Walled landscapes: legal discourse and the construction of physical partitions

Marie-Eve Loiselle

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Using the U.S.-Mexico border as a case study, Marie-Eve explores the role of the law in the emergence of border walls from a socio-legal lens. She analyzes two episodes of wall-building in American history: the first surrounding the adoption of the Act of August 19, 1935, and the second the adoption of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, both authorizing the erection of a fence at the U.S.-Mexico border. She investigates how legislative debates and legal texts authorizing the erection of walls represented the Mexican neighbor. Then, she considers how the walled border landscape, a constructed space, operates to transmit legal knowledge about the border and national identities.

What emerges from this inquiry is that state law and associated legal processes have provided sites for the deployment of oral and textual narratives contributing to constructing the Mexican neighbor as an inferior and often threatening ‘other’ in opposition to an idealized self-defined American identity. She observes that people’s aesthetic encounter with the walled landscape, mediated by the symbol of the wall and the physical experience of the space, translates the narrative of difference, fear, and exclusion found in state law into material form. She argues that the walled landscape constitutes a legal discourse with normative power that forms an integral part of the law that governs the U.S.-Mexico borderland.

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