The Complexities Associated with Spaces of Domination and Reconciliation

By Cassandra Cronin

Professor Guntram Herb’s session on “Spaces of Domination and Reconciliation” pushed me to reflect on what spaces of domination and reconciliation could look like, and how seemingly “neutral” spaces can become politicized.

When talking about spaces, I find it the easiest to define them according to their physical location on a map. I can remember taking geography classes in middle and high school where teachers made the class memorize countries and their capitals. It’s much harder to analyze these places’ significance, and question why cities and countries are represented the way they are on traditional maps. I appreciated how Professor Herb explained how maps can be designed to misrepresent reality. For example, he talked about the importance of space, place, and scale, and showed examples of how regular maps fail to show how cities become isolated due to their remoteness from major highways and public transportation.

Our conversation regarding non-representational geographies, and how spaces of domination have been created through the emergence of the modern state system was fascinating. It made me think of the Italian unification process, completed only in 1871, as an example of the complexity in setting national boundaries in places where regions still carry a lot of pride for their respective cultures (for instance, the clash of identities between Northern and Southern Italians). When Italy finally unified, there still was a lot of tension and violence occurring between the new central government and Sicilians. Sicilians did not identify with the new national identity, and instead wanted to maintain their own political, economic, and cultural autonomy. They attempted to do so by refusing to abide by the harsh new regime and their crushing taxes which disproportionately disadvantaged southerners. The subsequent criminalization and violent crackdown of Sicilians, instead of alleviating the situation through economic reforms to revamp the island’s agrarian economy, fostered rebellion, lawlessness, and, in the end, criminal organizations (the mafia). Long story short, the Italian government’s initial failure to properly integrate Sicilians into the fabric of the new Italian nation was the major catalysts for one of the most infamous organized crime phenomena in history.

The idea of spaces as dynamic products of social relations where people’s various identities intervene is also relevant to what we learned about gangs. Perhaps we should be thinking about how gangs interact with spaces. For example, Kelly McMillin discussed how gangs mark their territory using symbols to control an area, carry out their illicit activities without interruption or competition, and guarantee the safety of the community and fellow gang members. During our prison visits, guards talked about how common spaces in prisons (tables or places on the yard) can also be marked as territory. In this case, gangs might create spaces of domination that are informed by their gang’s respective norms as a survival tactic and method of control.

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