Dissertation Defense: Gabriella Soto


Oct 10 2017 - 1:00pm

Gabriella Soto

October 10, 2017
1:00 pm
Arizona State Museum, Room 309

Title: The Border Enforcement “Funnel Effect”: A Material Culture Approach to Border Security on the Arizona-Sonora Border, 2000-Present

Abstract: In 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report criticizing the U.S. Border Patrol for its lack of clear metrics to judge the efficacy of its border wall infrastructure, even as the U.S. President lobbied for more walls across the U.S. Southwest. The GAO’s 2017 report on the border wall echoed a string of such criticisms by the agency and other governmental and non-governmental sources, though they have not seemed to diminish the politically galvanizing symbolic potency of the border wall. Working within this analytical gap, this dissertation moves towards building metrics for evaluating the border wall, contextualized by the cultural role of the wall and the co-evolution of undocumented migration processes and the border security build-up post-2000. This work brings into conversation multiple primary sources of data, including government documents associated with past border wall building events, ethnographic accounts of long-terms changes in the borderlands resulting from the ongoing militarization of the border, and the geographic and temporal records associated with migrant deaths and the material culture that migrants left behind across the borderlands.
Focusing on the material evidence meant looking towards how such materiality frames the sense of momentousness associated with events at the border, as they are sure to form a dark chapter of U.S. history. I view the tons of decaying materials left behind by migrants across the Arizona desert as forms of ruins, and indictments of the political conditions that led to their formation. This view of ruins extends both literally and metaphorically, as they mark scars of abandonment and loss. Questions of memory and materiality entwine with realities of absence and a search for fragmentary traces in multiple respects. For instance, I routinely encountered locations known to have once been major clandestine travel corridors for migration completely cleared of all evidence of use. This dissertation uses a theoretical framing building on theories of informal politics, sovereignty, terrain, ruins, and those associated with historical formation processes.

Through this work I identified three periods associated with increased walling and shifting migration patterns, showing how migration activities shifted away from existing highway networks with the initial wall-building of the mid-2000s and into more remote spaces, where the associated material culture has also changed to facilitate longer and more dangerous journeys. Still, evaluation of a range of areas of known past migration activity revealed associated date ranges that spanned all proposed periods, wherein even after wall-building migration remains active in fits and starts, albeit representing smaller groups and more tactical travel strategies. This dissertation contributes to existing border scholarship in its use of archaeological and anthropological toolkits to apply a grounded yet culturally contingent analysis of the impacts of border security in the U.S. southwest.

Committee Members: Drs. James T. Watson, T.J. Ferguson, Lindsay M. Montgomery, and Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith

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