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Enclosure and Ethics in the Modern Landscape


Enclosure and Ethics in the Modern Landscape

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. And, for Thomas Oles, it is time to broaden our ideas of what they can—and must—do.
In Walls, Oles shows how our minds and our politics are shaped by–and shape–our divisions in the landscape. He traces the rich array of practices and meanings connected to the making and marking of boundaries across history and prehistory, and he describes how these practices have declined in recent centuries. The consequence, he argues, is all around us in the contemporary landscape, riven by walls shoddy in material and mean in spirit. Yet even today, Oles demonstrates, 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. In an evocative epilogue, Oles brings to life a society of productive, intentional, and ethical enclosure—one that will leave readers more hopeful about the divided landscapes of the future.

232 pages | 40 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Architecture: History of Architecture

Culture Studies

Geography: Cultural and Historical Geography

History: Environmental History

Philosophy: Ethics


Walls is a wide-ranging, cogent, and penetrating analysis of walls and boundaries. There are very few books on walls of any sort and none with this sophistication. It is a pleasure to find an interdisciplinary mind at work in the center of the discipline of landscape architecture.”

John Stilgoe | Harvard University

“This insightful book unfolds a liminal poem by Robert Frost into a penetrating study of one of the most critical landscape phenomena of our time, the wall. This is a born classic concerned with the problem presented by the wall for the political, the cultural, and the designed landscape. The idea that the wall, once recovered, can not only enclose, but also create an opening into the world is both surprising and important.”

Kenneth Olwig, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

“What would it be like to dwell in a world of walls—a world where everything of consequence goes on in, on, along and through them rather than on the inside or on the outside? In this comprehensive cultural history of walls, fences, and hedges, from the first walled settlements of prehistory to futuristic scenarios for international borders, Thomas Oles shows that though such a world may seem strange to us, it is in fact the one we have always inhabited. This book reconstructs the wall where it belongs, no longer on the edge but at the center of human lived experience, political machination, and ethical concern. Cultural historians, human geographers, and landscape architects should prepare to have their worldviews turned inside out! ”

Timothy Ingold, University of Aberdeen

“In this engrossing ethical study, landscape architect Oles ponders walls and their potential for oppression or human exchange. Drawing on rich historical examples such as Britain's economically and ecologically valuable hedgerows, Oles offers an ethics test for proposed barriers that questions whether they support commonalities or embed differences.”



First Things

Table of Contents


1 Good Fences, Bad Walls
2 What Walls Were
3 Constructions of Sovereignty
4 Recovering the Wall
5 Toward an Ethics


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