Best Dissertation Award 2021

The winner of the EISA´s Best Dissertation Award 2021 is Kerry Goettlich from the The London School of Economics & Political Science for his thesis “From Frontiers to Borders: The Origins and Consequences of Linear Borders in International Politics”


The abstract of the thesis:

This thesis offers a theoretical analysis of the process by which borders have come to be precise, fixed, mappable, and infinitely thin lines traced over the surface of the earth. I argue that accounts of global modernity should understand the linearization of borders as a process related to, but relatively autonomous from processes of state formation and other structures and processes typically associated with global modernity. In other words, linear borders have their own causes and consequences, which the thesis aims to unpack. The contribution of the thesis lies within debates on the historical origins of modern international relations which often overlook the history of borders through a focus on sovereignty. The thesis theorizes modern linear borders as an outcome of ‘survey rationality’, drawing on theories of rationalization. Survey rationality is a mode of territorial governance which conceives of the location of predefined borders as a technical and non-political question, and therefore susceptible to measurement and calculation through surveys and other technologies. The central argument of the thesis is that survey rationality on its own is not a natural or necessary part of territorial rule, but must be articulated with other historically particular rationalities in order to be effective in practice. I illustrate this argument historically by examining two such historically particular rationalities: first, the logic of agrarian capitalism in the English colonies of North America, and secondly, the logic of the civilizing mission in the ‘Scramble for Africa’. Finally, I show how international politics are different in a world of formally linearized borders. Linear borders underpin hierarchies by altering the distribution of geographical knowledge resources, for example at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, and they contribute to a modular pattern of territorial partition, from Mysore and Poland in the 18th century to Vietnam and Korea in the 20th.


The committee comment:

"Dr Goettlich presents a fascinating study of the creation of linear borders as cartographic practice, its political dimension and place within projects of colonialism and partition, and the rationalities underpinning this practice. The dissertation is exemplary in carving out an original topic, challenging the notion of linear borders as intrinsic to claims to territorial sovereignty, and in its skilful execution and presentation of a conceptually astute and historically grounded approach. The committee was impressed by the competent and critical use of IR theory, political geography and social theory, as well as its effective balancing of specific empirical cases and a global perspective. The result is an insightful and innovative thesis that makes an important contribution not only to the ‘spatial turn’ in IR but also to the decolonisation of a prominent and powerful idea."

Honourable Mention

Nele Kortendiek from the Technischen Universität Darmstadt, Germany: ´Knowledge, Practice, Governance: How International Organisations Govern Mixed Migration in and Through Professional Practice and Learning at the European External Border´


About the Best Dissertation Award

The Best Dissertation Award recognizes outstanding work by young scholars in the field of International Relations. It is awarded to dissertations that make a highly original and significant contribution to International Relations based on rigorous research.


The call for nominations for this year’s EISA Best Dissertation Award is now open.

Please attach an electronic copy of the dissertation (pdf or docx file) with the nomination, which should be submitted electronically to