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walls and anxiety in political discourse « Previous | |Next »
June 3, 2011

In this interview at Broken Lines Wendy Brown is asked to say a few words about j walls and anxiety, or just anxiety in a broader picture, of how you think anxiety plays a role in shaping contemporary political discourse. Brown's response is this:

I am so aware of how much anxiety is a feature of everyday discourse in the US when people are just describing their personal state. One of the things I’ve been trying to think about – it is not quite related to the walls question but we will go back to that – is whether the sheer level of anxiety in human beings has been increasing in ways that are commensurate with the loss of certain kinds of boundaries, the denigration of defining features of communities, all that we associate with globalization. I think the answer is probably yes, and I hope somebody will do a study on this: historicizing anxiety and thinking about the history of the human subject in terms of a more anxious subject today than ever before. There are lots of reasons that students, for example, are anxious in ways that I don’t remember being anxious as a college student. There are concerns about performance and job markets, but I am really talking about a world of anxiety that is quite disseminated and quite general and does not simply pertain to the high ambition end of the American middle class.

On the subject of walling she says:
I think that part of what walls are doing is addressing a very understandable anxiety about the loss of bounded political entities. I talk about that at length in the work on walls in terms of a decline of state sovereignty but I also would talk about it in terms of the decline of a sense of place that the nation, among other things, has provided for these last several hundred years. Globalization is tearing at that. It is tearing at it in the sense of both leaving people without a sense of what the nation is as it becomes ever more heterogeneous, as immigration transforms the literal population and culture of the nation. But it also is a decline in the sense of the nation as something that one has membership in and belongs to in a way that is significant in comparison with the sense of being part of a planet or a globe.

She introduces place and says that human beings need a sense of place – to put it really simplistically – that is increasingly hard to find today.

The reason for this is not only because of intense mobility, but because of the loss of a sense of the containing dimensions of a nation.

I think walls very much address that; in a fantasmatic way they produce the image of a bounded, settled jurisdiction and of a we. They produce a we and they produce a they that is hardly real, and hardly significant at a demographic level but is very significant at the level of political imaginary. My answer to your question is yes, a lot of anxiety about not having that we can be addressed by building a wall and saying: this is us, this is who we are. I also think it can work to produce a purified, idealized sense of the nation. This is an old we; this is a white we in the case of Europe or the US; this is a we that has at its door an other that endangers it sense of identity.

This helps us to make sense of the anxiety around asylum seekers and immigration in Australia. It is the anxiety of a white confronted by the nonwhite other at its door.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:17 PM |