On Borders by Lauren Elkin

I’ve just written a short piece on passports, citizenship, and border control, as part of Granta’s special feature on the refugee crisis. You can read the full contributions here.

My passport is thick with the extra pages I added a few years ago, when I ran out of room for the stamps I was accruing. An American living in France, with a partner from the UK, I frequently cross over the invisible borders between those countries that are inscribed, respectively, in the Eurostar terminals at the Gare du Nord and St Pancras. Every crossing has to be marked. I gain entrance to Britain with some difficulty, which is usually resolved upon the basis of my answers to questions like: what are you doing in our country? where do you live? where do you work? I envy my husband his sober maroon passport, which slides him across the border from one EU country to another.

On recent trips to London I’ve encountered another kind of resistance. As we hurtle unimpeded through the Pas-de-Calais region en route to London, something’s creating drag on the tracks. It’s the knowledge that somewhere out there, just to our left, or just to our right, there are three thousand people in a camp with thirty toilets, caught in administrative limbo, desperate to get to Britain. At night they try to jump onto the tops of trucks, or slip into the tunnel and try to run across, only to be caught at the British border and sent back. All of us on the train, we who have one way or another passed the test at the checkpoint in Gare du Nord, with our various passports, we speed through this place where so many others have stopped, caught.

Passports were invented at the onset of the First World War to keep track of people, slow down their movement. Sure there were safe conduct papers before that, issued by the king, or whoever, but passports as we know them came about as a result of the British Nationality and Status Aliens Act 1914, which redefined who could be considered a British subject. It took effect on 1 January 1915, and stated:

(1) The following persons shall be deemed to be natural-born British subjects, namely:

(a) Any person born within His Majesty’s dominions and allegiance; and

(b) Any person born out of His Majesty’s dominions whose father was, at the time of that person’s birth, a British subject, and who fulfils any of the following conditions, that is to say, if either—

Et cetera. My husband goes back and forth, a subject of the kingdom. I occasionally drop in, natural and adopted child of revolution, a citizen of the republic. I treasure my ability to cross. I grow angry when it’s under threat. The European Union was created to override passports, to facilitate the free circulation of people and goods between countries that decades before were eviscerating each other on the battlefield, and in the cities. In a zone without passports, it seems craven to distinguish between those who have a right to circulate freely (citizens, subjects) and those whose passports are the wrong color, or who have no papers at all. But Britain holds itself at a distance from this passport-free zone, and cracks open its doorway only to those who know the password.

On the train, seated comfortably in my second-class seat, I look out at the world streaming by, long grass, cement buildings, chain link fences, and think of the sign on the back façade of a church in Queens that I see when I’m at home, riding the Long Island Rail Road to the city: ‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?’ (Lamentations 1:12).

It is not nothing to those of us who pass by, our passports growing heavy with administrative ink and paper. It is not nothing to those of us who travel with lighter passports, as I will soon, now that my French citizenship has been approved and I will be issued my own slim maroon passport, the kind the customs agents look at and slide back to you, without the official pounding of the stamp.

It is not nothing to those of us moving quickly through the French countryside that there are so many waiting out there, whose daily lives, we hope, will be improved thanks to the fundraising campaigns we’re giving to, and the petitions we’re signing, and the generosity of the people who pack up their trucks full of supplies and drive to the camps, instead of past them. We would like to help any way we can, but the ultimate decisions about who goes where don’t lie with us. The people in the camps (I imagine, I read interviews, I try to understand) are waiting for more than a better quality of life in limbo. They’re waiting to be let out, to move on, and then to put their bags down somewhere, for their answers to the border questions – what are you doing in our country? where do you live? where do you work? – to be no different from those of the passengers speeding by on the endless, endless Eurostars.


The Commuter Train as a Disciplinary Apparatus: Bodies and Order

Abstract Shot of the AMT train cabins

Abstract Shot of the AMT train cabins Photo: Ana Patricia Bourgeois

In “Discipline and Punish” (1975), Foucault focuses on the regulation of bodies and the question of power within particular institutions, using Bentham’s idea of the panopticon. Drawing upon Foucault’s interpretation of technologies of power, as well as Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological understanding of the environment, and Lefebvre’s idea from which politics and ideologies are embedded within spaces, this research project will focus on the commuter train as a disciplinary device, therefore adding an additional layer to Foucault’s argument. We believe that commuter trains tend to reinforce existing discourses around the orientation of our bodies within this particular space, therefore acting as a disciplinary device similar to the panopticon. We hope to arrive at a better understanding of this space by unpacking the different ways it forces us to behave, as well as the ways discipline is displayed. We believe that this research paper will fit within the greater discourse of this class about how our bodies relate to particular spaces and also about what kind of ideologies are at stake within such spaces. The commuter train doesn’t only help us to go from point A to point B; it is tightly related with old ideologies and follows important paradigmatic assumptions that have been perpetuated throughout the years about acceptable ways to behave within a public space.

*Want to learn more about our topic? Ask us the full copy! 

By Sarah Bibeau and Ana-Patricia Bourgeois


Bibliography (sample)

Foucault, Michel. “Panopticism.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1977. Pp.195-228. Print.

Harris, Richard. “Chapter 1-2.” Creeping Conformity: How Canada Became Suburban, 1900-1960. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. Pp. 3-45. Print.

Lefebrve, Henri. “The Production of Space.” In Gieseking, Jen J. And William Mangold, (Eds.), The People, Place, and Space Reader. (289-293). London: Routledge.

Merleau-Ponty. “The Experience of the Body and Classical Psychology.” In Mariam Fraser and Monica Greco (Eds.) The Body: A Reader. Pp. 52-54. London: Routledge.

Monahan, Torin. “SURVEILLANCE AS CULTURAL PRACTICE.” The Sociological Quarterly 52.4 (2011): 495-508. JSTOR. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.

Obermeyer, Nancy J. “Moving Violations: Data Privacy in Public Transit.” Geographical Review 97.3, Geosurveillance (2007): 351-64. JSTOR. Web. 16 Mar. 2015.


Gender equality in music, still struggling

Last week, Canadian singer-songwriter Kandle put up a post on Facebook showing the lack of female acts in some major music festivals in the US and the UK. That was demonstrated by removing male acts from three festival posters, respectively Coachella (US), Reading/Leeds (UK) and Download (UK). For anyone familiar with Coachella’s poster, for instance, that action left us to a very starry sky.

Kandle - gender equality - music festivals

A question that shall be asked now is, what are the boundaries surrounding music festivals that limit women’s participation? As in, how are these spaces more opened/accessible to male acts?

I believe this question exceeds the idea of music festivals – it seems to be an even more profound issue: the answer basically lies in the way the music industry functions. It would not be fair to believe some female acts were refused participation to these festivals; but it could be in terms of their access to the music industry in general. Now, if it is hard to know how many bands/music acts there are in the world, it is as hard to know what is the male-female proportion in the music industry.

Based solely, and I really mean solely, on what I know and what I’ve experienced, there seem to be a higher proportion of male musicians, therefore the odds for their presence in festivals are, accordingly, much higher.

That seems undeniable, yet, how did it end up like this? Why can’t we see/hear more women?

Does this have to do with the particular music genre these festivals promote? Would that mean the indie and metal music scene don’t like women as much as they like men?

Of course other factors shall come into consideration. Maybe there has been some scheduling conflicts for some female acts; or, more realistically, no more additional spots were made available to women acts, simply because these acts don’t exist!

If one of these festivals had to be a pop one, then it would have been a whole different story. Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Taylor Swift… they would all have been there. Difference is, these women have got a gigantic industry running after them. Is becoming a pop star the only way to success for female artists? And what is it that restrains them from trying and showing their talent? Does this have to do with beauty standards? Does one woman need to be confortable with her body first in order to perform in such a space? Where should they find their confidence?

I don’t necessarily intend to answer all these questions, but rather to stir up a discussion. The struggle is real and is surely great food for thought.

Blog Post 2: Re-orientation Exercise

My initial description of my favorite space is entirely psychogeographic, as I consider my own individual emotions and behavior in the space. In this reflection I will try to expand on other bodies’ experiences in the space.


Erie Beach is a small residential neighborhood in Chatham Kent, Ontario. It is near the town of Erieau, which was historically a fishing and port village receiving shipments of coal from the United States. The beach is a private space and can only be accessed by property owners. Each property owner owns a piece of the beach making it a very restricted space. Since I have been visiting this space all my life as a privileged guest, the space that is restricted to most has always felt like a safe haven of freedom and lively connections to my surroundings. Although in reflection with Gill Valentine’s idea of public/private space, the private space is not truly private as it is managed and controlled by neighbors and for this reason, many bodies may not truly be themselves in the space.


Even though the space is technically private, residents share the beach with one and other. There is a certain unspoken set of rules in which bodies must conduct themselves within this private space adhering with Henri Lefebvre’s first triad: special practice. I did not realize this special practice and performance in my initial description of the space as it has been engrained in me as “normal”. At the beach, one cannot stop and rest on someone else’s property while strolling down the shoreline, or play music, dance, or skinny dip without getting negative attention from neighbors. This reinforces the social practice that is constantly reproduced by the majority bodies within it.

In my original portrayal of Erie Beach, the space was a warm, sunny, summer day where I felt connected with the vibrancy of the bodies around me, and at peace from the serenity of my surroundings. When I revisited the space last week it was winter. The lake was covered in snow and ice, haunted by its previous entity. The skeleton of the space was still there, but its soul and flesh had changed drastically. As a socially produced space, the bodies within it were no longer vibrant, connected and loose, but stiff, lethargic and preoccupied. In one sense, the change in bodies’ orientations made the space feel dramatically different, however it was the change in the space’s physical make up that induced the change in bodies’ orientations. Thus a perfect example of Jason Farman’s theory that space is “constructed simultaneously with our bodies” (18) co-constructing one another.


Through my memories of being in the actual space, as I gaze at the virtual computer image of Erie Beach at summer time, my body goes through the same physical sensations as it would if I was actually there. I feel my shoulders loosen, my breath become deeper, and my ears fill with the sound of the waves. This is an extension of Jason Farman’s idea of the “sensory-inscribed body”. Even in the dead of winter, virtual imagery of a space is able to stimulate my body with same way the actual space would.

Drawing from Sarah Ahmed’s phenomenology of whiteness, I myself possess white orientation in the space along with all other residents of the space, unaware of our orientation of power and exclusivity in the space, due to our ownership, politics and ideology. Along with being an inherently white space, Erie Beach is also authentically heterosexual. Both Valentine and Ahmed draw from Lefebvre in stating that the normality of a space is a consequence of constant reproduction of a certain behavior the bodies that are in that space conduct repeatedly and must always be reinforced. Next summer when I visit Erie Beach in its prime, I am going to challenge myself to try and break the norms of what is socially acceptable.

Blog post 2: Re-Orientation

By Catherine Poitras Auger

In my previous post, I choose to write about the Concordia Green House, located in the Hall building downtown. I will attempt at critically describing the space using some of the concepts we discussed in class, namely the binary of private VS public spaces, and the concept of détournement.

In the same way that Gill Valentine does not want to talk in terms of public VS private space because public spaces are often regulated and privately owned, the Green House exists thanks to the CSU, the Concordia Student Union, who finances and partially manages the space. The Green House funding is dependent upon the union, and it has happened in the past that it was at risk of being removed. The last time this happened was only a year ago. The Green House and other student groups had to hold a joined campaign against a referendum question that was asked by a group of students of the John Molson School of Business. If students were to answer yes to the referendum question, it would have meant for the Green House to have to either find other sources of revenues in a very short amount of time, or to close doors, which would have been the most likely outcome. I recall this from personal memory since I participated in the joined solidarity effort for supporting our student groups. This economic dependency of the Green House on an entity that might one day remove its funding is a downside of the space. It is not fully an independent, self-managed entity.

The Green House is located inside a building that belongs to Concordia University. In order to get there, a person has to navigate all the way to the 12th floor, and then take the stairs to get to the 13th floor of the building. If the person is not a student at the university, she/he might be asked to leave the premises by a security guard before she/he can get to the 13th floor. This issue is a major one in terms of accessibility. However, since not everybody is legally allowed to walk in the university, the Green House can also be seen as a tentative to subvert these rules, and to rethink the university’s space. It allows for non-student to re-appropriate an urban space that has been rendered private, and it provides a setting that encourages independent, self-learning projects for both students and non-students. The idea of re-appropriating a space, also called détournement, was exploited by the Situationists, who were a group of anti-capitalist artists and intellectuals. The Green House claims to be an anti-capitalist space, and it fuels projects that encourage people to become gardeners themselves and to re-appropriate the city space, such as the ongoing DIY Balcony Garden Project.


greenhousesubvertedPhotoshop work by Catherine Poitras Auger, 2015



Week 3 — Notes

For this week we continued to think about our bodies in space. We accrued more language with which to describe the ways we assume some spaces to be natural and neutral, but how they are actually a series of social and political decisions / processes. To help us with this we were introduced to Henri Lefebvre and the Situationist International.

Henri Lefebvre, arguing against Cartesianism and capitalism (and more!) undoes notions of space as static, universal, and a series of related mathematical systems that were developed to break space into fixed units which could be mapped over the land (abstract space). He claims that space makes up the fabric of social life and is socially produced.  The production of space occurs through both social practices and material conditions. This means that space is contingent upon and shaped by innovations such as maps, and everyday routines like finding a parking spot. Politics and ideology affect these innovations, as much as these innovations shape and affect us. Thus, politics and ideology are embedded in the very objects that assist us being who are are and ‘being-in-the-world’.