Project 1

Cross-border shopping practices and historical representations of the other side: analysing feelings of unfamiliarity along the Dutch-German border in the 19th and 20th century

Dr. Martin van der Velde, Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, The Netherlands 
Dr. Bas Spierings, Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Bianca Szytniewski, Radboud University Nijmegen/University of Utrecht

Within the context of the CRP, the aim of this individual project is to trace the effects of changing historical representations of rational and emotional push, pull, keep and repel factors on leisure activities in general and shopping practices in particular, along the Dutch-German, German-Polish and eastern Polish borders. The project will not only contribute to a better understanding of processes of integration and fragmentation in border regions, but also provide further insights in the interplay between contemporary practices (mainly in a spatial-geographical sense) and historically grounded representations (especially in the socio-psychological sense).

Unfamiliarity in the context of cross-border consumer mobility can work in different ways. On the one hand, language barriers, unfamiliar goods and unknown spatial codes are only a few of the differences in cultural frames that could cause discouragement and form barriers among cross-border shoppers. Here, familiarity in 'foreign' places may help people feel more comfortable, by making mental links between the unknown place and the hometown (Rishbeth and Finney 2006). However, these differences across the border can also work in an exciting and stimulating way. Curiosity and different atmospheres of consumption spaces can be seen as incentives to cross borders. An analysis of (social) practices in shops, shopping streets and market squares could provide intriguing insights into how people from cross-border regions interact and create an identity, come to shared understandings and deal with differences. The focus of this research proposal is on how shoppers construct and deconstruct cultural differences during the course of time and at different levels of scale. To achieve detailed insights into the complexities of (de)construction processes, on both the micro and macro level, both geographical and socio-psychological theories are combined here. On the one hand, geographers studying these processes focus on spatial contexts while marginalising psychological dimensions. On the other hand, social psychological studies of cultures and identities typically neglect the role of geographical contexts (Dixon and K. Durrheim 2000; McKinlay and C. McVittie 2007). By combining both literature streams, the aim is to unravel the mental and historically influenced construction and deconstruction of unfamiliarity and its impact on spatial practices in border regions.

It is within this theoretical context that this project is set against the historical development along the Dutch-German, German-Polish and eastern Polish borders in the 19th and especially the 20th and early 21st century. In cooperation with the Institute of Urban Geography and Tourism Studies, University of Łódź, the Polish western and eastern borders will be studied and used in a geographical and historical comparative empirical analysis of the three European borders. In particular when it comes to cross-border shopping, the perception of different border-regimes within this period and the way they are incorporated and used by people living along the border, have great impact on cross-border practices and with that on integration and/or fragmentation in these regions. From an institutional point of view national and regional animosities may increase international barriers and perhaps even close the border. In other times the wish to cooperate and integrate may open up the border. It remains to be seen however, to what extent these institutional practices are related to individual practices. On the one hand, it can be hypothesised that if enough interesting differences are perceived, even a closed border probably cannot prevent cross-border interaction. On the other hand, institutionally opening up a border, without any (remaining) perceived incentives to cross, might not induce mobility at all. In this way the project also challenges the popular (EU) belief that increasing integration automatically will set people in motion.
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