The border as a door – the door as an opportunity

by Judith Fischer

Journal article from a sociological point of view

Regarding Luther’s 96th thesis, it is necessary to question what already exists, and not take everything for granted. The door acts as a metaphor for various possibilities and accordingly, access to agency (Hengartner, Moser 2006). Doors can represent a multiplicity of meanings. On the one hand, they serve to separate two spaces or worlds, but not definitively, since they can be either open or closed. Whether a door is opened or remains closed is a matter of decision making. But who is in a position to make these decisions? Every decision is always accompanied by responsibility, which can rarely, if ever, be relinquished. Particularly in times of globality, the question of responsibility becomes more urgent. As trade between economies increases, technology, labour, knowledge, investment and capital cross borders, then this can be regarded as a globalised society (Weede 2011), and responsibilities can become unclear. The opening of the door is therefore accompanied by responsibility. In the sense of economically defined globality, it is only opened to certain countries when profit and expansion opportunities are found. This creates global production and consumption chains. But how can countries oppose the import or export frenzy? What possibilities remain when the Western world forces the doors open and a certain standard of living spreads rapidly?

How do they secure their resources, which already seem scarce, if the borders of their country are hardly able to resist the globalised market, and the doors are broken open? And, above all, which resources are actually valuable or useful, for which people?

Here, the ambition is to draw attention to questions and issues related to colonialisation, globalisation, borders, responsibility, pressure on resources and marketing, and to provide some thought for the future. This is not tied together by a single thread, but by the door as a metaphor of the border.

Globality, locality and re-colonisation

Globalisation, despite its impact worldwide, does not replace locality. They relate to one another, not exactly in opposition, but in a network that seems to dissolve borders. Economically, globalisation is a mixture of non-simultaneities; this means that different countries, but also regions, can be found at the same time in a state of development on the one hand or underdevelopment on the other (Bornschier 2002). In contrast to globality, which describes a state, globalisation describes a process. Something puts something in motion. In addition, globalisation must always be viewed in the historical and geographic context of colonialisation and exploitation, in order to understand the phenomenon (Randeria / Eckert 2009: 9ff). The resulting consequences are still apparent today. The existence of the simultaneity of inclusion and exclusion, for example, illustrates this assertion. In the process of globalisation, simultaneous transformations have both integrating and peripheralising effects. To put it another (though perhaps not clearer) way: There is a simultaneity of global socialisation and local communitisation (Kolland 2010). Taking, for example, products from Wittenberg, such as the Luther Tomate (‘Luther tomato’) or Wikana biscuits, it can be assumed that they adhere, to an extent, to a local identity of the ‘reform city’ Wittenberg, hence: local communitisation in the biscuit kiosk, and local communitisation in the business sales of Luther Tomate GmbH. Their global distribution through worldwide exports integrates it into a much broader network of consumer goods.

Keyword colonisation; the Luther tomato also had its beginnings, like all other tomatoes, in the Andes of South America. As early as the 16th century the ‘Tomatl’ (as the Aztecs called them) as a colonial good, was opening doors and gates. The plant, whose conspicuously yellow leaves drew attention, succeeded in spreading by way of Spanish conquests in South America, together with corn, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and chilli, to Europe (cf. EUFIC). At that time, only the local population knew how to use them, or rather, how they tasted taste (cf. Planet Wissen, a television documentary programme). In due course, the tomato ‘conquered’ the world-wide trade and is still common in many (culinary) cultures today.


The ‘Luther Tomate’ is not simply a product from Wittenberg, but above all, branding, marketing and a trademarked brand name (this was established in 2009 for 300 euros). Tomatoes in other regions are simply tomatoes, and have a certain variety name, if at all. Why, then, were they baptised after a critical ‘reformer’? As the Mitteldeutsche Zeitung (a newspaper from central Germany) writes, the Dutch investors of Luther Tomate GmbH do not have a strong connection with the history of Wittenberg, let alone in the Protestant faith community, and because of this were not pleased with the name given by the German managing director, Rehhan: ‘The cheapest but probably most important investment, of 300 euros, Rehhan made from his own pocket, when got the brand name ‚Luther-Tomate‘ registered in Munich. What was much more difficult was convincing his Dutch colleagues. “As Catholics, they don’t understand the meaning that Luther has in our region,” says Rehhan and laughs.’ (Thomé, Mitteldeutsche Zeitung 2.10.2015). The idea of ​​using the waste heat from the nitrogen power plant (Stickstoffwerke Piesteritz) for the greenhouses incidentally comes from the year 1975, from the horticultural cooperative ‘Elbaue Gemüse’ (Elbaue vegetables). Originally they were not able to locate next to the power station, since its potential expansion was in discussion (ibid.). Now the question once again: Why are doors open for some actors and not for others?


Every door can be opened, and people can enter and exit through every door. Western society today is characterised primarily by high levels of mobility, above all individual mobility. Nevertheless, global markets seem to be able to transgress national borders much more easily than people can. The question of ‘why’ this is the case seems almost trivial at this point. It would be more interesting to question the motivation with which companies and businesses export to certain countries and why these export goods come onto national markets? And who takes responsibility for the local consequences, fair production and working conditions in export and target countries? Responsibility is often passed on, although a complete outsourcing is inconceivable. In modern societies, unlike pre-modern ones, neither demons nor deities are available to externalise responsibility. Instead, certain actions are attributable to certain actors (Schroer 2009). Responsibility is attributed to those who also have a certain level of decision making power, so that the relationship can be generally understood as relational (Sombetzki 2014). Responsibility is also limitless, transgressing countries, continents, religions and generations. Just as one generation is responsible for the justice of its descendents (Tremmel 2003), so are companies that decide to outsource production, focusing on certain countries or populations. It seems that, particularly in times of global markets, responsibilities are simply shifted to other countries, to other actors. Or, for example, the door is opened towards a country because of power structures, not from sense of responsibility.

‘Target the poor’, for example, is not a social but a business model which focusses on third-world and emerging countries. The idea behind this is to offer particularly cheap products to the markets of these target countries, as purchasing power again increases (Gassmann et al. 2016). In other words, poor people consume products that are adapted to their income. In the 1990s, an Indian subsidiary of Unilever, a group also present in Wittenberg, succeeded in making a success of this concept for the first time. The successful product: A detergent for the poor of India, who have to wash their clothes in rivers. How environmentally friendly this detergent is not mentioned. However, sales increased by 25% annually (ibid.).

In this perspective, the target countries are governed by economic and political forces. Pierre Bourdieu speaks of two kinds of violence, that governed people are subject to. On the one hand, there is the physical violence (economic necessity, resource inequality, legal or other constraints) and on the other, symbolic violence. These include classifications or meanings in general (Rehbein 2016). The symbolised constitution of the third-world countries suggests assumptions and meanings, but who do they originate from? If an economic operator such as Unilever establishes ‘low-income’ countries as export targets, and intervenes in their markets, symbolic violence is not only exercised, but also the accompanying meanings and assumptions are disseminated.

What is the result?

If we consider the border as a door once again, some parallels become clear. Doors are used to lock in and lock out, to include and exclude. Doors and borders usually restrict an area, for example, for the protection of resources, as a response to resource scarcity (Hengartner, Moser 2006). Securing resources for coming generations is also prominently addressed in the sustainability debate. Doors, in addition, secure spaces which can be violently entered, be it – in the sense of Bourdieu – with physical or symbolic violence (Rehbein 2016).

Key here is that only certain actors have the possibility or the power to open or close a door, to leave it open or to use it only when beneficial. For others, this decision-making power is simply not available. And for others still, it is determined externally, so a person or a group of people determines what happens with the door. Many people carry a responsibility, of which they are not necessarily aware. Even if external determination and domination seem insuperable, by preventing an opening and forcing a closure.

If, however, certain mental doors are conscious in everyday life, some situations can be questioned, and borders even overcome: be it comfort zones, or spatial, purely symbolic or imaginary borders. The questioning and reflection of borders can lead to their displacement or dissolution, but also to their consolidation. To achieve this is in a constant balancing act of an experiential world and the world that could one day be possible.


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Hengartner, Thomas; Moser, Johannes. 2007. Grenzen & Differenzen. Leipziger Universitätsverlag.

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EUFIC, The European Food Information Council. 2001. The Origin of Tomatoes: (zuletzt aufgerufen am 28.03.2017)

Planet Wissen: (zuletzt aufgerufen am 28.03.2017)

Thomé, Stefan. Mitteldeutsche Zeitung: Luther-Tomate aus Wittenberg. Eine Idee von 1975 wird zum Verlaufsschlager (02.10.2015) (zuletzt aufgerufen am 10.02.2017)

Michaela Rotsch

Bildende Künstlerin, transdisziplinäre und -kulturelle Forschung mit arabesken Organisationsstrukturen und syntopischen Werkstrukturen.

* Der Prototyp der Glaskuben stammt aus der künstlerischen Werkstruktur SYNTOPIAN VAGABOND, die hier mit dem transkulturellen Projektansatz von GLASPALÄSTE durch die gemeinsame Rahmenstruktur der Glaskuben verbunden wird. Dadurch wird die Grenze zwischen Bildender Kunst und anderen kulturellen Bereichen ausgelotet.

Michaela Rotsch

Fine artist, transdisciplinary and transcultural research with arabesque organisational structures and syntopic work structures.

* The prototype of the glass cubes comes from the artistic work structure SYNTOPIAN VAGABOND, which is linked here to the transcultural approach of GLASPALÄSTE through the common structure of the glass cubes. Thus the boundary between contemporary art and other cultural areas is explored.

Irmtraud Voglmayr

Soziologin und Medienwissenschaftlerin, Schwerpunkte in Forschung und Lehre: Stadt- und Raumforschung, Medien, Gender und Klasse.

Irmtraud Voglmayr

Sociologist and media theorist, focussing on research and teaching: city and urban planning, media, gender and class.

Juliane Zellner

Juliane Zellner studierte Theaterwissenschaft (M.A.) in München, Urban Studies (MSc.) in London und promoviert derzeit an der Hafencity Universität im Fachbereich Kultur der Metropolen.

Juliane Zellner

Juliane Zellner holds a degree in Theatre Studies (M.A.) from LMU Munich and a degree in Urban Studies (MSc) from UCL London.

Currently she is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Metropolitan Culture at the HCU Hamburg.