“The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, “Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality).
Fabio Spink and Dóra Medveczky explore how fences and walls have shaped social coexistence and inequality. While in the Middle Ages the common law was still predominant, which meant that the usable land belonged to a village and could be used by all as common property, in the early modern age there was a so-called enclosure movement, i.e. the creation of enclosed land areas. The access to land that had provided wood and food for generations was impossible and land became a commodity. Fences, however, also signify territorial borders, migration, and transnational refugee movements. Standing in front of the fence, it is hardly possible to get through. Inside or outside? Belonging or being excluded? This is an experience that people who are fleeing make again and again.
Economic globalization goes hand in hand with territorial demarcation. But what does the concept of space and territory for our democratic societies? When fences suddenly determine politics? Through a hole in the fence we finally get inside. Are we arrived at last, or trapped after all?
Text: Alexandra Viehhauser
Photos: Dóra Medveczky and Fabio Spink