Exclusion and Enclosure as Strategies in and against the Margin and Marginalized

We live in a time of physical exclusions and enclosures.

Exclusion is epitomized by the construction of walls or the use of natural barriers such as water to create barriers to migrants. These concretize and actualize the borders of jurisdictions. Centres still attract those with aspirations to situate themselves within and benefit from the cultural, political and economic power centralized in capitals, imperial centres and the core regions of global economies. However, centres are more often than not now unwelcoming to migrants, refugees and the displaced. As polities, centres of all forms always embody a dilemma. As local political-economic communities, centres wish to consolidate their identify against continuous change and development brought by newly arrived residents, everyday cultures, religions and languages. However, centres also both depend on political economic exploitation of their peripheries and hinterlands, as well as relying on their legitimacy as centres to maintain this unequal geography. When centres stop acknowledging their role as cultural and political centres in relation to margins, but become isolated islands, they fall back on force and artificial means to maintain their economic status. Such a process may well be unfolding today in the case of Europe and the United States where walls and militarized borders testify simultaneously to their desirable status for migrants converging there and illustrate these States’ inability to continue to function as viable centres coordinated with margins. Centres without margins are isolated nodes, islands with a comparatively weak network of sustaining resources.

Enclosures are a physical, that is material, strategy to divide and segregate populations. As prisons, re-education centres, forced labour camps, These are generally exercised in peripheral areas and against marginalized populations. However, they also generally make their way from the periphery to the centre as institutions that seek to expand their power by offering a panacea to stressed rulers. They are an institutional form of genocide when it seeks to reform, transform or break minority cultures. By segregating dissident, unreliable or distrusted populations who are often minorities or those deemed improper citizens they remove portions of ineligible and delegitimized groups into segregation by criminalizing them. This policy on the part of governing powers empowers police and other local State powers on the ground to arrest and remove people.

Generalized inequality is defined as a condition of passively accepted inequality and inequity. From a legal history and theory perspective, Giorgio Agamben has written influentially about Homo sacer, citizens excluded, marginalized and condemned by a Sovereign or government as a demonstration of their power to ordain or revoke the rights of citizens without regard to their interests. This applies in particular to containment and quarantine, but also in a global or regional relation of centre and margin to the externalized periphery. The margin is considered not as an edge but an outside. The resurgence of fascination with the power of absolute rulers rather than the dignity of people is indicative of the acceptance of a generalized inequality as status quo. The opposite would be a championing of rights to inclusion, such as Lefebvre’s ‘Right to the City’ for citizens.

This is a strategy currently practised in a variety of forms everywhere defined portions of populations are imprisoned or enclosed. It is a policy proposed, for example, in 2020 India for Muslims whose citizenship has been revoked. It is a practice implemented in Xinjiang in an effort to change an entire culture and in the form of forced labour squads. Enclosure is tied to identities, such as race, ethnic, linguistic or religious. They aim for assimilation of entire groups by creating disincentives to remaining separate and identifiable as the targeted group. This includes have intolerable conditions in enclosures, leaving populations to neglect and decline or through direction in the form of education or physical punishment.

This is true regardless of wether or not the enclosures are rationalized as offering a retreat for cultural survival. This could be seen in the Bantustan policies of late twentieth century South Africa which drew on and rationalized a nineteenth century colonial strategy of enclosing North American Indigenous people in reserves. These areas were economically unviable and did not have habitats could not provide subsistence means for their populations. Key species necessary for both human and Indigenous cultural survival such as the buffalo were hunted to extinction. In all cases, the means for economic survival are systematically undermined or removed. This could therefore be considered to be one aspect of the enclosure of Palestine as a strategy of subjugation and eventual annexation.

Immobility is a key attribute and privilege that is lost in these situations. Like containment, exclusion also turns on the restriction of mobility, keeping those on a declared outside, out. It is the negation or flipside of containment and the opposite of quarantine, both of which restrict mobility of internal portions of a place, keeping the inside in place while making it an other. However immobilization is a mark of all of these conditions in both insides and outsides, centres and margins.

Rob Shields (University of Alberta)