Issue #52 May 2022

Border Crossing in the Time of Pandemic: COVID-19, mobility, belonging, and citizenship

Sol LeWitt - "Wavy Brushstrokes Superimposed #4" - (1995)

When the COVID-19 virus was declared a global pandemic, governments all over the world were quick to close their borders and conduct massive contact tracing and testing, placing their countries under lockdown. International travel was affected by this closure. To mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the economy, most countries imposed strict requirements for mobility, which included only allowing essential travel and adherence to quarantine protocols and screening processes during arrival and departure.

By closing their borders, countries were confronted by a dilemma: their obligation to protect their citizens, and the global imperative to extend help to other nationals. In the Philippines, before the imposition of the community lockdown, the majority of workers who reside in the Metro Manila were able to return to the provinces, while those who were unable to do so on time were met with strict requirements and quarantine protocols which included a negative swab test, a request letter from the person/an acceptance letter from the receiving LGU (local government units) stating that the person was permitted to enter the municipality, and the mandatory 14-days quarantine period – variations of these requirements depended on place of departure and place of arrival. 

The COVID-19 crisis transformed the world. This unprecedented transformation resulted in the closing of borders to prevent the virus from spreading, the shutting down of businesses due to community lockdowns and quarantines, and the shift to an online modality to ensure the continuity of labor and education. It also exposed the flaws and inequalities in the system. The inability of the government to directly address the situation and their indecisiveness with incomprehensible quarantine categorizations, at least in the case of the Philippines, were tangible proofs of this. Furthermore, the pandemic also saw the rise of different variants of nationalism, and violence and discrimination towards minorities, as we can see with the events behind the #StopAsianHate Movement.

The bottom line, however, is this: due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our status of being members of a community is now defined and measured by the severity of danger and threat that we will bring into the community. During the pandemic, everyone is a potential carrier of the virus. Interestingly, this scenario is not new. This refusal to grant a person their right to enter a community has been present even prior to the arrival of the COVID-19. Refugees fleeing from war and oppressive regimes are always denied entry because of the way they are perceived: as carriers of potential dangers. This potential danger varies from violence and terrorism to refugees destroying the social cohesion and cultural fabric of the community.

Understanding the role of borders, mobility, and citizenship is crucial in how we can move forward in the post-pandemic world. This essay will discuss the role of the COVID-19 pandemic in enforcing structures of exclusion in the form of strict border controls imposing travel restrictions, how it challenged the concept of citizenship, and how it reflects the current and future condition of a world defined by transnational affairs, interconnectedness, and interdependence.


Erecting borders and disrupting mobility in the COVID-19 world

Locating and defining borders

Borders are usually understood and defined as the place where the authority and power of a state ends. Within the border, a myriad of personal, social, and institutional relationships are performed, recognized, and legitimized. However, in the last decades, it has become widely accepted that borders are no longer strictly exclusive to the state and its peripheries, they can now be applied to other forms of points of separation such as airports, terminals, embassies, and gated communities. They can now also be found in virtual spaces. Hence, borders are now located in multiple locations, internal and external to the state (cf. Rumford, 2012).

We are living all the time within borders and we never stop crossing these spaces. A border is a place, a condition, a situation that actualizes some fundamental aspects of being, this includes our freedom of mobility and our right to belong. Mobility enables the flow of goods, services, peoples, and information to occur at sometimes incredible speed and efficiency, as seen in transnational business processes and transactions. It can also provide opportunities to have a better life by transferring it to a new place, such as in the case of overseas workers, immigrants, and the diaspora. On the other hand, our status, or belonging, is often hinged on the idea of the border. Belonging, within the context of borders, is determined whether you are a threat to the community or an asset. Borders follow a strict set of rules that determines whether a person is qualified to be part of a community. 

The most common and widely accepted definition of borders is that that border pertains to objects that mark the separation of two or more countries or municipalities. Conventionally, borders, whether they are man-made (walls) or natural (mountains, rivers) are built to divide and separate. It is a form of control that effectively and efficiently identifies who the members and non-members of a nation are. It reinforces, quite literally, the idea of those on the ‘inside’ and those on the ‘outside’. Borders indicate at once a zone of separation and a space for meaningful, symbolic, material, and often, violent exchanges of information, goods, services, and other commodities. However, this nature of a border as something that separates and divides can also be imagined as a place for creative and meaningful interaction between diverse groups of peoples.

In his article What Is a Border? Étienne Balibar reminds us that borders and the meanings attached to them change over time. The same border may be interpreted differently but it nevertheless remains a border in every interpretation. In the contemporary context, borders no longer mark a strict separation between inside and outside. Borders are now internal to the state, and can take the form of “invisible borders, situated everywhere and nowhere” (Balibar, 2002). 

Balibar outlines three major aspects of the equivocal character of borders in history (and we are most concerned with the first two): their overdetermination, their polysemic character, and their heterogeneity.  What Balibar meant by overdetermination is that any border can have a significance that goes beyond its ability to mark out a territory in a particular location by different geopolitical entities observing, mapping out, and legitimizing it. The polysemic character of borders tells us that borders do not have the same meaning for everyone. Borders actively “differentiate between individuals in terms of social class,” and in doing so create a dissimilar experience of the border for the businessperson, the academic traveling to a conference, and the itinerant agricultural or unskilled worker. States have come to operate their borders “in the service of an international class differentiation” and as “instruments of discrimination and triage” (Balibar, 2002).

These characteristics of the border can also be associated with the border as a place, performance, perspective, and politics. Alisoun Mountz describes the spatiality of borders as “increasingly characterized by movement rather than stasis” as opposed to the traditional conception of borders as “static and permanent lines (Johnson et al., 2011).” A border as a place is observed by how lines on maps are constantly redrawn and redefined based on the flow of information, technologies, commodities, and peoples. This spatiality of borders can also be seen and experienced in how virtual spaces are observed and utilized.

Mountz’s characterization of the border as place and movement is also found in Deleuze and Guattari’s model of nomadic and sedentary movement. In the nomadic model, a number of people are scattered across an expanse of land, without clear borders of exclusive ownership. The journey between point A and B is not determined the same way in the sedentary model, where distinct parcels of land are distributed to a determined and recognized group of people who can claim ownership; movement in the sedentary model is defined by borders and boundaries, where movement between points A and B is determined by the route that you must take – this contrasts with the nomadic model, where the route is tied to the journey itself.

Equally important is the performative nature of borders. As a performance, borders are erected by militarization, how guidelines for expulsion and admission are implemented, and how such qualifications contribute to the public and private contestation over the meaning of borders (cf. Johnson et al., 2011). This performance of the border is made more evident in the production of moments of existential crisis — the border becomes a space where peoples can claim their identities or have it assigned to them. In line with the contestation over the meaning of borders is the question of perspective. If place is how a border manifests itself and performance is how it is enacted, perspective, on the other hand, pertains to how borders are understood and defined. This perspective is constantly shaped and transformed by different actors including businesses, citizens, states, and even mass media (cf. Johnson et al., 2011) — how these actors understand and experience borders has profound impacts on how borders are manifested in space and how it is performed because they have a different understanding and definition of it. When Balibar speaks of the polysemic nature of borders, this is what he meant. 

All these descriptions and characterization of the border are profoundly expressed in the preface to Borderlands where Gloria Anzaldua states: “I am a border woman.” Being a border woman implies seeing the borders as ever-changing spaces that are not restricted to host power relations, but also incorporate projects of resistance and liberation. The concept of borders is precisely the mechanism used to employ, perpetuate, and reinforce difference. These sites were meant to mark a distinct division between those who could have access to the rights and benefits of the state and those who could not. Thus, who was to be included or excluded was/is to be determined by people’s emplacement on one or the other side of the border.  Borders used to keep outsiders from entering a community. They served their purpose well. But in the presence of globalization, they became an oppressive mechanism. Instead of protecting people, they became the driving force of animosity and hatred and conflict between peoples — especially those different from us.

Sol LeWitt - Untitled, from the portfolio The New York Collection for Stockholm - (1973)

Borders, human mobility, and immobility

At the onset of the pandemic, borders materialized themselves and were put into the limelight by the deployment of various mitigation measures geared towards the protection of citizens. This included the cancellation of flights and other forms of travel where people were prevented from entering and leaving wherever they were in the world. In the Philippines, this was felt through the various texts used by the government to classify its community lockdowns and quarantines. All these measures were aimed to separate peoples to prevent the virus from spreading. The intention was good. However, out of these good intentions, a striking and interesting observation emerged. In the context of the Philippine lockdowns where borders were not observed, communities and neighborhoods were forced to become suspicious and warry of each other. This was amplified by the government controlling and policing the movement of people during the pandemic. 

Human mobility is defined as the short or long-term movement of peoples from one place to another. In discussing the notion of human mobility, it is imperative that we understand and examine the reasons why individuals, or groups of peoples, decide to move out of their place of origin and embark on a pilgrimage across land and sea. We need to understand their motivations, their desires, and how they imagine themselves as someone in-transit. Quirk and Vigneswaran aptly captured this idea. According to them:

“Human mobility takes place in the context of a diverse range of conditions and capabilities. Toward one end of a broad spectrum, we have large numbers of refugees, internally displaced persons, and “survival migrants.” These overlapping groups move for reasons largely beyond their control and often end up being “warehoused” in camps, temporary protection zones, and detention centers. At the other end of the spectrum, we have transnational economic elites, international tourists, and workers in aid and development industries who are able to swiftly and routinely parachute in and chopper out of even the most remote areas of the continent” (Mobility Makes States: Migration and Power in Africa, 2021).

Human mobility is, therefore, influenced by the lived conditions one is exposed to. This includes the social, religious, personal, cultural, political, and economic conditions. However, it is also a fact that these conditions also prevent individuals from moving. Mobility then is a privilege granted to those who have the capital to start anew. Furthermore, this capability to move within and across borders is governed and dictated by power structures and power relations. This easily produces forms of identification between diverse groups of people. For instance, classifying travelers during the COVID-19 pandemic as Authorized Personnel Outside their Residence (APOR), which included health and emergency frontline services personnel, government officials and government frontline personnel, duly-authorized humanitarian assistance actors, persons traveling for medical or humanitarian reasons, persons going to the airport for travel abroad, and anyone crossing zones for work or business permitted in the zone of destination and going back home. Within these categories and process of classification, the world differentiates between legitimate travel and carriers of the virus. 

Those who belong to the APOR categories are guaranteed the right to cross borders. However, those who are not considered as APOR are left inside their house with no, or limited access to, commodities and employment. Likewise, they remain under the authority of their communities (through being home quarantined) and are not entitled to mobility. Thus, the capacity to travel during times of crisis is determined by the capacity to meet the criteria set to be performed at the border checkpoints. This brings us to the concept of immobility. In migration studies, immobility is characterized as the lack of capacity to move due to political or economic constraints that prevent one from moving. There are various interpretations of immobility, but they all agree that this is involuntary. Hence, if mobility is the freedom to move, immobility is the inability to do so (cf. Mata-Codesal, 2015).

When the Philippine government announced that it would impose lockdowns, hundreds of Filipino workers rushed to leave their offices, carrying with them their desktop computers issued by their office to support their work-from-home arrangement. Some Filipinos decided to go back to the provinces hoping that the effects of the pandemic would not be as harmful and disadvantageous as the situation in Metro Manila. Unfortunately, those who are unable to return to their provinces had to stay and wait until border restrictions were lifted. Again, the reasons for these were to prevent the virus from spreading, and to ensure this, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) specifically defined who was eligible to travel to facilitate interzonal and intrazonal movement (cf. On IATF Resolution No. 79, 2020).

“The IATF likewise made more specific the definitions of interzonal movement and intrazonal movement. Interzonal movement is defined as the movement of people, goods and services between provinces, highly urbanized cities, and independent component cities under different community quarantine classification. Intrazonal movement, meanwhile, refers to the movement of people, goods and services between provinces, highly urbanized cities, and independent component cities under the same community quarantine classification, without transiting through an area placed under a different classification” (On IATF Resolution No. 79, 2020).

Controlling mobility and erecting borders becomes a necessary requirement to assign identities. In the case of border restrictions in the time of the pandemic, this means people are categorized as threats to public safety and health. To categorize is tantamount to assigning identities to everyone within structures of power, such a process is an expression of the state’s desire to police and control people by stopping them at the border checkpoints and evaluate if the state will be at risk or benefit from those seeking entry. Beneath the desire and the obligation to protect, lies a keen sense of fear geared towards the potential carrier of the virus. And this fear spreads faster than the virus. This is the main reason such prevention measures are deployed in the first place. In the experience of those wanting to return to their provinces, they were met by strict border checkpoints and travel requirements to prove that they are healthy and safe, and failure to comply automatically resulted in expulsion. 


Citizenship and belonging within and outside the context of the pandemic

Structures of exclusion/inclusion

Ruth Lister, in her book Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives, made significant contributions to the contemporary discussion of citizenship by elucidating on the combined insights of political, social, and feminist theory, and migration. She argued that the exclusionary tendencies of citizenship primarily emerged from the power of nation-states over who has the right to be a member and remain within particular communities, and how peoples are to be treated when they move across and within borders. Further, drawing inspiration from feminist theory, she pointed out that the hierarchical power of men and the state removes women from participating in the political realm (Lister, 1997).  She also argued that history is one side of citizenship rooted in the denial of resources, rights, and dignity (Lister, 1997).  The other side being inclusion.

To understand exclusionary citizenship, we must first understand what comprises an inclusive citizenship. According to Lister, “inclusive citizenship is articulated in terms of justice” or “when it is fair for people to be treated the same and when it is fair that they should be treated differently”; recognition, or the “intrinsic worth of all human beings, but also recognition of and respect of their differences, self-determination or “people’s ability to exercise some degrees of control over their lives”, and solidarity or “the capacity to identify with others and to act in unity with them in their claims for justice and recognition” (Lister, 2007).

However, these values are the exact opposite of what we have witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many states failed to extend justice to non-citizens and were discriminated solely on the basis of being Asian descent, being a potential carrier of the virus, and fundamentally, their being different. Speaking in terms of mobility/immobility due to imposed lockdowns and closure of borders, many states and their citizens deprived non-citizens the freedom to exercise their will by preventing them from safely returning to their homes or being granted refuge in other places. Further, these behaviors and attitudes in turn created and reinforced exclusionary tactics, one that we also see in how states treat asylum seekers, refugees, and the stateless and displaced.

It is also established that citizenship is the result of the myths created of the state to efficiently categorize people thus, making it easier to design and implement policies that will actualize and construct the image of the state envisioned by its rulers and its people. As a result of this dream of a collective national identity, social exclusion becomes an inevitable and necessary effect of such processes. This process can generate profound exclusionary tactics and processes, both intentional and unintentional, that result in discrimination based on culture, religion, race and ethnicity, and other identities that oppose the norms. Similarly, such discrimination is the primary reason peoples are refused to be granted citizenship or belonging: 

“A State discriminatorily deprives a person of citizenship or immigration status when it withholds or withdraws status on an unreasonable classification such as skin colour, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. States have long used access to citizenship and immigration status as a discriminatory tool to curtail the rights and benefits of marginalized groups. Statelessness, for example, has a number of causes, but it is often the result of longstanding discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities, Indigenous peoples, and religious groups. In other words, it is often the foreseeable product of discriminatory laws, policies and practices that aim to exclude or have the effect of excluding people who are considered as foreign, often on the basis of their race, colour, descent, ethnicity, national origin, or religion” (Muigai & UN. Human Rights Council. Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, 2011).

This process of discrimination that hinges on categorizing people into labels is what Foucault describes as biopolitics. For Foucault, the self is constantly produced by being subjected to the regulation and power relations that the self is exposed to—biopolitics targets the citizens of a state down to the level of the individual body. The strict militarization of borders before and especially during the pandemic is an example of how states, through their borders, demonstrate their power to segregate, categorize, and exclude people. The preventive measures deployed by states allow the state to produce categories that lead to a society of docile citizens, through categories, people who are made to believe that they are being protected from the threat of the virus by stopping people at the border checkpoints strengthen the agenda of the state to categorize those on the other side of the border as a threat and as abnormal (Foucault, 2008). 

Incidentally, Foucault aptly captured the exclusionary tactics of the COVID-19 pandemic. He writes in Discipline and Punish:

“The leper was caught up in a practice of rejection, of exile-enclosure; he was left to his doom in a mass among which it was useless to differentiate; those sick of the plague were caught up in a meticulous tactical partitioning in which individual differentiations were the constricting effects of a power that multiplied, articulated, and subdivided itself; the great confinement on the one hand; the correct training on the other” (Foucault, 1995).

Segregation, then, through community lockdowns and closure of national borders, becomes a space of inequalities that allow for structural forms of exclusions — as seen in the #StopAsianHate Movement and immobility — where peoples become open to different forms of violence and non-belonging. Such a process of exclusion is not only felt at the institutional level but also alongside the personal space of a person, affecting the personal, professional, and economic aspects of life under the disguise of protecting the safety and health of the collective good.

Robert Whitman - Experiments in Art and Technology, Untitled, from the portfolio The New York Collection for Stockholm - (1973)

Belonging and citizenship

The effects of the pandemic did not only change the economic, personal, and professional aspects of our lives, it also transformed and recalibrated how we view ourselves and how we relate to others. It can be said that the greatest impact of the pandemic has deep existential foundations. The existential ramifications of the pandemic can be felt in how we position ourselves in our communities, in other words, how we belong.

There are a plethora of observations and insights that can be extracted from the pandemic, for the sake of this article, this section will focus on the following: first, how the pandemic made us realize that, despite living in a transnational world, we still do not have the capacity to act collectively and openly during times of global crises; and, second, this inability is caused by how different notions of belonging, particularly citizenship — one that takes legitimacy from the nation — hinders us from being part of a universal community of humanity. 

One of the contributions of globalization is its power to destroy the center and redefine spatiality, and this often works against the geopolitical and cultural codes of national sovereignty. The emergence of transnational, regional, and global forms of transactions and partnerships across and within borders enable not only the flow of policies and commodities but also the movement of people; as people move freely across and within borders, they bring with them their own cultures, knowledge, and different interpretations of what it means to be human. 

However, despite being described as free flowing, these different social, epistemic, and cultural imaginations of the world and of the self are still confronted with great suspicion and anger. The openness of the world to multilateral agreements between nations is not a guarantee that the world is fully open to difference. To illustrate this, we can use how countries sealed off their borders during the pandemic. Isolation and quarantine are the best preventive measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, however, with this closure they also become an opportunity to open different forms of exclusion. 

In the Philippines, the onset of the pandemic saw the rise of xenophobia towards Chinese nationals who were entering the Philippines; just search the internet and you will find different memes about it. In the United States, strong xenophobia as well as prejudice, discrimination, violence, and racism flared up against people of East Asian and Southeast Asian descent. This trend was mirrored throughout the world (cf. Reny & Barreto, 2020).

“Since the outbreak of the pandemic, Asians and people of Asian descent have been targets of derogatory language in media reports and statements by politicians as well as on social media platforms, where hate speech related to Covid-19 also appears to have spread extensively. US President Donald Trump’s use of the term “Chinese virus” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s use of “Wuhan virus” may have encouraged the use of hate speech in the US. Although by late March Trump stepped back from using the term and issued a tweet in support of “our Asian-American community,” he has not directed any specific governmental response toward protecting Asians and people of Asian descent” (Humans Right Watch, 2020).

The strict lockdown measures further amplified and increased the exacerbated tensions between Asian peoples and non-Asians. As countries around the world were determined to protect their citizens from the threat of the virus, they were also amplifying the idea that anyone on the other side of the border is an enemy needing to be despised and disposed of. Likewise, the isolation and exclusion during the time of the pandemic reminded us that we are still unable to collectively work together because we are unable to surpass and transcend our selfish desire for self-preservation. This results in the idea that we have also failed to acknowledge that the right to health is universal. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM):

“The right to health is universal. Everyone should be entitled to seek and receive medical care if they suspect they have been exposed to the virus, and share information to prevent its spread. Migrants and their communities should not have to fear discrimination, reprisals, or other adverse consequences for doing so […] Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. Non-nationals who are under a State’s jurisdiction, including those stranded due to border closures, are entitled to see their rights respected and be allowed access to necessary services without fear of reprisal” (International Organization for Migration, 2020).

While many states managed to reconcile their national self-interest and their humanitarian obligations, it was still not enough to quell the growing animosity between nationals and non-nationals. The main issue now lies with how we define belonging, or being members of a community, particularly how citizenship determines ourselves and others. 

As members of a community, it is easier to identify as a citizen of a nation than as a citizen of the world because within the nation, people are situated in the same historical contexts and share the same narratives. According to Benedict Anderson, this shared historicity and narrative is important because it is in this collective consciousness and memory that we can produce diverse ways and forms of national solidarity and identity, which give us a powerful sense of belonging and camaraderie and helps us make sense of the world (cf. Anderson, 1983). This matters because the stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves allow us to flourish as a people; it is only logical that people prioritize the nation before the global community of peoples. The sense of belonging, that is, knowing where and to whom you belong, is integral to human existence. Woodhead and Brooker describe belonging as a “psycho-social glue” that connects people to each other, this pertains to the desire to relate to others and be part of a collective project, such as nation-building (Woodland & Brooker, 2008).

The framework for citizenship has always been the sovereign, territorial state, and citizenship is always characterized in terms of legality as it is always used to refer to the legal status of an individual. By being a citizen of a particular community, an individual is allowed to have access to services offered by the community, furthermore, an individual can be granted rights by simply becoming a citizen. Accordingly, Hannah Arendt articulated that:

“A citizen is by definition a citizen among citizens in a country among countries. His rights and duties must be defined and limited, not only by those of his fellow citizens but … by the boundaries of a territory” (Arendt, 1968).

Furthermore, according to Jean Cohen, there are three dimensions of citizenship: the first one is characterized by legal status which manifests in the social, civil, and political rights of an individual; the second is represented by the citizen’s ability to actively participate in the community’s political practices; and the third one pertains to the role of citizenship in shaping, formulating, and validating one’s sense of identity as a member of a particular community (cf. Cohen, 1999). The role of citizenship is complex: it defines the rights an individual can enjoy and determines the range of available political activities one can be a part of. In some cases, citizenship becomes a dominant signifier of identity and being. At the same time, citizenship can also motivate people to actively devote their lives and their country’s quest to nation-building as expressed in nationalist dreams and patriotic acts. And, most importantly, citizenship can also be a reason to reproduce new forms or reinforce existing power structures to impose differences and cause for a segregated and exclusive allocation of rights and privileges (cf. Carens, 2000). Simply put, citizenship, like other forms of identity

“are the result of historical processes in which several different “opportunities” or paths were possible. They are not, therefore, a given and permanent fact. Moreover, whereas national identities are a good source of cohesion and solidarity, they could also be a source of exclusion and xenophobia” (Vallory, 2012).

Citizenship within the sovereign territories of the nation brings people closer together where they can build meaningful relationships and bonds with each other, but outside the nation’s boundaries, citizenship can be a ground for exclusion and marginalization:

“Citizenship is nothing more than a random status of personal obligation to a legal system granted by public authorities, with no participation of the bearer in the majority of cases. Outside the issuing state, where it is usually invisible, citizenship’s key function boils down to the preservation and reinforcement of global inequalities, as well as the distribution of liabilities to the majority of the world’s population, mostly former colonial subjects” (Kochenov, 2020).

 These acts of Othering are based on the belief that anyone who does not belong to the same community are outsiders, different, and can/will potentially disrupt the social cohesion inside. This idea that the inside must be protected and preserved from any disruptions coming from the outside is embedded in how we erect borders to categorize or assign identities to other peoples.

Further, during the pandemic, individuals who were seeking to return home or to temporarily move to low-risk areas were transformed into subjects or objects of fear if they failed to present the requirements needed, such as proving that they do not have the virus. This is supposed to make sure that they will not endanger the community. In the post-pandemic world, this will be the norm: skin color, religion, nationality, ethnicity, and race are no longer the primary reasons why people are stopped at the border checkpoints, people will also be judged and evaluated based on their health status. This is already experienced in places such as the United Arab Emirates when they started to use biometric IDs as passports.


· · ·

My intention throughout this article was to elucidate the active role of borders in reifying human mobility and immobility, which result in structures of exclusions that stem from the imposition of strict guidelines and frameworks for admission. This inability to belong, to be integrated in a community, solely based on the categories and labels assigned at the border checkpoints, is incompatible with how we envision a universal community of humans built on openness and recognition of difference.

Our experience during the COVID-19 pandemic present us that patterns of exclusion/inclusion is deeply embedded in the walls, fences, and curtains that we erect and construct—inclusion and exclusion happen simultaneously, and often, this process is selective depending on whom states wish to admit, anyone who fails to meet these criteria are left rotting in the waiting zones, in the border checkpoints.

The pandemic saw the emergence of populist nationalism, that proliferated different requirements for belonging that blend the economics, professional, and personal aspects of being. It also triggered a cultural anxiety about national identity that reshaped and regulated guidelines for passing through borders. It is increasingly difficult to remove citizenship within the domain of the sovereign nation, however, if we are unable to transcend this condition, the world we envision which is built on the principles of openness and respect for diversity and difference will only be, and remain, just a vision. 

In a globalized world where borders are expected to be porous, flexible, and hybrid, the pandemic definitely showed us that this is not the case; as countries become more interconnected and as peoples’ lives become more enmeshed with each other and with the global call for openness to and respect for difference, dignity, and diversity, it is extremely perplexing that the moment the COVID-19 pandemic became a global health crisis, people and nations did not hesitate to close their borders, exclude people, and become wary of each other. 

One would expect that globalization and transnationalism would dissolve borders, but the concept of borders is redefined and transformed to further isolate people from one another by implementing and deploying various measures to screen and test people before and after they arrive inside the territorial borders of the sovereign nation-state. Also, controlling and regulating mobility/immobility, coupled with the erection of borders, becomes a tool to put the population in a docile state by imposing limitations and restrictions to places they can travel to. Further, the inability to meet the guidelines and criteria set at the border checkpoints results in assigning people identities based on whether they will be a threat to the safety and health of nationals. When borders are used as a basis for admission and expulsion, peoples are deprived of their right to belong.  

Borders do matter. No doubt about it. But we need to reevaluate how borders are performed and imagined in the context of globalization. If we continue to view borders (and sovereignty) as the sole basis of identities and belonging, exclusion will continue to manifest. Because what borders do is antagonize nations, separate people, and intensify difference; they can also impose and assign identities to people — to impose is tantamount to assigning identities to everyone within structures of power, and such a process is an expression of the nation-state’s desire to police, control, and, the most terrifying of all, exert superiority over others.

Edward Shiener is a citizen of the world. He is interested in cosmopolitanism, human mobility, citizenship, fandom and popular culture.

Works Cited

Anderson, B. R. O. G. (1983). Imagined communities : reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism / Benedict Anderson. Verso.

Arendt, H. (1968). Men in Dark Times. Harcourt, Brace.

Balibar, E. (2002). Politics and the Other Scene. Verso Books.

Carens, J. H. (2000). Culture, citizenship, and community : a contextual exploration of justice as evenhandedness / Joseph H. Carens. Oxford University Press.

Cohen, J. L. (1999). Changing Paradigms of Citizenship and the Exclusiveness of the Demos. International Sociology, 14, 245 – 268.

Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Vintage Books.

Foucault, M. (2008). The Birth of Biopolitics. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Humans Right Watch. (2020). Covid-19 Fueling Anti-Asian Racism and Xenophobia Worldwide.

International Organization for Migration. (2020). Combatting Xenophobia is Key to an Effective COVID-19 Recovery.

Johnson, C., Jones, R., Paasi, A., Amoore, L., Mountz, A., Salter, M., & Rumford, C. (2011). Interventions on Rethinking ‘The Border’ in Border Studies. Political Geography – POLIT GEOGR, 30, 61-69.

Kochenov, D. (2020). Citizenship is a hypocritical scam that preserves and reinforces global inequality.

Lister, R. (1997). Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives. Palgrave, London.

Lister, R. (2007). Inclusive Citizenship: Realizing the Potential. Citizenship Studies, 11(1), 49-61.

Mata-Codesal, D. (2015). Ways of Staying Put in Ecuador: Social and Embodied Experiences of Mobility–Immobility Interactions. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 41(14), 2274-2290.

Mobility Makes States: Migration and Power in Africa. (2021). (J. Quirk & D. Vigneswaran, Eds.). University of Pennsylvania Press.

Muigai, G., & UN. Human Rights Council. Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, R. D., Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. (2011). Report of the Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, Githu Muigai : addendum (Report of the Special Procedure of the Human Rights Council, Issue.

On IATF Resolution No. 79. (2020).  Retrieved from

Reny, T. T., & Barreto, M. A. (2020). Xenophobia in the time of pandemic: othering, anti-Asian attitudes, and COVID-19. Politics, Groups, and Identities, 1-24.


May 2022


Hegel's 1803 Ethics: Empiricism and the State of Nature

by Antonio Wolf

Hegel’s Conceptual Materialism: Finding Meaning in the Material World

by Jarrad Felgenhauer

By the shores of the inverted sea: Resistance, Contentment, and Extinction in Motoori Norinaga

by Raphael Chim

Border Crossing in the Time of Pandemic: COVID-19, mobility, belonging, and citizenship

by Edward Shiener