Gated Communities of One

March 10, 2011


Michael Sorkin, in his article ‘Up Against the Wall’, describes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one “played out in spatial terms”. The Israeli government, as a means of protecting its citizens, has constructed a physical wall which demarcates and separates the Palestinian border.  This wall acts as a very literal definition of nationality, a definition based on exclusion. Sorkin discusses the “dispersal of the body politic into bodies politic”, marking  the “transition from geopolitics to bio-politics”. That is the change from ideas of nation state based on the physical to one more ephemerally based on the individual (an extreme example of this is the city of Baarle-Hertog, Belgium, where traditional notions of borders and nationality are dissipated (from Geoff Manaugh, bldgblog.blogspot.com)). These “gated communities of one”, most evident when an Israeli enters Palestinian space yet is governed only by Israeli law, begin to show the internalisation of the physical wall into the personal.  What is also evident is that through the building of the wall the Israeli government is forcing this internalised ‘bio-politic’ on the Palestinian people.

The border town of Baarle Hertog

Kim Dovey in his book Framing Places categorises ‘power over’ into varying categories. The most overt and basic form of ‘power over’ is described as force, which “strips the subject of any choice of non-compliance”. Examples of force, which the wall fundamentally is, “prevent action more easily than it can create it”. In this way the Wall negates action, so limits a solution.

The wall not only creates a barrier for the Palestinians but is an overt demonstration of this power, and as Sorkin states “the wall is designed to both contain and demean the Palestinians”. The Wall very heavy-handedly (and unsuccessfully) aims to use the ‘seduction method’ (Kim Dovey)– by “shaping their perceptions, cognitions and preferences is such a way that they accept their role in the existing order of things, either because they can see or imagine no alternative to it” (Lukes, Power a Radical View 1974, from Dovey). This amounts to an obvious abuse of authority, where power is ultimately undermined by the individual. This can be seen physically in the illegitimate excavation of small trade tunnels underneath the wall between the two nations, effectively demeaning the overt power signifier (Nancy Updike, Bridge and Tunnel, This American Life episode 407).

Tilted Arc - Federal Plaza, New York City, 1981

In contemporary urban environments such explicit built forms of force are met with fierce public opposition, such as the protests against Richard Serra’s installation Tilted Arc in Federal Plaza, New York.

– Tim Brooks

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