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Sorting Machines

Steffen Mau

© Matthias Heyse Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin



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About the book

In recent years, deep cracks have appeared in the cosmopolitan dream of a borderless world. But was it ever realistic in the first place? Steffen Mau shows that, from the outset of the age of globalisation, borders have not been more open but transformed into powerful sorting machines instead. While a small circle of privileged people is able to travel almost anywhere today, the vast majority of the world’s population continues to be systematically excluded.

Jury evaluation

Borders are invisible for some and insurmountable for others – hence their double function as “sorting machines”. In contrast to the myths of borderless globalisation, borders – those places that can open or close, where we can be waved through or rebuffed – have not become more permeable per se in recent history; on the contrary, they have been expanded, enhanced, technically optimised and “fortified”. Worldwide, they shape people’s opportunities in life, existentially and unequally. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany, these fortified borders have multiplied around the world. In an empirically rooted and stylistically straightforward manner, Berlin sociologist Steffen Mau analyses the borders of our global present, destroying many illusions about a borderless world in the process.

Steffen Mau

Steffen Mau teaches macrosociology at Humboldt University in Berlin. His most recent books are “Das metrische Wir. Über die Quantifizierung des Sozialen” (The Metric We. On Quantifying the Social) (2017) and “Lütten Klein. Leben in der ostdeutschen Transformationsgesellschaft” (Lütten Klein. Life in the East German Transformation Society) (2019). In 2021, he received the Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation (DFG).


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