B/orders: Interview with Dr. Andrea Meissner

The following interview was conducted on Thursday, October 23 in the offices of B/orders in Motion at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt(Oder). Here, I talk with Dr. Andrea Meissner about the center, its mission and activities, and a fellowship opportunity for graduating MA students or early PhD students. Blogs in progress include a description of Viadrina’s international demographic and an exploration of the echoes and memory of the German Democratic Republic, whose main local offices are now occupied by the university. You can listen to the interview here.

Aaron Waggoner: Hello, my name in Aaron Waggoner, and today I’m with Dr. Andrea Meissner in the offices of the Viadrina Centre B/orders in Motion at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder) on the border with Słubice, Poland. Dr. Meissner, so please tell me a little about yourself and your current position.

Andrea Meissner: I am the Scientific Coordinator of the Viadrina Center B/orders in Motion which is basically its manager. And from my scientific background I’m a historian, and I’ve been dealing with, in my dissertation, with nation building in Germany and Austria, so there are a lot of cross border processes. That’s something that connects me to the issues we are dealing with here.

Waggoner: So many of the people who are listening to or reading this interview are looking at borderlands history or border studies in the United States, maybe Canada, probably people at the University of Texas at El Paso, who are in the process of building a formalized exchange with the center. I wonder if you could just tell us, what is, exactly, B/orders in Motion. And I’m particularly interested in the naming of that.

Meissner: Maybe I’ll first explain a bit what the center is doing and then the play on words, “borders” and “orders” in motion, I’ll do in a second. So, there’s our center here, Viadrina Center B/orders in Motion; we are a quite recent institution. We been founded [since] May of 2013. And we are a joint research institute of three faculties of the Viadrina. And, what is our task? [It’s] to bundle and consolidate the scientific endeavor of the Viadrina scholars in this thematic priority field of borders in motion, which is a kind of common denominator of very many of the research interests here at the Viadrina. And, of course, this draws on the fact that our university is located here immediately on the German-Polish border; as you’ve experienced yourself, you just need to cross the bridge and your in Poland, and you don’t even have to pass a checkpoint or show your passport. So, this is something which is inspiring our work here of course. And another asset of this university here is a strong culture of interdisciplinary work, which has been greatly augmented, I think, by our common B/orders in Motion projects. Our research projects and research undertakings are very strongly interdisciplinary, well not just in the sense of cultural studies in the broad sense, but also involving law studies and economic studies as well. So what we do as a research center is firstly to coordinate our research projects in this field of borders in motion. Currently, we [have] seventeen projects here which are related to the center. In order to bring those projects together in a discussion process and to try to give a fresh impetus to transdisciplinary and theoretical approaches, we organized a kind of forum, which is called “Research Factory” to bring together those projects. We try to promote young researchers by offering them a discussion platform and a network at Viadrina University and far beyond.

Waggoner: That’s the colloquium?

Meissner: Yes, that’s one the nodes of this network which is inviting young researchers to present their doctoral theses and their second books and to discuss them in a broader range of questions. And, of course, we are building national and international cooperation and networks, which also try, of course, to promote young researchers in a kind of exchange program. And another task is to make visible our efforts at the Viadrina in this field of b/orders in motion, and for this task we are building a digital research portal at the moment which bears the name “B/order studies,” by which we try to explore the possibilities in the digital humanities and become a hub in the field of border studies.

Waggoner: That’s what Jan-Peter [Voigt] is working on?

Meissner: Yes, yes. And our three colleagues are building this platform as a kind of pilot, another pilot for digital humanities. You’ve asked me about this play with “borders” slash “orders. ”

Waggoner: Right.

Meissner: I can talk a bit more about that. Of course this is something which hints at our central ideas which our behind this whole huge project in our center. The term “borders,” of course, refers to border studies in the usual general sense, which has a kind of narrow sense, relating to borders in a spatial understanding. And this is something we do of course too, but we try to broaden the perspective and not to limit ourselves to spatial borders but to regard also temporal, social, and cultural border processes. So we have a wider understanding of the term “borders.” So what we try and suggest is to shift to the point of view from the center to the fringe in doing border studies and to ask how the existence and stability of the center, of the core, relies on the process of managing borders. And we ask what happens to the center if those borders are impermeable or if they are shifted, if they get out of control, if get blurred, if they start to overlap, and so on. And this brings us to this play on words with “borders” and “orders,” which is the crucial point in our work: What is the relation between borders and orders? This is our central question. What consequences do transformations of borders have on orders, and we are very convinced that border demarcation processes are still unavoidable in the social world. Any kind of practice involves drawing borders, delineating what is inside, what is outside, so this is a process which permeates basically everything. So we are a bit skeptical of this view on modernity that borders are being dissolved. In our view they are being dissolved, but they are rebuilt again. Other borders are becoming more rigid, or new borders get into existence.

Waggoner: It seems like, for instance, one of the things people look at here a lot is the debordering within Europe and the rebordering on the outside of Europe.

Meissner: Yes, yes. On the fringes of Europe, borders are being shifted: What is being done in order to keep up borders in some other way? This is, of course something which is interesting for us.

Waggoner: Is there anything else you’d like to share, particularly to a North American academic audience?

Meissner: Yeah. I think one of our big assets is really this approach regarding borders in a more broad perspective, and really in the humanities to put the fringes center stage, not to do again and again the centered look, and the center, and the “core,” and the “essence,” and no to look at the fringes and blurrings which are taking place at the fringes maybe. And I think Viadrina University here certainly is a very inspiring location for such a venture since its making its location at the border into its scientific mission. And it’s, of course, very unique as being a very international university, with about a quarter of its students coming from foreign countries. So, of course, there’s a lot of border experience, everyday experience, getting into our research efforts. So it’s a very close connection which is taking place here, and of course this is something which is very much incites questions of comparison, which will be interesting for you, for example, and for other scholars, of course, as well. And, so I can only strongly encourage border students, border researchers, to come here to get this new kind of input and comparative perspective.

Waggoner: Well I’ve noticed that you guys are also advertising for a fellowship opportunity for doctoral students who have a mentor at Viadrina.

Meissner: Yes, at the moment we are.

Waggoner: Is that open to foreign students as well?

Meissner: Yes, it is. Yes.

Waggoner: So if someone reading or listening to this had a relationship or wanted to make a relationship with someone here at Viadrina they could possibly apply for that?

Meissner: Yes, yes. That’s certainly possible. And it’s not only for cultural studies, but also for law studies and economics. So, it’s a broad range.

Waggoner: Alright. Thank you very much for your time, and I hope, I’m sure, that I’ll be talking about your work in later blog entries as well.

Meissner: Thank you very much too.

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