constructing regions and borders based on historic geographies. Session at the 32nd International Geographical Congress

Conflicts evolving from (re)constructing regions and borders based on historic geographies. Session at the 32nd International Geographical Congress

Sabine v. Löwis; Nora Lafi; International Geographical Congress
From - Until
26.08.2012 - 30.08.2012
Sabine v. Löwis

32nd International Geographical Congress in Cologne 2012
Key Topic „Risk and Conflicts“ - Sub Topic „The construction of conflicts”

Dr. Sabine v. Löwis, Centre Marc Bloch, Berlin (
Dr. Nora Lafi, Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin (

One reason for conflicts within and beyond nation states may be the existence of historic borders and regions which become alive as so called phantom borders. Very obvious has been for example the development of the former Yugoslavia towards a number of formerly existing historic spaces related to religious affiliations connected with heavy conflicts after a time of over 40 years of the state of Yugoslavia. In the Ukraine an obvious divide between the East and the West of Ukraine can be observed concerning different issues as languages (Russian, Ukrainian) or geopolitical orientations (towards Russia or Europe) which evolve towards conflicts as for instance the struggle about Ukrainian and Russian as official languages. These territories belonged to various power entities in different times in the past and belong to the Ukraine today. Nowadays such historic territories do not exist as such anymore but seem to remain as perhaps observed in voting behavior.

Looking at the given examples the historic constitution needs to be researched to understand the territorial and social dynamics within the regions. Without analyzing the historic dynamics the existence of phantom regions and potential evolving conflicts can not be explained sufficiently. Such phantom regions can and may lead to conflicts if they question current nation states, existing and agreed borders, national belongings or cause disputes about space and territory. Conflicts can be different as for example rather soft disputes about official languages but also stronger once about calling for national independence of territories.

Knowing the relevance of historic geographies for causing potential conflicts the question occurs how and in what way such phantom regions and borders are shaped and characterized on the one hand and how and why they are (re)constructed and continued in certain situations and contexts on the other hand. Beyond that it is essential to know how such phantom regions and borders lead to what kind of conflicts. And why and in what way do territorial and spatial / social differences in one context lead towards conflicts and in others not.

The (re)construction of phantom regions and borders are seen in multiple dimensions. The reasons and processes for such (re)constructions may be searched for in material structures and necessities of territorial space (e.g. watersheds, infrastructures as railways), continuous social behavior of societal and individual actors (e.g. cultural associations of displaced persons, retention of cultural traditions), remaining institutional and regulative structures by politics and society (e.g. formation of ethnic groups within political parties, continuation in the application of administrative / judicial regulations) but also in the handling of symbols and signs as maps, flags or architecture (e.g. urban and regional spatial development structures, major buildings).

The (re)construction of phantom regions is also seen connected with a number of levels of societal action which enhance or inhibit the processes of (re)constructions.

- First of all the practices of daily life on a local and regional level dealing with the above mentioned dimensions of space (e.g. use of language, practices in schools and universities) are relevant actions to look at for understanding (re)constructions of phantom regions.

- Second the political practices and institutions framing the local and regional actions are a further level of action to look at.

- While the first level is rather focused on social action and practices, the second level rather concerns political action and practices dealing with the institutional framework of how to deal on a local, regional or national level with religions, languages, ethnic groups, economic or social problems, etc. within nation states. Third, after all there exist a meta level of societal action framing the local and regional practices of day to day life and the political institutional level building institutions above that, as for example normative ideas as the concept and image of Europe, the concept of a Russian federation regarding for example the political actions in Ukraine or even the Habsburg Empire which still seem to show effects even it perished long ago.

The mentioned levels of societal and political actions may memorize historic dimensions and constellations of space but also disremember them. The session therefore wants to invite and discuss empirical studies from different contexts from all over the world and different nation states, which address one or all of the mentioned dimensions and also levels of societal actions (re)constructing borders and regions. The session wants especially discuss how such (re)constructions have lead to conflicts in the past or may in the future. To explain phantom frontiers, it is important to analyze different times and dynamics in history: phantom borders and regions do not come back automatically the spatial division must be historicized. At the same time the empirical studies to be presented shall theoretical reflect how to analyze and how to explain the occurrence of phantom regions and borders as potential cause for conflict.

Abstracts should be submitted to the submission system of the IGC ( by December 15, 2011


Contact (announcement)

Sabine von Löwis

Centre Marc Bloch
Friedrichstraße 191
10117 Berlin
030 209370738
Editors Information
Published on
Temporal Classification
Regional Classification
Additional Informations
Country Event
Language(s) of event
English, French, German
Language of announcement