Beyond the nation and into the state: identity, belonging, and the ‘hyper-border’

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The case of the disputed Southern Kuril Islands/Northern Territories is used to introduce the term ‘hyper-border’ in order to examine the instrumental and pragmatic nature of identity. It seeks to capture how, on one of Russia's most isolated borders, the quotidian realities and challenges of life ‘beyond’ the state had profound implications for how discourses around state, nation, sovereignty and identity are conceived. During the 1990s these islands became a site neither fully within, nor without the state. As the functions of the Russian state diminished and the border with Japan dematerialised, it was the Japanese state that came to provide welfare, infrastructure and economic opportunities for the islanders. This paper attempts to capture how the identity of islanders became articulated not on ethnic, religious or linguistic grounds, but on a purely pragmatic desire for a better life. Among some Kuril islanders an alternative vision of belonging was formulated, which sought to take them beyond the nation and into the state. This paper also traces the counter-function of the hyper-border and how an immense material and discursive response to these circumstances by the Russian state led to the recovery of the meaning of these distant islands. On a site between sovereignty regimes, this idea of the hyper-border attempts to capture how the fluctuating political authority of the state can render identity as contingent, malleable and instrumental.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)201-215
Number of pages15
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Issue number2
Early online date15 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


  • sovereignty
  • national identity
  • Russia
  • Southern Kurils
  • Northern Territories


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