Borderwork

'Borderwork in Multicultural Australia' by Bob Hodge and John O’Carroll (2006), explores the ‘borders’ that exist between cultures. These borders act as markers for territory, identity and values that are to be defined and maintained. Borders also allow us to decide who is included and excluded from being identified with what has been marked out by these constructed boundaries. Borderwork then, is a description of the ways that we maintain and overcome these cultural borders;

Borderwork is what we will call the many processes by which humans construct, maintain, police and negotiate a variety of relationships, whether based on similarities or difference, love or fear. Borders are often seen as the enemy of multiculturalism, as though multiculturalism is really only about harmony and ease of relationships. But multiculturalism is about managing differences and similarities alike, in ways that may be positive or negative in different circumstances, according to different perspectives. (p2)

Essentially, borderwork is the way we create and negotiate the cultural relationships that we encounter both as individuals and as nations. It is a process of “meaning-making” which allows the management of both connection and division. (p218) It is, in relation to the work I am doing, another way of framing intercultural connections and communication.

It is refreshing to note the inclusion of the idea of difficulty in negotiating relationships. This difficulty is seen as an inevitable part of the relationships between cultures, and is not overly problematised. Hodge and O’Carroll argue that we can have success with failure, or multiculture with racism, and that the existence of one should not mean a focus on the other. In fact, it is argued that focussing on one or the other creates binaries of understanding, which overly simplifies the issues. One tool suggested to overcome such oversimplification is three-body analysis, which encourages the exploration of other factors involved and moves from binary analysis to a study of the “dynamic multiplicity inherent in the situation.” (p220)

In the context of my thesis, this three-body analysis may be applied to the triangle of Balinese culture, Australian/Byron Bay culture and personal identity. Using these concepts, I am placing personal identification with surfing culture as an intersecting point between national cultures. This intersection allows a recognition of what is shared (identity), enabling an exploration of what is different (cultures). Without the third element, there is no point of similarity from which to begin. Interactions can occur in a new location (the surf), that is defined by the identity (surfing). This allows participants to perform their borderwork outside of a constructed cultural location and instead to relocate to a site that reflects the personally chosen identity.

Such interactions, based as they are on personal identity, contribute greatly to the development of greater cultural understanding between nations. We could go on to discuss economic benefits of such relations, but I would prefer to focus on the mutual benefits we gain as cultures from increasing our knowledge of the other, and consequently, of ourselves. Such ‘low-level’ and personal contributions to international relations may contribute more to regional understanding and tolerance in the long term than a school lesson, or a newspaper article.

Hodge and O’Carroll’s ‘borderwork’ concept fits beautifully with the way I am exploring cultural relations with this thesis. It is an inclusive concept that also allows the existence of difficulties and problems, without requiring their ultimate resolution. It allows the positives to survive and flourish despite the negatives. Borderwork is an ongoing process, for which there is no end game, merely a continuing engagement and development of relationships and ways of engaging on many levels.

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