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Professor Beth Simmons writes on “Pandemic Responses as Border Politics”

August 24, 2020

“Pandemic Responses as Border Politics,” co-written by Beth A. Simmons, Andrea Mitchell University Professor in Law, Political Science and Business Ethics, and Michael R. Kenwick, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, was recently published in International Organization by the Cambridge University Press.

In the article, which is part of a special online supplemental issue on COVID-19 and international relations supported by Penn’s Perry World House, Simmons and Kenwick argue that “[p]andemics are imbued with the politics of bordering,” and the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular, “reflects growing anxieties about border security in the modern international system.”

Coronavirus has made it “convenient for governments to ‘contain’ the virus by externalizing it,” the authors write, “rather than taking costly but ultimately more effective domestic mitigation measures.” Such policies are “not driven by any clear scientific consensus about their utility in the face of myriad pandemic threats.” Instead, “we show they are influenced by public opinion and preexisting commitments to invest in the symbols and structures of state efforts to control their borders, a concept we call border orientation,” write Simmons and Kenwick.

The authors maintain that border orientation was already increasing throughout the world before the COVID-19 pandemic, and argue that “the pervasive use of external border controls in the face of the coronavirus reflects growing anxieties about border security in the modern international system.”

Simmons and Kenwick caution that these growing anxieties and “fears relating to border security have become a resource in domestic policies,” which could adversely affect the design and implementation of effective public health policy in the future as well.

Simmons is a world-renowned expert on international political economy during the interwar years, policy diffusion globally, and the influence of international law on human rights around the world. She is currently conducting research in three areas: global performance assessments as informal governance mechanisms in international affairs; international border crossings, especially their “thickening” in recent decades in many parts of the world; and international and transnational crime.

Simmons joined the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School faculty in 2016 as Penn’s eighteenth Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor.

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