Borderlands Studies and Border Theory: Linking Activism and Scholarship for Social Justice



This article traces contemporary trends in borderlands studies and border theory and argues for a feminist revisioning of border studies as a mode of praxis, linking activism, and scholarship. I trace the trends from early borderland studies and Gloria Anzaldúa’s analysis of la frontera to the institutionalization of border theory in the academy. Scholars influenced by Anzaldúa’s work view borderlands as sites that can enable those dwelling there to negotiate the contradictions and tensions found in diverse cultural, class, and other settings. Critical perspectives of this view include concerns that there is ‘the tendency to construct the border crosser or the hybrid … into a new privileged subject of history’ (Vila 2003. Ethnography at the Border, University of Minnesota Press). I examine tension between social science based borderlands studies and cultural studies-oriented border theory, address the limits and possibilities of an interdisciplinary border studies, and discuss the dilemmas associated with academic institutionalization and interdisciplinarity. I illustrate the feminist revisioning I recommend with three case examples chosen from contemporary feminist and queer border studies that link local struggles with cross-border organizing against violence against women, labor rights, and sexual citizenship.