Mariposa Port of Entry with border wall, Nogales, Arizona. Photo by Randall H. McGuire.
Our intention in bringing together this edited collection was to emphasize a number of points: how vitally important it is that we engage with the materiality of these walls; how their changing forms impact those they intend to exclude most, which can prompt reactions both intended and unintended; how walls are always ideological and walling is always about including and excluding; lastly, how walls are being built across the globe on various scales, not just at the major borders we read most about in the media.
—Laura McAtackney and Randall McGuire
The latest Advanced Seminar volume from SAR Press and co-editors Laura McAtackney and Randall McGuire asks a timely question: Why are we building new barriers to divide us? Walling In and Walling Out brings together scholars from the fields of anthropology, archaeology, city and regional planning, geography, and Latino and Caribbean studies to investigate examples of wall building around the world, past and present. The authors examine walls in and around neighborhoods (Puerto Rico, Belfast, the Aida Refugee Camp) and nations (Germany, Greece, the United States, Mexico), along with the advanced technologies that support contemporary wall building on the US-Mexico border and elsewhere.
In his chapter on the history of wall-building from the earliest known examples in the Near East to those of twentieth-century Europe and Asia, McGuire concludes that “walls always rise up from perceptions of threat and a desire for security.” In essence, modern walls are not so different from those of the past. Only the technologies used to build them and the threats they are meant to protect against are continuously changing. Throughout history walls have materialized places “where identities clash,” but today’s walls may rely as much on advanced surveillance technology as on concrete and wire.
Opposite: American Colony Photo Department between 1898 and 1914. G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-matpc-07525.
When I think about walls, I most often think about those deployed against refugees or migrating peoples, and especially the one so close to home, along the US-Mexico border. So I was fascinated to read the chapters about walls that are now integrated into the fabric of a neighborhood or city. In her chapter about contemporary Belfast, McAtackney tries to understand how class, gender, conflict, and memory are influenced by the “peace walls” built to separate inimical ethnic communities. Rather than simply remnants of a violent past, these walls are now used to cement links to place and to remember conflict in partial and gendered ways—men as the fighters and women and children, if included at all, as the victims. The enduring peace walls insulate communities and isolate neighbors, but they also become venues for the expression of complicated and sometimes contrasting interpretations of the past and present. McAtackney closes her chapter by reflecting on the material manifestations of memory and asking, “How can we open up what the past means, and continues to mean, so that we can begin to find other ways and forms to remember?”
Wall mural of Constance de Markievicz at the junction of Falls Road and Beechmount Avenue in nationalist West Belfast. Photo © Laura McAtackney, 2016.
“At every scale,” write the co-editors, “modern walls materialize at the intersection of race and class.” They make visible a group’s ideas about who belongs and who does not. But even as the authors document the (sometimes literally) concrete effects of xenophobia, they also describe the agency of those kept in or shut out by walls, who do everything from spray-painting messages of protest to tearing down the walls themselves. In the end, write the authors, history teaches us that walls always come down.