Some Research into Political Walls and Discrimination

To explore the themes of my project, I’ve been busy exploring the dynamics, reasons of existence and defining aspects of firstly political walls, in the very literal sense, and secondly discrimination, racial or otherwise.

There’s plenty of academic research on both subjects, touching on politicological, sociological, psychological and philosophical interpetations. I won’t go into a lot of length, but I’ll just link the sources and take out the interesting quotes and my conclusions of them.
PDF about an exhibition about political walls in de Red Cross/Crescent Museum in Geneva, by Frank Neisse and Alexandra Novosseloff.


Alexandra Novosseloff wrote the book Walls Between People. In the PDF there’s some interesting analyses of different political walls.

In short the following reasons why political walls are built:

-To prohibit the movement of organised crime. For example, the US-Mexico Border. The US government expresses the importance of a highly defended border as part of their War on Drugs, hoping to stop the import of drugs and movement of MExican drug cartels into the US.

-As a result of Ideological and Religious conflict. Through apparently irreconcilable ideas, conflict arises, and walls are built to protect either side. Or, to pacify that conflict. Ideologically speaking, we can take North/South Korea as an example. The tension between totalitarian socialism and capitalist democracy sparked a brutal war, which ended on a stalemate with the demilitarised zone between both countries. Religiously speaking, we can look at the Peace Walls in Northern Ireland between Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods.

-To prevent economic migration, or immigration. The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in Morocco are a good example of this (including the US-Mexico border and other heavily regulated borders into the EU). The enclaves have high, almost impassable fences, which aim to prevent sub-saharan and other African immigrants from attempting to enter the EU. These immigrants are fleeing dire economic situations in the hope for better opportunities in the West.

-To combat terrorism and other forms of irregular war. The Berm, a long wall of sand banks, mines, fences and artillery, stretches along the border of Morocco in the Saharan Desert, in order to protect against incursion by the Polisario Front, a Sahrawi guerilla independence army.

-To preserve increasing precarity of vital and valuable resources. Most examples of walls have this reason, though it’s not often implicit. A list:

-Kashmir: water
-Palestine: water
-Western Sahara: coastline, tourism, land
-Mexico: cheap labour
-Cyprus: land, water, tourism
-South Korea: economy

Some interesting quotes from Saskia Sassen:

Using the case of walled borders, Brown shows that the walls of our present modernity are to be distinguished from those of the twentieth century. One critical difference is that they are not built as fortresses against other sovereigns, but against nonstate transnational actors—individuals, organizations, industries, movements, groups. She finds that these are rarely state-incited border crossers, and in this regard they are not linked to Westphalian logics.

Brown writes of walls as a part of an ad hoc global landscape of flows and barriers both inside nation-states and in the larger constellation. They divide rich parts of the globe from the poorer ones. In addition to this, I see a transversal pattern as well: the formation and strengthening of new types of geographies of centrality that cut across the ongoing divide between global south and global north. Brown brilliantly sees how states resorting to policing and blockading signal a “blurring between the inside and the outside of the nation-state, and not only between criminals inside the nation-state and enemies outside.”

(Referencing Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, Wendy Brown)

So, according to Sassen and Brown, political borders and walls are much less rigidly defined limits to a nation-state’s power, they’re not fortresses to defend against other nation-states, and more pervasive internationally, serving to instead to hinder non-state activities over its borders, and within its borders too.
Also, it’s worthy to note the pattern Sassen and Brown mention of the division between the world’s north and south.
The threats perceived by the state regarding immigration are both internal and external. It’s hard to compare modern border policing and anti-immigration with, for example, the walls of Rome stemming the Visigoth migrations, something wholly external to the Ancient Romans. Modern anti-immigration policy revolves not only about keeping the “unwanted” out, but also about controlling and deporting the “unwanted” who are already inside.


And a conclusion by Sassen which I found interesting:

Citizens are losing rights, as are legal immigrants, and irregular immigrants are subject to increasingly acute exploitation. Yes, there are sharp differentiations in life chances and privileges among these diverse groups, but most of them are facing variable degrees of impoverishment and loss of entitlements. This structural approximation coexists with heightened nationalisms and virulent antiimmigrant sentiment. The tragic effect is to obscure the fact that the source of this impoverishment and losses is a larger political economy, which has also hurt immigrants, both legal and not. We will not solve the immigration question if we do not address these larger losses.


” The temptation of a wall is nothing new. Every time that a culture or a civilisation does not manage to consider the other, to consider itself as with the other, to consider the other within itself, these rigid barriers of stone, iron, barbed wire, electrified fences or closed ideologies are built, demolished and then return to us with new stridence. “ Quand les murs tombent, Edouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, éditions Galaade, Paris, 2007, pp. 7-8


Then, some research into discrimination.

First, a psychological enquiry into the reasons why people discriminate, by Psychology Today

According to them, the motives behind racism include:

Self Esteem; bringing others down to feel better about yourself, basically.

Common Distinctiveness; the human nature of wanting to belong to a group which shares something in common with you, often causing you to find other groups, especially groups perceived as an opposite to yours, inferior.

Certainty and Structure; that people who find routine, structure and clearly defined boundaries and labels important, are more likely to be adverse to difference.

Survival; that when resources are scarce or perceived as such, people tend to want to protect their “own kind” first and foremost, driving to compete with other groups seeking the same resources.

Dominance; asserting that humans are hierarchally organised creatures, enacting dominance over a certain group, especially if they are in the minority or have less power, upholds and strengthens existing privileges and status.


A fairly difficult to read paper into the sociological dynamics of discrimination in the economy (focused on the United States) by Devah Pager and Hana Shepard.

The causes can be summarised as follows:

Discrimination on an internalised level, for example individual psychological reasons, as exemplified above by Psychology Today.

Discrimination on a systemic, institutionalised manner, for example the laws of a state.

Discrimination on an economic and cultural level, where existing organisational structures within businesses, for example, can reinforce prejudices in employment, and social norms, values, cliches and tropes can perpetuate prejudice.



Here are a collection of articles and an interesting website by the European Greens on the topic of immigration and asylum seekers. Mostly supporting the view of more open borders and the responsibility of nation-states to help refugees as much as possible.


I have some research on more arguments on all sides of the immigration debate, but I’ll post that in a later post considering I have a presentation to make! Priorities priorities!

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