Why, just two decades after international celebrations of the fall of the Berlin Wall, are so many nation-states building elaborate walls at or near their borders? Why walls now, given growing global connectedness and given the general imperviousness of late modern powers — from capital to religion to terror — to physical blockading? How do walls shore up an imago of sovereign statehood and to what extent do they fortify reactionary national imaginaries?
What do the new walls perform symbolically, materially, psychically?
In Walled States, Waning Sovereignty, Wendy Brown reflects on the proliferation of nation-state walls in a time of eroded nation-state sovereignty and intensifying transnational powers unleashed by globalization. A leading theorist of neoliberalism, Brown argues that although the new walls may demarcate existent or aspirational nation-state boundaries, they do not arise as fortresses against invading national armies or even as articulations of sovereign statehood. Rather, in a post-Westphalian context of increasing nonstate transnational actors and powers, the new walls consecrate the very boundary corruption they would contest as well as signify the contemporary limitations of national and global governance by law or political dictate. Even as walls theatrically display nation-state sovereignty, they index with equal force the decline of sovereign state power.
In a rare combination of powerful theory and precise historical, political, and economic analysis, Walled States, Waning Sovereignty provides a new —
indeed the first — account of nation-state walling as a distinctive contemporary phenomenon. For Brown, the frenzy of wall building today reveals crucial predicaments of political power and desire emerging from the waning of sovereignty, including new political legitimacy deficits, new citizen anxieties, and new fusions of state and non-state violence.
“The actual function of the new walls, Brown convincingly argues, is theatrical, as they project ‘power and efficaciousness that they do not and cannot actually exercise.’ In fact, these new walls are contradictions. Walling proliferates in conjunction with the expansion of global capital and neoliberal political order, which in turn erodes nation-state sovereignty at an exponential pace.”
—Environments and Planning D: Society and Space