Project details

Border Education - Space, Memory and Reflections on Transculturality

Grant Agreement Number: VG-SPS-BW-14-001602-3
Programm: Erasmus+
Key Action: Cooperation for innovation and the exchange of good practices

In the EU sphere, one main goal has been to reduce the role of political borders in its citizens’ everyday life. The most visible expression of this effort is the removal of border control within Schengen area. Although important steps have been made, the vision of “borderless EU” is far from accomplished. The deterring economic situation in the EU gave new impulse to nationalistic and Eurosceptic movements in EU member states and candidate countries. Soon after the crisis started, media and politicians all over EU began to search for the scapegoat to whom the blame could be ascribed. By default the culprit was mostly found over the border or among members of minority groups. In the year of EU elections, this development seems to become increasingly relevant and to threaten European cohesion.

The dramatic shift in attitude towards “others” can’t be explained if we think about borders as lines on maps separating nation states because borders aren’t just a simple spatial phenomenon. First and foremost they are a complex and dynamic mental phenomenon, (re)produced through creation of binary distinctions between the “I”/“We” and the „Other(s)“/“Them”. People, influenced by diverse personal experiences or merely as a socialised concept (e.g. through media, education, local culture), constantly draw borders between themselves and others – and thus practice inclusion or exclusion. And they draw them not only in accordance with an individual experience, perception, memory, belief, but also by taking into account the collective ones they identify with.

Borders could therefore be studied not only from a top-down perspective, but also from the bottom up, with a focus on the individual border narratives and spatial experiences (e.g. memories/life-stories), reflecting the ways in which borders impact on notions of otherness and the daily life practices of people living in and around the “borderlands” and trans-boundary transition zones. Being a product of specific mindset, borders can’t be studied only through geographical/geopolitical analysis; consequently, a more interdisciplinary approach is needed. Moreover, borders might not just be seen in a traditional manner, as obstacles for mobility and communication, but should be examined for their potential to constitute bridges and points of contact.

Regarding European societies with a focus on social cohesion, BE-SMaRT aims to develop bottom-up reflective educational approaches to challenge memories and “traditional” conceptions of “Europe”'s borders in the professional development of teachers – that means drawing up methodologies that would allow becoming aware and negotiating these mental borders. This will be done through the analysis of interdisciplinary approaches of the concepts of “border” and “memory” as intrinsically linked with people’s lived experiences.

By adopting the above stated view, BE-SMaRT aims to explore and discuss “borders” in an inclusive manner by examining the physical/geographic, historical, geo-political, socio-political, cultural, economic, and linguistic aspects of borders and their impact on (young) peoples’ life-experiences and constructions of identities within ever more globalized societies. Borders are at the heart of “holistic” concepts such as migration, xenophobia, conflict, (gender) equality, inter-generational experiences, multilingualism, otherness, Fortress Europe, which makes it a timely issue with the current rise in nationalisms in mind. BE-SMaRT stimulates teacher students and teachers in service to critically think about the role of mental borders in everyday life actions and practices of European citizens.

To bring together the concept of “border” with individual and collective memory in an educational context is the project’s major innovation, as both aspects have been considered separately when they have featured in educational literature. This approach seems most appropriate at a time when young people know the EU’s political borders and perceive borderfree life within Europe as set, even if they think within national categories (e.g. in sports). The results will enable us to create opportunities for critical reflection on the meaning and lived significance of borders for different people in different places within Europe today. This discursive journey through borders and memory will by its very nature bring teacher students face to face with critical social issues of being and belonging, of social inclusion and exclusion in contemporary European society. It will challenge their perceptions and taken for granted assumptions, it will seek to make young people more reflective in their encounters with others. BE-SMaRT is about opportunities for young, dynamic EU citizens (= teachers of tomorrow) to experience meaningful dialogue about othering, to encourage them to see mutual understanding as basis from which to shape and build a more socially just, inclusive and successfully functioning European society.