The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

A World without Borders: Researching the Middle Eastern System of Human Relations

Joint Research Coordinator HORIUCHI Masaki

Reserch Theme List


non-bordered world, antecedent globalism, Middle East as a network hub


In Arab states, personal connections are the basic means for running society. However, behind the scenes are complex human relationships forged through unceasing negotiations among numerous individuals which cannot always be solely utilitarian. Tangible face-to-face human relationships rather than organizations and systems constitute the mainstream in this society. Such human relationships in fact and in name have created a seamless, global-scale network of people which arose in the Middle East after the eighth century and continues today, and transcends national, ethnic, linguistic, religious and geographical boundaries on a vast stage that spans three continents. As a result, people can avail themselves of a flexible structure of consciousness not bogged down by borders. Such a huge multicultural integrated space so tied together truly merits the name of a borderless world. The objectives of this research are an attempt to discover the actual human relationships in this world in various locations in the Middle East, which form the hub of the network, and to explicate how the systems behind the human relationships of this borderless world operate and have been created observing the human sensibilities and world views that create the conditions that make that world possible.

Research Results

A variety of complexly entangled social, political, and cultural borders related to nations, religions, peoples, tribes, and languages characterizes the Middle East. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of the region continue to expand worldwide unfettered personal relationships. This is made possible by what is termed here a “world without borders”.
This collaborative research project revealed that Middle Easterners take personal disconnection for granted, which might be what allows them to enter easily and freely into new personal relationships. If so, then boundaries that appear strong are receding, whereas the “world without borders” is coming to the forefront. In the “world without borders”, all social, spatial, and temporal sequences are being recalibrated constantly; being separated and reconnected as required. This world is neither “border-less” (involving no borders) nor “anti-border” (favoring the removal of all borders). Rather, it is an independent way of living and viewing the world that does not depend on structures reliant on boundaries. A structure that relies on boundaries is defined here as a situation where working organizations and systems are based on a modern way of thinking that establishes the world as an ordered sequence through classification, categorization, and correlation. One reason for the dominance of a “non-bordered” system in the Middle East is the extremely poor consistency of boundaries.
The specific characteristics this collaborative project revealed about the “world without borders” were that incomplete communication or inconsistent conversations do not cause major problems in everyday life. Further, there is a social consensus that existing personal relationships should not be binding. Also, such a rearrangement of personal relationships presupposes a new situation of unpredictability that forces people to think of their daily lives as always being newly formed. As a consequence, history and society are not abstract concepts governed by rules and inevitability. Instead, they are a collection of “real” individuals. The results of this research will provide a new perspective on the present world, now that the limitations of a system that relies on borders have been revealed.