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1 August 2006 Drawing the Line: Nature, Hybridity and Politics in Transboundary Spaces
Arthur H. Westing
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Drawing the Line: Nature, Hybridity and Politics in Transboundary Spaces by Juliet Fall. Aldershot, United Kingdom: Ashgate, 2005. xiii + 325 pp. £55, US$100. ISBN 0-7546-4331-X.

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Protected areas—national parks, biosphere reserves, and the like—contribute importantly to the preservation of the ever more beleaguered wild plants and animals with which humankind shares this planet. The many thousand kilometers of national boundaries that separate the approximately 190 intensely sovereign nations (with at least half of those boundaries being undefined or contested) have become established over the years largely without consideration of habitat or ecosystem boundaries. Moreover, a state's boundary regions are often comparatively undeveloped, lightly populated, and perhaps ruggedly mountainous. As a result, hundreds of transboundary sites exist throughout the world that would, but for political obstacles, make suitable linked protected areas (PAs).

In fact, a transboundary protected area (TBPA) was recommended as early as 1924 by a bi-governmental commission in connection with a post-World War I boundary dispute in the Tatra Mountains between the Slovakian sector of Czechoslovakia and neighboring Poland (with a symbolic linking of contiguous PAs eventually coming to pass in 1955). In more recent decades, the United Nations Environment Program has suggested that TBPAs could, under certain conditions, serve the dual purpose of biodiversity protection and political rapprochement or confidence-building. Major environmental nongovernmental organizations such as the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) have shown increasing interest in promoting TBPAs, built primarily upon a foundation of ecological principles, but increasingly also with the welfare of the local population as a necessary corollary consideration.

By contrast, Juliet Fall makes a point of noting that her treatise addresses the question of TBPAs from the frame of mind of a geographer. (A propos this, one of her guiding principles is that “politics is always geographical” [p 6].) The theoretical framework the author establishes and develops in meticulous detail benefits from 5 European case studies of existing or proposed TBPAs: (1) Poland/Slovakia (the one alluded to above, but as yet without formal transborder recognition); (2) Poland/Slovakia/Ukraine (with transborder recognition via UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere [MAB] Program, although essentially inoperative); (3) France/Germany (also with transborder recognition via the MAB Program, although barely operative); (4) Romania/Ukraine (also with transborder recognition via the MAB Program, here managed through a Global Environment Facility project, although once again only minimally operative); and (5) France/Italy (without formal transborder recognition).

Following an introductory chapter that lays bare the author's conceptual approach and assumptions and how these arguments play out, she uses Chapter 2 to present the concept of “boundary” as an extraordinarily complex “socio-spatial” phenomenon, and Chapter 3 to analyze PAs (including TBPAs) as “spatial objects” in the light of their historical development, dwelling upon their establishment as a process of “social spatialization” (the author's terminology). The notion of “natural boundaries” is examined in Chapter 4, essentially denigrating it as fostering politically conservative motivations behind seemingly benign or laudable objectives.

Then, for the next 3 chapters, the text leans on insights derived from the author's own fieldwork. In Chapter 5, her case studies provide the grist for a discussion of the struggles in “postmodern territoriality” (also referred to by the author as “the new medievalism”) for legitimacy in establishing TBPAs; and in Chapter 6 the implications of such struggles. Chapter 7 covers trans-boundary cooperation, here calling for a profoundly expanded definition of that concept. Chapter 8 addresses the politically charged area of transboundary management, here emphasizing the ambiguous and politically charged role of mapping TBPAs, thereby unveiling some of the problematic aspects of “(re)territorialisation.”

The final 3 chapters return to more strictly theoretical considerations. The “myth of boundless nature” is tackled in Chapter 9 and presented as a clash between natural and political approaches. “Nature” is made intelligible (“enabled” in the author's terminology) in Chapter 10; and in the brief concluding Chapter 11, the author revisits what is—to her—the highly complex concept of “territory.”

Although not so stated in the acknowledgments, this monograph is essentially the author's doctoral dissertation. The text demonstrates a huge multi-linguistic effort and great erudition in its fulfillment, all under the umbrella of an obvious devotion to the subject. The study has been enriched by information gained from more than 60 interviews and almost 600 scholarly publications (although some of them are out of order, and not all of them are linked to the text). However, I cannot readily recommend this monograph to TBPA managers, related practitioners, or involved diplomats owing to its repeated attention to minutiae, its highly theoretical approach, its repetitive nature, and its truly challenging vocabulary and phraseology. On the other hand, I can certainly suggest that this book should become indispensable reading for academics professing geographical theory or philosophy—especially so for those comfortable with conclusions such as those suggesting that “chimeric territory might assist in capturing some of the complexity” of the “conceptual consequence(s) of the emergence of the notion of hybrid-neo-medievalism” (p 263).

A final note regarding the name of the book: as to the main title, “Drawing the Line” refers to delimiting and naming an area, although “Examining the Line” (or perhaps “Erasing the Line,” in reference to establishing TBPAs) would seem to have more accurately captured the thrust of the thesis. As to the subtitle, for those left at a loss for what is meant by “hybridity,” the term here seems to refer to the amalgamation of natural (spatial, biophysical, ecological) and cultural (societal, historical, political) factors impinging upon boundary considerations.

Arthur H. Westing "Drawing the Line: Nature, Hybridity and Politics in Transboundary Spaces," Mountain Research and Development 26(3), 296-297, (1 August 2006).[296:DTLNHA]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 August 2006

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