1. Starting position: Around the mid-1980s as a doctoral student in ecology, I became aware of the work of the anthropologist, Eric Wolf, which primed me to look in areas other than ecology for ways to think about problematic boundaries (or borders): “’Societies’ emerge as changing alignments of social groups, segments, and classes, without either fixed boundaries or stable internal constitutions.” If anthropologists observe “transgenerational continuity, institutional stability, and normative consensus,” they should seek “to understand such characteristics historically, to note the conditions for their emergence, maintenance and abrogation. Rather than thinking of social alignments as self-determining… we need… to visualize them in their multiple external connections” (Wolf Europe and the People Without History, 1982, 387). In other words, whenever theory has built on the dynamic unity and coherency of structures or units—in Wolf’s case, societies or cultures—researchers could invert this and consider what would follow if those units were to be explained as contingent outcomes of intersections among processes that implicate or span a range of spatial and temporal scales.
2. Borders are constructed within such intersecting processes.
3. If borders seems natural or unproblematic, that needs explanation as a special case of intersecting processes.
4. Borders are policed, with more or less seriousness. (This can be part of the explanation of natural/unproblematic borders.)
5. Interesting things happen when different kinds of dynamics intersect, that is, when the dynamics, which previously seemed well-bordered (although these borders were always constructed), cross the borders, e.g., ecotones, “invasive” species interact with indigenous. (Note, however, that a focus on borderlands, such as ecotones, often takes for granted, i.e., without examination, the dynamics of the areas outside the ecotone.)
6. Interesting things can be made to happen when different kinds of dynamics intersect. E.g., when we see borders as problematic and examine those dynamics, we illuminate not only the construction of the borders, but also the possibilities of alternative constructions.
7. All of the above apply to ecological dynamics as much as any other kind of boundary or border. The concept of boundary object in sociology of science refers to cases in which the dynamics of separate areas of inquiry or activity can, despite their separateness, affiliate and act as if they are communicating (even if they understand the “same” term differently). Ironically, this may be a form of border maintenance.
Prepared for the Handbook of Ecological Concepts workshop, 6-7 April 2006