Cordon Sanitaire. An Observation Post at North Howard Street Belfast

Reenie Elliott

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This paper investigates an observation post on the ‘Peace Line’ between the Falls and the Shankill Road areas in Belfast. It considers the monitoring of this social divide as a social division in itself, or cordon sanitaire. In his theory of panopticism, Michel Foucault identifies various ‘means of correct training’ derived from the army camp. He describes military processes of normalising judgement, inspection and examination as precursors to institutional forms of hierarchical observation. In his account, these mechanisms were used to establish disciplinary power in an era of mass urbanisation. For Foucault, such ‘means of correct training’ rendered ‘docile bodies’ compliant. His discourse invites us to consider observation posts as ‘micro-technologies of power’.

My study of the observation post at North Howard Street Barracks considers panoptic surveillance practices from the perspective of military observers. In that it used disciplinary techniques to manage the social conduct of large groups, did the observation post at the military barracks operate as a Foucauldian template for surveillance? Did the British military ‘means of correct training’ discipline docile bodies into prescribed modes of conduct? These procedures allowed state institutions to monitor populations, through inspections, examinations, and recording procedures. Did these conditions gave rise to panopticism and hierarchical observation? Observation posts coded spaces and reified hybrid identities in a physical, visible performance of military power. Where Foucault’s panoptic model had linked power with invisibility, these observation posts were highly visible manifestations of power and control. How do we account for this reversal in visibility? Does it imply a simultaneous reversal of power? If so, how does it agitate the panoptic model?

Within Belfast’s surveillance network (as within Foucault’s discourses), my research has also uncovered excluded femininities and gendered spaces within these categories. This paper will identify where such gendered hierarchies disturbed the panoptic model. I will ask: how were urban spaces affected by the establishment of invisible panoptic networks of control, coded cartographies, and surveillance operations? And how did symbolic architectures of domination and rituals of resistance, spectacle and punishment at observation posts construct gendered performances of identity?

Following the Foucauldian modernist paradigm, observation posts operated as instruments of division, as components in a dispersed network, as mechanisms for coding space, and as rituals of control. Yet, in considering the effects of observation posts, postcolonial themes of liminality, hybridity, subalternity, identity, mimicry and language also emerged. I’ve mapped these against key themes identified in the spatial biography of this observation post (fig.3). I’ve identified buffer zones and in-between spaces constructed by the urban surveillance network. I’ve investigated how observation posts delineated boundaries, operating as colonial tools of surveillance. But did contested national allegiances also indicate the need to re-conceive the Shankill Falls Divide as a postcolonial space?
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAHRA 'Regions' Volume of 'Critiques' Publication. Architectural Humanities Research Association
EditorsDr. Simon Richards, Dr. Cagri Sanliturk, Dr. Rob Schmidt III, Dr. Falli Palaiologou
Place of PublicationAHRA Loughborough - London
PublisherCritiques Publication AHRA - Loughborough University
Publication statusAccepted - 30 Dec 2021
EventRegion AHRA 2021: Architectural Humanities Research Associaton Conference - International Conference, London + Loughborough, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Nov 202113 Nov 2021
Conference number: 18th Annual

Publication series

NameCritiques series
PublisherAHRA - Loughborough University


ConferenceRegion AHRA 2021
Abbreviated titleAHRA
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
CityLondon + Loughborough
Internet address


  • conflict in cities
  • military urbanism
  • urban infrastructure networks
  • industrial architecture
  • architectural history
  • gendered space
  • Social Policy
  • military industrial complex
  • Foucault
  • carceral techniques
  • surveillance
  • military archaeology
  • Social History
  • Divided Cities
  • conflict legacy
  • Heritage
  • Northern Ireland
  • Borders
  • Securitisation
  • postcolonialism
  • Belfast

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Architecture
  • History
  • Urban Studies
  • Archaeology
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Conservation
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Social Psychology
  • Media Technology


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