Cross-border region Limburg

Eeating at the border – Deconstruction of borders and familiarity in the EU: an analysis of historical representations of ‘others’ en daily practices in border regions (preliminary title).

Karen Arijs

On the 9th of December 2008, the Belgian governor for Limburg and the Dutch royal commissioner signed the ‘Limburg-charter’. This charter symbolizes an engagement for cooperation within the two provinces: Belgian and Dutch Limburg. While shortly united between 1794 and 1839, these provinces were permanently separated in the aftermath of the Belgian revolution and the subsequent formation of the Dutch and Belgian nation. In the charter, and on the occasion of the official signing of the document in 2009, the fact that the agreement was reached 170 years after the formal separation was heavily emphasized. Also, the reasons for the rapprochement were clarified. In the document, which can be found on the official website of the province, it was stated that: “the two provinces are culturally and historically very close connected. They share the same roots, (…).” On the next page we learn that although the provinces belonged to different states from 1839 on, the area still forms a cultural unity with which the population is happy to identify itself with. On the one hand, this applies to the European efforts to create strong transnational regions. On the other this is a nice example of what A. Paasi called ‘the search for a ‘new regionalism’, based on a sense of ‘local identity’. The view on identity as an essentialist feature (“sharing the same roots”), combined with the belief that the border of 1839 between the provinces was an illogical one, resulted in the engagement of the Limburg-charter. This is very interesting, certainly because most social scientists nowadays agree that identities are not age-old features, but constructions based on images of others and, moreover, often manipulated. The difficult and often delicate discussion on identity has received new impulses through the study of border regions. Inhabitants of such regions not only participate in transnational economical and social systems; they also encounter values, ideas, habits, behavior and traditions different from their own. Limburg is in this respect an interesting case. The aim of this study is to problematize discourses on the shared or not shared identity of the inhabitants of the cross border region Limburg. In order to do so the focus will be on the actions and practices of the inhabitants of the Limburg region. In particular we will use celebrations, feasts and food habits as a proxy. We want to explore the link between identity, region (place) and consumption (celebrations and food culture), as established before by authors such as C. Fischler, M. Bruegel and H. Siegrist. The discursive construction of regional and national cuisines, as also noted for example by B. Tschofen, and the influence on practices and representations in border regions is something we will pay attention to in this research. This project is one out of four international projects dealing with ‘unfamiliarity’, part of the Eurocores-programme (Eurocorecode – European Comparisons in Regional Cohesion, Dynamics and Expressions). The aim of the project is to analyse how (mental) barriers come into existence, their impact and historical background. For more information on the set-up and the other projects please visit the website: http://www.unfamiliarity.eu.