Defining Political Boundaries
There are many types of boundaries, and a given boundary can be described by more than one type. Hang in there, and try to form mental connections to help yourself understand them (rather than just memorizing).
Defined boundaries are established by a legal document.
Delimited boundaries are drawn on a map.
Demarcated boundaries are identified by physical objects, like walls, signs, and fences.
Any boundary is also determined by either natural or geometric lines.
Natural boundaries are based on physical features, like rivers, mountains, and coastlines. For example, the border of Arkansas is formed along the Mississippi River.
Geometric boundaries are straight lines drawn by people. Think back to the Berlin Conference when Africa was carved up. Many of the boundaries around countries in Africa are straight because people drew them that way.
Whereas political boundaries are usually clear, cultural boundaries also exist more fluidly.
Cultural boundaries are based on human traits or behaviors and don’t have to be official borders. For example, one region may have more people that practice a religion than another so as you cross in, you would start to see religious buildings or religious wear. But there was no definitive boundary for this.
Economic boundaries also exist. Within one city, there could be a wealthy side and a poor side. This is sometimes really obviously divided by one street, but it’s nothing official and it’s not on a map, but there is clear deterioration on one side while the other side is thriving.
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Boundaries are also classified based on when they were created. Antecedent boundaries are drawn before the cultural landscape emerged and before a large population was present, like the border between the US and Canada.
Subsequent/ethnographic boundaries are formed based on religious, ethnic, linguistic, and economic differences between groups of people. For example, the boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland was drawn long after people were settled and reflected the religious differences between the two places.
Relic boundaries are boundaries that used to exist and can still be detected on the landscape, like the Great Wall of China and the Berlin Wall. In Berlin, the old location of the wall is marked throughout the city with commemorative bricks, but there are other signs of where the wall used to be. West Berlin had more economic resources than East Berlin and this created an economic boundary that outlasted the wall.
Consequent boundaries occur where boundary lines coincide with cultural boundaries. Take Utah for example. The concentration of Mormons in Utah creates a cultural boundary when it comes to religious buildings and norms. Mormons do not drink, so the under presence of bars is immediately obvious within the political boundaries of the state.
Superimposed boundaries are forced onto people by outside powers, like when Africa was divided by European powers. Another example of this was the experience of Native Americans in the United States. The political boundaries of the states were superimposed on the Indigenous communities, despite having nothing to do with creating them.
Militarized boundaries are guarded and hard to pass through, like the borders of North Korea. The 38th parallel is almost impossible to cross without military or elite clearance.
Open boundaries are where crossing can be done freely. The European Union is an example of open boundaries where citizens of any EU country can freely cross into and even work in other EU countries. Someone might live in the Netherlands, but work in Antwerp in Belgium while their kids attend school in Germany, all within less than an hour of each other.
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