Lines and Spirals: Everyday Crossings at the US-Mexico Border

Date of Award

Fall 10-1-2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


American Studies

First Advisor

Dudley, Kathryn


Following four years of ethnographic field-work (2017-2021) at four vehicular and pedestrian ports of entry in Arizona and California—San Luis, Calexico East, Calexico West, and San Ysidro—as well as my lifetime of experiences crossing the US-Mexico border, this dissertation explores the physical, emotional, and psychological tensions that erupt as travelers wait hours at a time to enter the United States. Although border-crossings are often envisioned as a simple matter of possessing the appropriate state-sanctioned documentation, this dissertation’s five chapters argue that border-crossing is a process that is mainly negotiated through the body and the ways the body is read, felt, and emoted. Moreover, I investigate the affective bonds that emerge from border-crossings at ports of entry, particularly those between the border institution, border officials, travelers, and the surrounding material environments. In attending to the body, emotions, and localized border epistemologies, this work challenges the teleology of boundaries espoused by the state by introducing the idea of the border spiral, a non-binary and non-linear way of conceptualizing the intimate ways individuals and communities weave together the US-Mexico border through quotidian border-crossings.

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