Fortress architecture and the politics of spatial control

Derek Denman


My current research examines fortifications along national borders and in urban spaces. Fortresses evoke images of massive defensive structures, offering security through their immobility. Their walls are intended to mark clear divisions between military and civilian life and between rulers and ruled. Contemporary political life accentuates the problems with this classical image of the fortress. While walls and bunkers continue to exist, and even proliferate in response to contemporary reconfigurations of sovereignty, the fortress has moved into new diffuse and mobile forms, including mass surveillance, data collection, “defensive architecture,” and police-owned armored personnel carriers. These “defensive” structures increasingly serve as offensive weapons in campaigns to transform borders and cities into spaces of surveillance, violence, and control.

This project asks how the present proliferation of fortifications in new domains poses challenges to democratic society and social justice. How do these new political spaces and diffuse security apparatuses blur distinctions between foreign/domestic, military/police, public/private, and war/peace? Drawing on voices within political theory, architectural theory, and urban studies, the project develops a genealogy of fortification in order to illuminate the ethical challenges and political transformations posed by these contemporary fortresses.

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