Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
American Ethnological Society
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Walls have been consistently shown to symbolize closure, conflict and division. While the Berlin Wall symbolized the conflict between “communism” and “capitalism,” the recent explosion of border walls around the world – there are now 70 worldwide, compared to 15 in 1990 – have symbolized and enacted new forms of division, based on right-wing, xenophobic nationalist populisms. While these analyses have a lot to offer, in this paper, I take a different approach; rather than focus on symbolism, I argue that hatred is built into the very materialityof walls – into their so-called bricks and mortar, and that attending to materiality can give us deeper insight into their affective dimensions. To this end, I look at the history, structure, design and technology of border walls, with a focus on the US-Mexico wall, guided by the argument that artifacts always have a politics, and that technology is not separate from moral and political questions. I will discuss both the use of transnational and cross-species wall technologies, in order to explore the forms of political hate and dehumanization they import.