Accepted Paper:

The fenced empire: the technology of fencing and the making of imperial space  


Giorgio Miescher (University of Basel)

Paper short abstract:

The paper aims at synthesising the history of fencing in Southern Africa. It argues that the various technologies and practices of fencing since the late 19th century contributed to the making of a specific imperial space marked by large-scale fencing, the logics of military, police and settler besiegement.

Paper long abstract:

Fences played a particular and important role in South African and Namibian history. The advent of industrially produced wire enabled large scale fencing and stood at the beginning of a distinctive transformation of the South Africa landscape since the late 19th century. Starting in the Eastern Cape comprehensive fencing, i.e. the systematic fencing of farm boundaries, gradually spread to the West and North until South Africa's 'white' farming area became a uninterrupted grid of fenced-in settler farms stretching from the Cape up to central Namibia. The technology of fencing was not limited to the agricultural sector alone in South Africa. Fencing also has a long tradition of explicit military and police control with, for instance, large scale fencing of borders, fencing along railway lines and fencing in urban areas. South Africa, one might argue, has a specific history and tradition of fencing resulting in a particular spatial practice and experience that characterises its imperial space. So far this history has mainly been discussed in a series of different case studies each of which focused on particular applications and practices of fencing. By drawing from these cases studies the paper aims towards synthesising the dynamics of fencing from the late 19th century to the collapse of apartheid rule.

Panel P141
Lines of Control - Lines of Desire: Towards an Integrated History of Fencing in Southern Africa