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Walls, Lines, and Boundaries: Dividing Cultural Identities in Post-colonial Communities

Heritage Changes the Local Societies
Regular session
11:00, Monday 6 Jun 2016 (1 hour 30 minutes)

The session addresses the role of physical walls and boundaries in the construction of separate cultural identities. It is often said that “fences make good neighbors,” but walls and fences also serve to create physical boundaries that both divide communities and leave behind a heritage of new and divergent identities.

Two of the papers in this session (Donnan and Laurents) address the impact of the so-called “Peace Walls” erected in multiple Belfast neighborhoods after 1969. Though built to maintain security and limit violence in communities torn apart by the Northern Irish “troubles,” the ironically named "Peace Walls" have served to only reinforce and deepen sectarian divisions generated by centuries of British imperialism. The violent conflict of earlier decades has given way to the relatively peaceful co-existence of recent years, but Belfast is now a deeply divided city where the two communities are not only physically isolated, but each has its own divergent narrative of the recent conflict, and its own antagonistic identity and cultural heritage.

The third paper (Providence) looks at the construction of modern cultural identities among African and East Indian groups in Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname. The Caribbean offers a perfect illustration of how colonialism jumbled established geographical, cultural, and ethnic identities by transporting and forcibly blending different ethnic groups from different parts of the world, whose descendants are then faced with the task of establishing new collective identities within the new geographical boundaries and cultural contexts. The paper contrasts the utility of Benedict Anderson's concept of the nation as an “imagined community” with Stuart Hall's analysis of diasporic identity in terms of ethnic affiliations.

University of Maryland Baltimore County, Department of History
Associate Professor

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