Fences, Walls and Borders: State of Insecurity?

International conference organized by the Raoul Dandurand Chair at the University of Quebec at Montreal in association with the Association for Borderlands Studies

To be held during the 3rd week of May 2011. Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Call for Papers (papers can be submitted in both French and English)

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the question still remains “Do good fences still make good neighbours”? Since the Great Wall of China, construction of which began under the Qin dynasty, the Antonine Wall, built in Scotland to support Hadrian's Wall, the Roman "Limes" or the Danevirk fence, the "wall" has been a constant in the protection of defined entities claiming sovereignty, East and West. But is the wall more than an historical relict for the management of borders? In recent years the wall has been given renewed vigour in North America, particularly along the U.S.-Mexico border, and in Israel, where the old Green line has been transformed into a wall separating Arab from Israeli. But the success of these new walls in the development of friendly and orderly relations between nations (or indeed, within nations) remains unclear. What role does the wall play in the development of security and insecurity? Do walls contribute to a sense of insecurity as much as they assuage fears and create a sense of security for those ‘behind the line’? Exactly what kind of security is associated with border walls?

  • Organizers

Charles-Philippe David, Raoul-Dandurand Chair and Full Professor of Political Science, UQAM

Élisabeth Vallet, Adjunct Professor, Department of Geography and Research director of Geopolitics at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair UQAM

Heather Nicol, Professor of Geography, Trent University, President (2011-2012), Association for Borderlands Studies

  • Main Theme

In the 1990s, when the talk was of globalization and peace dividends, walls, as such, seemed to be becoming redundant. Analysts observed the declining importance of the border and its growing irrelevance; indeed, some foresaw its disappearance and the advent of a borderless world. The globalization literature posited a growing challenge to the state-centred world order which would wipe away the perimeters of the state. Borders were believed to be artefacts of an old, and rapidly disappearing world order, and would surely be seen as such by states and state governments.

Nevertheless, some 26,000 kilometres of new political borders have been established since 1991 and states have declared their intention to dig in behind fences, barriers and built structures. Increasingly, these built structures include the means for forestalling and even refusing entry to migrants and goods. The post-Cold War and post-9/11 periods have seen the rise of border walls, symbols of separation which seemed to be on the way out in the wake of decolonization, and were believed to be entirely finished and done with after the fall of the Berlin Wall, a symbol for the end of the Cold War. While some saw in this “the end of history” or even “the end of geography”, the truth is that no such borderless world materialized.

The fall of the Berlin Wall did not mean the end of security arrangements, and security infrastructures like fortified borders, even in a highly globalized world. Instead it signalled the beginning of a new era of security arrangements focusing on borders and borderlines. Indeed, some twenty years after the fall of the Berlin wall, this conference proposes to raise the issue and to analyze the factors that have led to the resurgence of the fences and walls in a borderless world, if not in fact at least in discourse. Its goal is to conduct a broad analysis of the role, functions of border fences and walls in the 21st century, and the relationship between new security agendas and new forms of border management and practice. It will focus on both inter-state and inter-national walls. Clearly, infra-national walls are also becoming more common, but they cannot be classified in the same category, for they differ in purpose, applicable law, and political function.

The conference also intends to explore the issue of how the return of the border fences and walls as a political tool may be symptomatic of a new era in international relations. Hence, we favour a multidisciplinary approach to problems that could include the recurrence and/or decline of the wall in International Relations; wall discourses, legal approaches to the wall; the “ wall industry”, bypath strategies and “No man's lands”; and  the sociology of border walls and borderlands, as well as their symbolism, their role, objectives and efficiency. In context of developing these themes, the aim of the conference is also to examine case studies that shed light on both the systemic factors explaining the building of border fences and walls and the necessity to consider specific factors pertaining to each walls. Graduate students are especially invited to submit paper proposal.

  • Other Themes

Theme 1. Border fences and border walls in International Relations: Return or decline?

Globalizing discourse and the return of borders Global hypothesis on the return of the wall in International Relations

Case studies on the return of the wall in International Relations

Theme 2. Border fences, walls and identities

Construction of national and local identities

Theoretical limology, walls and epistemology

Anthropological approaches to border walls and fences

Sociology of the walls/fences and their borderlands

Theme 3. Legal aspects of the walls

Separation and legitimation

Border walls: failure or success?

International, national and local

Legal aspects: Human rights and the wall, norms and the wall

Theme 4. Impacts of the walls

Economical impacts

Bypass strategies

Social and environmental impacts

Security industry and building border fences & walls

Deadline for abstract submission: October 15th, 2010

Proposal: please include the following information (300 words)

Name of authors/contributors

Institutional affiliations, titles

Contact: telephone, fax, email, mailing address

Title of the paper

Abstract: Subject, empirical frame, analytical approach, theme

Languages: Proposals can be submitted in French and English.

Send your proposals via email in Word format to Élisabeth Vallet at UQAM


Conference Dates and Deadlines:


October 15th 2010 : deadline for submitting abstracts and proposals

December 2010 : proposals selection and notification sent to presenters

March, 15th 2011 : submission of papers to discussants

May 16-20th 2011: Conference to be held in Montreal