Conceptualizations of human borders will often refer to narratives of encounters, exchanges, and/or interactions that take place in two different but interrelated settings: one internal, between individuals or groups belonging to the space defined by the border; and one external, between such individuals or collectives and everything that is foreign to them. This integrating/distinguishing role of narratives underscores the imaginative process through which borders emerge, expressed with great poignancy in the fluidity and complexity of border-setting practices in late-modern societies. Paul Ricœur’s take on collective imagination and human action can be a tool to unearth some of the key conceptual features of such integration-distinction tension, by pointing to ways in which social imaginaries shape the liquidity and modality of borders in increasingly diverse communities. Ricœur’s analysis of the development of cultural imaginaries through the opposed yet complementary forces of ideology and utopia, and his exploration of the multi-layered character of mutual recognition, come together in an understanding of human persons – and communities – capable of imagining enlarged spaces of recognition. Richard Kearney complements this analysis with an account of narrative imagination that allows one to articulate the narrative origins of concrete human realities and practices, such as borders and border-setting. In this article, I make use of the contributions of Ricœur and Kearney to argue that a clear understanding social imagination is needed in order to account for the cultural matrix set by human borders, as well as to provide answers to the practical questions raised by concrete historical examples of borders and border-setting.

in Interdisciplinary Journal for Religion and Transformation in Contemporary Society