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Peripheries Project

Peripheries Project


Esther Peeren & Hanneke Stuit


Maria Boletsi, Alexandra Brown (AUC), Carrol Clarkson, Simon Ferdinand, Irene Villaescusa Illan, Geli Mademli, Laszlo Muntean (Radboud University Nijmegen), Boris Noordenbos, Ksenia Robbe (Leiden University), Irina Souch, Daan Wesselman, Astrid Van Weyenberg (Leiden University)

Research programme

The Peripheries Project focuses on those spaces constructed, at specific points in history, as peripheral, and explores the social, political and cultural meanings and effects of this inherently perspectival positioning, as well as its dynamic relationship to what is seen as central. “Spaces” are taken in their broadest possible sense as including geographical areas, but also social, cultural and media spheres. Peripheries may be discerned on global, national or local levels, and can be highly complex, since what appears as peripheral from one point of view (in time/space) may seem central from another.

Functionally, peripheries may manifest and be mobilized in a number of ways: as zones of exclusion and containment (borderlands, ungovernable regions, new media black spots, prisons), exclusivity (gated communities, non-mass tourism, niche cultures and media), extraction (of resources, labour or cultural forms) or expression (political counter-movements, creative subcultures, spiritual movements). The rural and the provincial – and their changing significance due to processes of industrialization, urbanization and globalization – for instance, are geographical peripheries that yield particular forms of subjectivity, structures of feeling (affect), cultural and technological imaginations, and political positions. Similarly, peripheral social structures (religion in heavily secularized societies), cultural forms (literature in the age of visual media) and media practices (the niche market for vinyl records) can signify more than simple nostalgia, ludditism or backwardness.

The Peripheries Project brings together humanities researchers from different disciplines interested in exploring the potentialities of theories of the peripheral, as well as the ways in which peripheries are or have been (strategically) employed, lived and imagined. A shared research emphasis will be on the connections and disconnections between the concept of periphery and those of centrality, marginality, regionalism and locality, as well as on the intersection of the construction of peripheries with that of borders and frontiers. Within this framework, individual and joint research is pursued.

Societal relevance

Discourses on globalisation tend to stress the decline of structures that define the world in terms of centre and periphery, and centres and peripheries are shifting, pluralizing structures. Nevertheless, it seems impossible to think and give shape to the world without some notion of the peripheral. Given the prevalence of centre and periphery as categories of thought in everyday life, and the emphasis that is placed on identifying and exploring what is conceived as central or centralizing, it is high time for a more sustained focus on the peripheral, taken as a cultural concept with real, material effects.

The peripheral is not just a descriptive notion, but an evaluative designation that has profound consequences for the beings (human, animal) and matters (natural, cultural) that occupy them. From the regional to the national to the transnational level, economic, political, environmental and cultural policies rely heavily on opposing centres to peripheries. The implicit or explicit differentiation between centre and periphery determines whether beings and matters are seen to warrant attention, investment or protection, or whether they can be ignored, depleted or even destroyed. What happens on the fringes tends to acquire less visibility, but is not always of less consequence, as peripheries may become locations of concentration for the less desirable aspects and effects of national and transnational policy, such as waste, resource extraction and containment (of prisoners, refugees, migrants, information).

Furthermore, centres and peripheries are not stable notions, but shifting realities. In the current context of globalisation, for example, significant changes have taken and are taking place with regard to which parts – of the world, of Europe, etc. – are considered to be at the core and which are becoming more tangential. The consequences of such shifts are far-reaching and may, for example, be discerned in the rise of populist nationalism in European nations whose centrality is perceived as being under threat (e.g. the UK, France, the Netherlands). It is therefore imperative to trace the way past peripheries are becoming centres and past centres emerge as the new peripheries, not just in a geopolitical sense, but also in other realms, such as those of culture and media. 


The Peripheries Project has resulted in a number of individual and joint publications, most notably:

Peripheral Visions in the Globalizing Present: Space, Mobility, Aesthetics. Edited by Esther Peeren, Hanneke Stuit and Astrid Van Weyenberg.

This volume sheds new light on how today’s peripheries are made, lived, imagined and mobilized in a context of rapidly advancing globalization. Focusing on peripheral spaces, mobilities and aesthetics, it presents critical readings of, among others, Indian caste quarters, the Sahara, the South African backyard and European migration, as well as films, novels and artworks about marginalized communities and repressed histories. Together, these readings insist that the peripheral not only needs more visibility in political, economic and cultural terms, but is also invaluable for creating alternative perspectives on the globalizing present. Peripheral Visions combines sociological, cultural, literary and philosophical perspectives on the periphery, and highlights peripheral innovation and futurity to counter the lingering association of the peripheral with stagnation and backwardness.

Interrupting Globalisation: Heterotopia in the Twenty-First Century. Edited by Simon Ferdinand, Irina Souch and Daan Wesselman (forthcoming).

Can heterotopia help us make sense of globalisation? A heterotopia, in Michel Foucault’s initial formulations, describes the spatial articulation of a discursive order, manifesting its own distinct logics and categories in ways that refract or disturb prevailing paradigms. As part of the “reassertion of space” or “spatial turn” that has gathered pace in the humanities and social sciences from the 1980s onwards (Soja 1989; Warf and Arias 2009), the concept of heterotopia has enjoyed broad critical appeal across literary studies, visual culture and cultural geography (Dehaene and De Cauter 2008). Allowing critics to grasp how discourse and space fold together in the construction of enclosed or discrepant domains, the term has been applied to an enormous variety of real and imagined cultural spaces, ranging from Hashima Island to Melville’s Pequod, Ramadan festival to Kowloon Walled City. And yet, despite its popularity, the concept of heterotopia stands in tension with other critical approaches and spatial terms in cultural theory. If heterotopias are marked off by virtue of the discursive difference they embody, current concepts of world systems, planetarity and above all globalisation emphasise “the widening, deepening and speeding up of worldwide interconnectedness” (Held, McGrew and Goldblatt 1999, 2). Twenty-first century globalisation is often characterised by a tumultuous undifferentiation of cultural spaces, in which formerly integral identities bleed into one another, diverse polities are commonly exposed to ecological risks, and sovereign territories fade amid shifting new configurations.

The Peripheries Project also fostered the development of the ERC Consolidator project Imagining the Rural in a Globalizing World (2018-2023), with Esther Peeren as project leader and Hanneke Stuit as one of the postdocs. See:

This research group is active in the following constellations:

Globalization and Migration


Cultural and Social Critique