On Walls: The Modern Geopolitical Imaginary


Walls, apart from being inherent to the construction of ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, have proved themselves to be instrumental in maintaining issues emerging out of economic disparities and at the same time determine cases of inclusion-exclusion, identity-difference within its purview. Different types of walls, from the digital firewall to the Hadrian’s wall to the Great China Wall to the recent novel conceptualization of walls between United States of America and Mexico, have plausibly differentiated themselves from fences and all these walls have been manufactured to promote boundaries of some sort i.e. regional, geographical, ethnic, national, informational, class-based stratification, and so on. However, as this article limits itself to the discussion of state borders and walls, let’s start on a note that state borders are nothing but what John Agnew calls ‘modern geopolitical imaginary’ that is purely a marker of sovereign political authority and jurisdiction.

How correct would it be to say that ‘walls drive history’ instead of ‘technology drives history’ in which the technology drives the societal evolutionary progress? Do walls just remain or get deeply laid in the existence of the surrounding people? Walls function in a manner that is contradictory i.e. divide/connect, shield/constrain, include/exclude etc. and contributed to the territorial instinct of the mankind with the primitive man learning to utter ‘this is mine.’ In the book ‘Walls, Borders, Boundaries: Spatial and Cultural Practices in Europe’, Silberman et. al. argue that construction of walls, borders and boundaries takes place as walls fall after being built, borders shift after being fortified, boundaries are transgressed only after being demarcated. Now, the question lies whether these walls really act as a mean of conflict resolution or help the political problems to get intensified? Silberman et. al. comes to rescue by asserting that recently erected walls and borders intended to cleave communities or protect political and economic boundaries between neighbouring countries rarely solve the underlying political problems and the result is an increased amount of criminal activity, violence and alienation.

Now, what can never be denied is: longer the walls survive and remain, more social differences can be observed by both sides of the wall. Forget all the nation-state walls and borders for a second and think about the visible/invisible wall between the net neutrality activists and those who are willing to use differential pricing as an effective marketing tool. With Facebook standing at the centrepiece of this debate, what needs to be encountered is: what would be the scenario Facebook could empower (as it claims to do) lives of 241 million users in India as opposed to what is the scenario that India will face in next few years with the visionary ‘Digital India’ mission willing to make provisions for public access to the internet via multi-service centres for the people? It is needless to say that the grand scheme of public access to the internet comes at the cost of a system of control over-watching while individuals are being gratified.

While the internet could have given birth to a space free from physical restriction of borders and bodies, we appear to be inept enough to let the boundary-based differentiation and co-constitutive social relations go. The abstract yet linear political boundaries have become the container of the modern attempts to monitor with the help of cutting-edge technologies like bio-data based checking, drones, geographic information systems and so on.

In the year 2013, one of my friends from Pakistan had to go through a special physical checking procedure at the immigration while entering the US while I enjoyed the perks of the global strategic partnership between India and USA. So, the wall remains not only in its physical appearance but also through its modernist attempt to maintain and reinforce the division based on which it was created once upon a time.


Sudipto Paul
Sudipto is an editor at The Dehradun Street. He studied Journalism and Mass Communication at Seth Anandaram Jaipuria College. His interests focuses on postmodernism and politics.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *