Introduction: l'enclave - Nathalie JAECK

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Borrowed from geography, the concept of the Enclave testifies to the current stimulating cross-fertilization of literature and geography in social sciences and presents itself as another instance of the very productive spatial metaphors that have irrigated post-structuralist so-called “French theory” and that have led to a crucial reassessment of the notion of space. It presents itself as a potentially original variation on Deleuze’s and Guattari’s “territories,” Foucault’s “heterotopias” and “emplacements,” and of course François Lyotard’s own use of the concept of the enclave in his study on “Le différend.” It stands as a potential new angle on the idea that places are not so much natural as constructed, that history, identities and politics are sources of differences that generate shifting social territories, and that the enclave could be a specific instance of that process.

To start with the definition then: an enclave is “a distinct territorial, cultural, or social unit enclosed within or as if within foreign territory” (Merriam Webster 63) and to borrow a more specific definition from a reference dictionary of geography, Les Mots de la géographie. Dictionnaire critique: “Territoire entièrement situé à l’intérieur d’un autre, sans lien direct avec l’unité principale ; contient l’idée de clé, de fermeture” (89). The definition and the etymology, in clavatus, clavatus being key, lock in Latin, highlight three important elements.

First, an enclave is basically a solution of continuity, the spatial materialisation of a difference, a heterogeneous disjunction within an organism–a distinct territory indeed, separated from the embedding unit, and with a distinct identity.

Second, an enclave is enclosed, hemmed in–it thus crucially raises the question of seclusion and inaccessibility, a double question since a border is a two-way issue: it may be difficult, or virtually impossible to get in an enclave; it may also be difficult, or virtually impossible to get out of an enclave–it may also be equally difficult to get in and out of it.

Third, the definition addresses the delicate question of hierarchy between the embedding and the embedded places, and seems to solve the case a little bit hastily: an enclave would be only second to what the definition calls “the principal unit,” and this point seems to raise controversy.

Indeed, as one tries to outline the notion, it emerges that enclaves are crucially places of ambivalence, and the idea can be developed in three ways. As separated, enclaves can be places of relegation or/and places of election; as disconnected, enclaves can be negative underdeveloped places and/or positive undetected places; and finally as anachronistic, enclaves can be archives of times past or emergences of times to come, ambivalent “archaeologies of the future” to quote from Jameson’s title.

First then, enclaves can either be places of relegation or places of election, either exclusive strongholds or excluded ghettos.

Many emblematic historical enclaves illustrate the point: while the Enclave of West Berlin within East Berlin worked from 1945 to 1990 as an inaccessible, off-limits stronghold, fortified by a wall, Harlem was initially meant as a disqualified ghetto, as a place of relegation and surveillance, as what Wacquant called “an instrument of confinement and control” (Wacquant 7), [1] aiming at severing elements that were deemed undesirable, inferior or soiled by the rest of the population to avoid a supposed corruption. Though there was no actual wall, Harlem was “hermetically separated by an impassable gate made of usage, legal pressure, economic discrimination (by estate agents, banks and the State), and by the violence of beatings, punitive arsons and riots that would push back out the Afro-Americans who dared adventure themselves beyond the racial demarcation line” (Wacquant 11, my translation).[2] This is also true of recent urban organisations of space in inner cities, where gated communities and no-go zones materialize the two different sorts of enclaves, fractioning and fragmenting the common public space of the city into a collection of proliferating opposite appropriated enclaves. Gated communities gain ground basically everywhere (over a thousand in Britain alone today): they are walled or fenced housing developments to which public access is restricted and they are often guarded to ensure that there is going to be no undesirable trespassing. “Enclaving” there is voluntary, selective and elective, and it is meant to separate bourgeois families from what they perceive to be the chaos, dirt and dangers of the city. Similarly, so-called no-go zones also tend to develop, and to confine and segregate deprived, usually ethnic, minorities into rundown areas of the city. Both types of enclaves radicalize and refuse difference, and are the spatial manifestations of active processes of “othering,” of the idea that otherness must necessarily be excluded, set apart.

The thing is that places of relegation might tend to become places of election, paradoxical instruments of integration and protection: forced marginalization often backfires and results in reinforced community links, cultural cohesion, a stronger sense of identity and belonging, and even some degree of autonomy–in this respect, the emblematic case of Prague’s Judenstadt, the biggest ghetto in Europe in the 18th century is a case in point. As the Jews were relegated to assigned districts, and as deprivation and deterioration increased, they developed powerful autonomous instruments of resistance and empowerment. As Loïc Wacquant develops: “The Judenstadt had its own townhouse, the Rathaus, that emblematized the relative autonomy and the community force of its inhabitants, and its synagogues were in charge not only of spiritual guidance but also of the administrative and judicial management of its people[3] (Wacquant 8, my translation).

For political power, assigning allotted space to stigmatized populations in order to consign and control them better might thus prove a dangerous move. The radical enclave of the University of Vincennes, created in France in the aftermath of May 1968, is a case in point. Conceded as an experimental concentration of intellectual Revolutionarism, set in the middle of the Vincennes Woods, and typically next to a military firing range, it celebrated its existence with the spectacular hiring of Foucault as head of the philosophy department, and drained the institution of some of its most emblematic figures, Deleuze, Lyotard, François Châtelet; it soon threatened to trespass upon the main institution, as it claimed autonomy from normative philosophy and from the administrative constraints of the institution, delivering a kind of alternative diploma. Checked difference became open infringing disagreement, “un différend,” “a difference” indeed to quote from Lyotard’s title, that soon led the State to drastically cut funding and terminate the experiment.

Another element that signals the ambivalence of the enclave is linked to its second characteristic: its inaccessibility, its lack of connectedness. On the one hand, disconnectedness is definitely considered as a stigma to be rectified, as a mark of underdevelopment and it has been the consistent task of land-use planning in Western countries to dis-enclave isolated territories, to make all places accessible–the creation of “départements” in Napoleonic France already aimed at placing a “préfecture” within reach of every town and village in the country, within one day of horse-riding. In the web era, efforts to physically dis-enclave far-off territories have been doubled by efforts to digitally dis-enclave them and to bridge the digital divide. In such a conception, whole parts of the world may still be considered as enclaves, isolated and insulated from “progress”: in this respect, the map “Lights of the World,” designed by Craig Mayhew and Robert Simmon in 2006 for the NASA is quite telling.


It shows the exact coincidence between accessibility to electricity and the index of development as it is calculated by Western countries: Africa is typically in the dark, out of reach of electricity networks, with the few notable exceptions of richer South Africa, Senegal and a few countries on the East Coast. One can also note the difference between dark North Korea and lighted South Korea, and become aware that enclaves are geopolitical products: they are not natural areas, naturally isolated owing to their unlucky geographical situation, and accessibility is thus a strategic function of development.

Yet, another map highlights that inaccessibility is not necessarily undergone or seen as detrimental: it may also be chosen. The famous facebook map, “Visualizing friendship” coincides in many respects with the “Lights of the World” map, and some areas are similarly insulated, out of the webway: there are not many facebook accounts in Africa, they do have few friends with the rest of the world, and suffer from an obvious digital divide.

facebook world

And yet it appears that some countries have decided to remain off the facebook radar and that digital enclaves are in these cases political strongholds–China, North Korea, Russia: difference and inaccessibility are here expressions of a powerful divergence, of a declared disagreement with the major Western mode. In this respect, they are no longer lesser sequestered places (it does not seem too strong a word when one considers how difficult it is for most African citizens to get a visa to the rest of the world, Africa still being arguably the world’s superlative enclave), but rather opaque blank spaces, choosing opacity and remoteness as marks of their powerful and conflicting singularity.

This points at the fact that seclusion does have an appeal, an aura of mystery and secrecy: enclaves fuel fantasies and call for explorers; pioneers are after pristine, virgin, hitherto undetected territories and desert islands. The ambivalence is marked by the famous beginning of Heart of Darkness, where Marlow laments the fact that Africa is “not a blank space any more”: “True, by this time it was not a blank space any more. It had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mysterya white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness” (Conrad 22). Indeed, enclaves can also be fantasized as promises of effective heterotopias, as what Foucault called “des contre-emplacements” (Foucault 46), to dream gloriously over, and the literature of adventure in particular can be read as a series of quests for such yet undiscovered blanks on the map.

Finally, the third element of ambivalence concerns the fact that enclaves are what we could call doubly anachronistic spaces: they can be either vestiges of times past or anticipatory pockets of times to come, either heritages from a previous historical situation or projections into some anticipated future.

It seems that enclaves as vestiges logically tend to disappear: the dominant logic and superior interests of territorial continuity and integrity, as well as the evolutions in international power struggles owing to the end of colonisation and to the emergence of new economic powers, have gradually led enclaves to be retroceded to the embedding countries: Honk Hong and Macau respectively remained British and Portuguese as long as the power of China was weaker, but they had to be retroceded to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 and 1999; the same happened to the emblematic British and French trading-posts in Africa and India; the Vatican itself, powerful as it is, is now only a remainder of the many pontifical states that once prospered within European states. Some enclaves hold fast though, testifying to the permanence of the colonial heritage, and to their strategic political, economic, military importance: Gibraltar remains a British Overseas Territory enclaved in Spain, Mayotte remains a French enclave in the Comoros archipelago, French Guiana remains a French enclave in Amazonia, and the continuance of many such enclaves have allowed France to become the first oceanic power, endowed with the largest Exclusive Economic Zone, with special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources. Similarly, owing to Cabinda, its enclave in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola can claim some very important oil resources as part of its EEZ. Other enclaves have gained their independence both from the former colonizing power and from the host country: Singapore, an enclave within Malaysia, and Lesotho, an enclave within South Africa.

These few examples are meant to illustrate the fact that places always happen in context, and are shifting territories: enclaves are telling mobile archives of the geopolitical history of the world. They exceed the borders of current countries, and these excesses are active traces of evolution.

The general movement towards the gradual retrocession of these enclaves can be contrasted with the official allocation of land to alternative movements, or with the unauthorized appropriation or occupation of common land by such movements that express a sense of inassimilable divergence with the major mode of organization and aspire to subtract common land for private alternative experiments. There are of course some spectacular such enclaves: Freetown Christiania, a self-proclaimed, autonomous, libertarian neighbourhood in the city of Copenhagen, started as the squat of a military disaffected site in 1971 and is now regulated by a special law and some degree of transfer of supervision from the municipality of Copenhagen to the state. But there are also increasing emergences of specific enclaves in city centres: contemporary urban design seems “to favour new alternative or specialized pockets of growth and experimentation” (Shane 327), that function along alternative models of development, as David Grahame Shane’s article “Heterotopias and urban design” illustrates: these enclaves are often quite transitory, quite spontaneous though they are also often backed by political power, but they constitute temporary positive places of concentration, spaces of high efficiency and great specialisation that experiment on the possibility of future organizational models. Here in Bordeaux, one can think of the Darwin experiment, situated in a former brownfield site: the municipality allocated space to a project of sustainable development, with its own set of codes and asserted alternative preferences, opting out of the general modes of consumption and work organization.

It is not surprising that this last type of enclaves has appealed to literature, and that writers have come up with many prophetic urban enclaves. A very literal example could be the post-apocalyptic dystopia Enclave, a best-selling speculative fiction written by Ann Aguirre in 2011, situated in New York City after it has been decimated by war and plague and people have migrated to competing underground enclaves. In Archeologies of the Future, Jameson insists on the revolutionary potential of post-modern science fiction, because it “creates an imaginary enclave within real social space” (Jameson 15), which entails a project of reimagining society, “offering a space in which new wish images of the social can be elaborated and experimented on” (Jameson 16). Being pushed back into an enclave is thus an incentive to imagine other possibilities: enclaves become essentially adventurous places, characterized by a strong sense of imminence, favouring what Jankélévitch called “the advent of the event” (Jankélévitch 828, my translation).

I would like to end with a paradoxical kind of enclave, what Alain Le Marchand called “nomadic enclaves”: he insists that they have always existed, but that they are currently developing and diversifying: squats, tents, caravans, mobile homes, circuses. They are enclaves in so far as they are often radically excluded by the societies that accommodate them but associate them with destitution, clandestine migrations, and dissident organizations of work, money and property. They are marginalized, often granted insecure urban spaces, but they continue to forcefully exist in the mobile interstices of appropriated space, as furtive enclaves of radical difference. The oxymoron of the mobile enclave might thus be proof that the most dissident relationship to space today in a world that overvalues landowning is mobility and circulation, and to borrow from Deleuze, the impulse to deterritorialise.

Works cited

Aguirre, Ann. Enclave. New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2011.

Brunet, Roger, Ferras, Robert, Théry, Hervé. Les Mots de la géographie. Dictionnaire critique. Paris: La Documentation française / RECLUS, 1992.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. London: Penguin Books, 1995 (1899).

Foucault, Michel. « Des espaces autres » (conférence au Cercle d'études architecturales, 14 mars 1967), Architecture, Mouvement, Continuité, n° 5, octobre 1984, pp. 46-49.

Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. New York: Verso, 2005.

Jankélévitch, Vladimir. L’Aventure, l’Ennui, le Sérieux, dans Philosophie morale. Paris: Flammarion, 1998 (1963).

Lyotard, François. Le différend. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1984.

Le Marchand, Arnaud. Enclaves nomades. Habitat et travail mobiles. Paris: Éditions du Croquant, coll. « Terra », 2011.

Shane, David Grahame. “Heterotopias and urban design”, in Douglas Kelbaugh, Kit McCullough, Writing Urbanism: A Design Reader. London: Routledge, 2008, pp. 237-261.

Wacquant, Loïc. « Les deux visages du ghetto. Construire un concept sociologique », Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales 2005/5 (no 160), p. 4-21.

[1] “Un instrument de fermeture et de contrôle.

[2] “Hermétiquement séparée par une clôture infranchissable faite d’usages, de pression légale, de discrimination économique (par les agents immobiliers, les banques et l’État), et par la violence qui s’exprimait par les agressions et passages à tabac, les incendies punitifs et les émeutes repoussant les Afro-Américains qui osaient s’aventurer de l’autre côté de la ligne de démarcation raciale.

[3]La Judenstadt avait même son propre Hôtel de ville, le Rathaus, emblème de l’autonomie relative et de la force communautaire de ses habitants, et ses synagogues étaient chargées non seulement de l’intendance spirituelle mais aussi de la surveillance administrative et judiciaire de sa population.