Reconsidering the Peripheral State: Legitimacy and Authority in the US-Mexico Borderlands

Authors: Matthew Longo*, Leiden University
Topics: Political Geography
Keywords: borders, US-Mexico, security, sovereignty
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Astor Ballroom II, Astor, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper takes a detailed look at the evolution of border security in the US, with the aim of reconceptualizing (peripheral) state authority in the US-Mexico borderlands. It begins by chronicling critical developments in technology, infrastructure, manpower and organizational re-alignment toward the aim of making the perimeter wider and more akin to a zone. This new border area is first a Zone of Surveillance, as there is a broadening of physical infrastructure, with layered walls, roads, towers and surveillance installations. It is second a Zone of Heterogeneity, as there are multiple forms of authority, including federal, state and local forces. Third, it is a Zone of Vigilance, given the increased role that citizens play in monitoring cross-border activity. This reconceptualization raises a number of points. First, there is a blurring of security and law functions at the border, raising concerns of the military acting like police and the police acting like military. Second, the border can be understood as the central state displaced at the periphery – it is an instrument of central control used as much to subjugate the periphery as to defend it. Consequently, the goal of security is not merely to protect the local populations against a threat, but also to condition their loyalty toward the center. The people on the border thus are most at risk from outside threats, as well as at risk of being a threat. They are both the subject and object of security. These issues warrant attention and concern.

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