Walls: Enclosure and Ethics in the Modern Landscape

Thomas Oles

Research output: Book/ReportBook


Stone walls, concrete walls, chain-link walls, border walls: we live in a world of walls. Walls mark sacred space and embody earthly power. They maintain peace and cause war. They enforce separation and create unity. They express identity and build community. Yard to nation, city to self, walls define and dissect our lives. It is time to broaden our ideas of what they can—and must—do.

In Walls, I explore how our minds and our politics are shaped by–and shape–our divisions in the landscape. Tracing the rich array of practices and meanings connected to the making and marking of boundaries across history and prehistory, I describe how these practices have declined in recent centuries. The consequence, I argue, is all around us in the contemporary landscape, which is riven by walls that are both shoddy in material and mean in spirit. Yet even today, I attempt to demonstrate, every wall remains potentially an opening, a stage, that critical place in the landscape where people present themselves and define their obligations to one another. The epilogue, brings to life a society of productive, intentional, and ethical enclosure—one I hope will leave readers more sanguine about the divided landscapes of the future.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationChicago
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
Number of pages234
ISBN (Electronic)9780226199382
ISBN (Print)9780226199245
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2015


  • Environmental History
  • Cultural and Historical Geography
  • Culture Studies
  • Ethics


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