The Built Environment: State Presence at Border Crossings in the Modern World

Posted: 11 Oct 2018

Date Written: September 22, 2017


Border politics have become a salient component of high international politics. Territorial jurisdiction – the exclusive right of a state to decide who and what enters their political space, on what terms, and under what rules – has long been considered one of the key aspects of sovereign statehood. But we can also learn something about national anxieties around the world by examining the built environment on the ground at crucial spaces along states’ international borders. The built environment at the border represents a physical capacity to filter goods, services and people – the “wanted” from the “unwanted” – and thus is an expression of the authority of the state to preserve its jurisdictional sovereignty. This paper discusses border crossings as sites of connection and separation where expressions of state authority are especially telling. It introduces an original dataset culled from satellite images that document and describe "state presence" at border crossings of the world. Understanding the built environment at such crossings is a unique window into state and societal priorities and anxieties in an age of globalization.

Keywords: international relations, political geography, international borders, border crossings, infrastructure, architecture, border walls

JEL Classification: F02, F15, F22, F52, R12, R38, R52

Suggested Citation

Simmons, Beth A., The Built Environment: State Presence at Border Crossings in the Modern World (September 22, 2017). Available at SSRN:

Beth A. Simmons (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania ( email )

Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States
7817990076 (Phone)

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