Lines in the Sand: Movement as a Practice of Spatialization and Wildernization. A case study of the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness, Arizona


  • Katarina Altshul Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana


wilderness, place and space, movement, wildernization


Understanding how wilderness emerges as a specific place and space out of specific imaginings and practices is affected by the epistemological paradox of it being at the same time both imagined (i.e. constructed) and real, simultaneously independent and full of human agency. In order to understand the variety and scope of the current uses of a specific wilderness area, one has to look beyond communities and groups as studied traditionally by anthropology, and embrace spatial tactics as they occur at the level of individual ‘visitors’ to such areas. On this level, the most important factor for the experience of wilderness is physical, bodily presence (or non-presence). Using the ethnographic example of the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness in Arizona, USA, this article focuses on movement as one of the crucial practices in the processes of ‘wildernization’, a term the author derives from van Loon’s (2002) ‘spatialization’. Paying special emphasis to the two lines that have the largest influence on movement through and within the area, i.e. the wilderness boundary and the US – Mexico border, the movement of individual people belonging to loosely defined categories of ‘visitors’ to the area (such as
Native American groups, ranchers, Ajo inhabitants, hunters, recreational visitors, Border Patrol agents, Fish and Wildlife Service officials, migrants and drug smugglers) is analysed in order to gain an anthropological insight into the concept of wilderness.