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Anke Strüver

Entgrenzte Abgrenzungen in der Alltagspraxis:
Frau Antje und Herr Derrick spielen Fußball

In 1993, a trailblazing advance in European integration was achieved with the realisation of a common internal market and the opening or even erasure of the European Union’s internal borders for EU-citizens. And the establishment of cross-border co-operation and so-called transfrontier regions has complemented this process of European integration. But it seems that this allegedly breakthrough of large-scale open door-policies was easier said than done.

The Dutch-German borderland is one of those areas within the EU that is supposed to have lost its defining characteristic, the border, and to present Europe’s harmonisation. And indeed, co-operation across the Dutch-German border has a long and intensive tradition in post-war Europe and because of this, it is sometimes even seen as the pilot-borderland for European “borderlessness” and integration.

But in 2003, ten years after the internal European borders were opened, the Dutch-German borderland is still characterised by its border for the people living there -- rather than its van-ishing. Against this background of formally removed borders and established cross-border co-operation on the one hand and remaining borders in people’s lives on the other, the following concentrates on socio-cultural and institutional processes taking place along the Dutch-German border, all of them related to questions of representations in one way or another. 
A first dimension refers to the fact that the process of European unification is very much linked to the establishment of cross-border co-operation. In general, European cross-border co-operation encompasses the delivery of European policies, the establishment of new inter-national coalitions with new actors in borderland spaces and the accompanying emergence of new forms of those borderland spaces, defined as cross-border regions, euroregions or eure-gios. Euregios mainly depend on co-operations between neighbouring communities as well as local and regional authorities across a European nation-state border. And since they are com-mitted to European integration and are said to function as “bridge-builders” across borders, the euregios’ dominant discourses are obviously pro-European. Moreover, cross-border initia-tives in general and euregios in particular follow the “trend of governance” (e.g. in imple-menting INTERREG), and are linked tightly to policy considerations. These policies are mainly concerned with regional administrative matters and are bureaucratic in character.
Cross-border co-operation and regions are described as dual process of formal institutionalisa-tion (political constraints and opportunities) and informal integration (social interaction and community building). And the euregios’ governance capacities are thus assumed to promote both formal and informal cross-border integration. Yet, many have pointed out that cross-border initiatives have not been particularly successful – neither in mobilising people, nor in constituting new scales of governance (i.e., cross-border and transnational ones). Those initia-tives rather remain ‘nationally bounded’ (Perkmann 2002: 109), ‘have not sufficiently moti-vated local society to participate’ (Scott 2000: 106) and represent top-down-models with defi-cits in terms of democratic representation (Papademetriou et al. 2001; Perkmann 2002). With special reference to European cross-border governance as such, Perkmann (1999: 660) notices that ‘there is a tendency to overemphasize CBRs [cross-border regions] as emerging territorial units equipped with self-governing capacities’– in addition to the disapproval of the top-down strategies of European cross-border governance on the whole.

To supplement this critique on the application of governance in cross-border regions, the euregios’ effects in terms of informal networking and cross-border integration are assessed as very limited: Scott (2000) discerns a general lack of interest and identification, as well as a gap between the euregios and their citizens’ daily lives. ‘Euroregions are technocratic entities. CBC [cross-border co-operation] initiatives are rarely linked to projects of popular mobiliza-tion, interpellating pre-existing cultural or ethnic commonalities among border people.’ (Perkmann 2002: 108) Moreover, cross-border co-operation in general is perceived as very much top-down, as both policy tool and target of the European Commission – but not as “serving people”.

Another dimension is thus related to “the people”, i.e. to ordinary borderlanders. Their will-ingness to everyday-cross-border activities is described as very poor – because of the negative images and related prejudices – and could not be overcome by the removed border due to progressing European integration. Still, this does not mean that people do not cross the border at all, for both Germans and Dutch cross it for exceptional and exciting events such as festi-vals and vacations, but also -- to a certain extend – to go shopping. In all, it seems that it is common to cross the border for special events – but not for everyday-routines, that the mutual ‘stories’ between Germans and Dutch impede crossing the (border-) line and reproduce lives along lines, i.e. cognitive-imaginative borders. 

The idea of a ‘cognitive-imaginative border’, however, refers to the significance of represen-tations and imaginations for people’s spatial everyday practices (de Certeau 1984). Here, it refers to the multiple and maintained affective borders in people’s minds – as well as to peo-ple’s everyday practices that “tend to end” at the border. The border thus acts as an imagined barrier and demarcates the ‘spheres’ of people’s spatial practices. Such a ‘cognitive-imaginative border’ is (re)produced by popular and often stereotyped narratives and images about the neighbouring nations, which, in turn (re)produce imaginative ‘bordered spaces’ of daily routines, i.e. spaces and their borders are constructed, experienced and practiced through representations. 

Mutual stereotyped narratives and images about Germany and the Netherlands can be found, for example, in newspapers, novels and cartoons, on TV, in the Internet etc. Many of them date back to Nazi-German occupation of the Netherlands during the Second World War. Dutch representations about Germany thus often ‘toy’ with Germany’s ‘typical capturing character, its unreliability and xenophobic attitude’ – whereas vice versa in German represen-tations, the Netherlands is depicted as tiny, traditional country full of tulips and tight-fisted, but tolerant people (Groenewold 1997, Linthout 2002; Piel 2000). But there are also more recent and present occasions where those and other (negative) stereotyped images and related narratives resurface, e.g. the football matches between the Dutch and German national teams, as well as schoolbook-, newspaper- and magazine-reports. The ‘readings’ of these events, reports and illustrations take place mainly in the everyday, i.e. newspapers and TV are wide-spread media that are consumed regularly and by the majority of people -- but mostly it is not actively reflected upon what is seen/read and neither that narratives and images used mainly rely on and result in stereotypes. Yet, these stereotypes (re-) constitute the respective Dutch/German ‘typicalness’ and ‘common culture’ on the one hand and function as border (re)producing practice on the other (Hall 1997; Paasi 1996). However, a ‘confrontation’ with them does not result in a simply takeover of related prejudices – for their meanings can be interpreted differently -- but they still influence people in their unreflexive (spatial) routines. Narratives and images thus do not only depict Dutch-German relations (and the ‘demarcating’ border), but organise practices.

Michel de Certeau’s view of everyday practices gives particular attention to the interplay of (the consumption and interpretation of) popular representations and everyday practices in conceptual terms. He has studied popular culture in order to investigate the ways in which people ‘operate’, how they ‘practice’ everyday life. De Certeau’s approach is based upon his studies of popular culture in which he found out that the circulation of a representation does not reveal much about its perception, the use (consumption) and opinion of the readers (us-ers). Therefore he suggests investigating the “difference or similarity between the production of the image and the secondary production hidden in the process of its utilization” (1984: xiii), for the consumer’s making is another production, one that manifests itself through the use of products. De Certeau calls people’s ways of operating ‘uses’ and looks for the actions in these uses that have their own formality, a formality he calls consumption. Users, or con-sumers, carry out operations of their own, and their products are marked by their clandestine character and quasi-invisibility. Consumers produce through their signifying practices, but their ‘traces’ remain mostly unrecognised. Hence, what needs to be analysed is what people make of the stories and images they consume. 

In reviewing these makings, the perceptions and reactions of audiences’ of various cultural artefacts (e.g. images, TV- and radio-commercials, exhibitions, theatre-play), it turns out that people’s identities and practices are articulated in and formed through popular representa-tions. For the most part, these representations are unreflexively produced, often they have become naturalised and they are regularly consumed (e.g. in daily newspapers and other mass media), which play dominant roles in people’s lives. Moreover, popular mass media can be characterised as circulators and “confirmators” of prejudicial stereotypes. And especially na-tional stereotypes are linked to the collective memory of a society and form part of a common social knowledge – which is difficult to transform. Stereotypes thus sustain concepts in peo-ple’s minds – with powerful social implications. The collective memory of a society results, among other things, in a national (-ised) us/them demarcation – in this case, both Dutch and German national identities. This in line with theories on (banal) nationalism and national identity, which argue that both are experienced through and embedded in popular culture and everyday habits and thus in assumptions about belonging that flood the media, but are not reflected upon (Billig 1995, Edensor 2002). 

Combining this with the findings about euregios and cross-border governance, two ways of ignorance or indifference surface here. The first one is that the EU and the euregio are not concerned about their citizens. But secondly and conversely, the local borderlanders do not know about the euregio and its activities (and thus do not oppose them). In my view, both forms of ignorance can be approached again by Michel de Certeau’s work. Adopting his ideas on “praticiants” of spaces and places (1984), one can easily criticise European and euregional bureaucrats’ view from above, seeing the euregio from a distance. For, the view from above feeds the idea that the complexity of a space is readable – but it turns out to be too remote. The sheer existence of an institution (e.g. the implementation of an euregio) thus says not much about its perception, its use for and utilisation by “ordinary people”. The latter are de-fined by de Certeau as ‘a silent and marginalized majority’ (ibid., p. xvii). Marginality in his understanding is not limited to minority groups, but a massive and pervasive, yet not homo-geneous majority of everybody and nobody. Moreover, he also distinguishes between this institution’s “techniques” on the one hand and people’s everyday practices on the other. The former are characterised as strategies, exercising power by organising space: the euregio as institution and its relations to its “clients”. This strategy ‘postulates a place that can be delim-ited as its own and from which relations with an exteriority can be managed’ (ibid., p. 36) – and this relation (of “place” and “exterior”) also allows to govern places through panoptical sight. De Certeau finds the opposite to these strategies in tactics. Tactics are ordinary people’s everyday practices, which are not necessarily related to “resistant places” or to resistance in the sense of being actively oppositional. Since “ordinary people” are not a homogenous group, nor oppressed on principle, these tactics are not counter-strategies, but mundane prac-tices. These quotidian procedures manipulate the mechanisms of discipline and are those practices by which ordinary people “reclaim” the space organized by techniques of socio-cultural production. 

Confronting euregional strategies with borderlanders’ tactics allows to investigate these two ways of indifference. The first one can be found in the strategies of the Euregio Rhine Waal – since the local borderlanders’ lives remain mainly invisible for the eurocrats’ view from above. Yet, there is also another form of indifference at work, local people’s passive igno-rance of the euregio – and also of each other. Both refer to borderlanders’ mundane routine practices, to unreflexive “tactics of ignorance” that are not radical or oppositional in character. Local borderlanders’ “politics” towards the euregio as institution can be found in their uncon-scious everyday practices, reclaiming their (home-) region not necessarily as an eu-regio(n). And because of this, they also don’t see it as a cross-border region -- as long as the prominent stereotypes – often based on indifference – remain dominant in their minds and lives.


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De Certeau, M. (1984): The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley: University of California Press.
Edensor, T. (2002): National Identity, Popular Culture and Everyday Life. Oxford: Berg.
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