This short comment on Loïc Wacquant’s ‘Marginality, Ethnicity, and Penality’ begins by highlighting three of Wacquant’s most important interventions. It then extends the analysis by drawing on research about urban marginality in South Africa and Palestine/Israel. Whereas Wacquant focuses on the state response to urban marginality, I suggest that it is important to look beyond the state to consider how other actors have responded to the growth of precarious populations. Specifically, I point out that private security companies and residents’ associations are at the forefront of efforts to police poor black South Africans, while an imperial network of security forces polices the Palestinian precariat.
This article applies the case of Tali Fahima, an Israeli woman who was convicted of aiding the enemy during wartime, in order to analyse how the ethno-national community is threatened by members it fails to control and fit into existing categories. The author argues that what makes an assumingly bright boundary so sensitive and problematic to cross is not its impenetrability but its actual vulnerability. The state tries to police uncertain citizens and if necessary to expunge them from the collective in order to imagine the boundaries as bright again. The author examines how Fahima used her privileged body to protect a Palestinian insurgent and the ways in which her body is invested with the meanings of national, ethnic and sexual boundaries and analyses how the Israeli security services, courts, media and public define proper citizenship and belonging.