Book Review: On Borders: Territories, Legitimacy, and the Rights of Place, by Paulina Ochoa Espejo

Published date01 February 2022
Date01 February 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Political Theory
2022, Vol. 50(1) 177 –186
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
Book Reviews
Book Reviews
On Borders: Territories, Legitimacy, and the Rights of Place, by Paulina Ochoa Espejo.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. 344 pp.
Reviewed by: Catherine Lu, Department of Political Science, McGill University,
Montreal, Canada
DOI: 10.1177/00905917211020772
Crossing an international political border is an occasion when many of us are
reminded of the limits and exclusions of political membership and belonging.
Borders have also taken on new and paradoxical significance in the times of
COVID-19. On the one hand, the virus spread rapidly to become a pandemic
because of the porousness of borders in a globalized world. On the other
hand, the pandemic has mobilized the strictest exercises of border controls by
states in their attempts to halt the spread of the virus through restricting inter-
national, and even regional intrastate, travel. But are such borders justified?
Where should they be drawn? Who has a right to control borders? And how
should they be controlled?
Paulina Ochoa Espejo’s On Borders offers an exciting and refreshing take
on how we should think about borders. Written in a vivacious manner, and
drawing on insights from multiple disciplines beyond political philosophy—
including history, law, and geography—her book makes two important con-
tributions. First, the book aims to dethrone a common view of borders as
walls that act as the physical territorial dividers and definers of autonomous
or self-determining collective agents or peoples. Such a view is descriptively
distorting and a dangerous ideal that drives contemporary dysfunctional bor-
der politics.
Second, the book provides an alternative way of thinking of borders as
places that give rise to place-specific political and moral duties. Instead of
viewing borders as markers of separate identities, the book conceptualizes
borders as geographical and ecological places, understood as “the web of
practices and concrete material forces that connect humans to animals, plants,
and things” (14). Borders are “jurisdictional lines, which in practice create
physical boundaries that cut across natural regions . . . but also are a point of
1020772PTXXXX10.1177/00905917211020772Political TheoryBook Reviews

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