The Frontier Effect: The Configuration of Rule in ‘Ungoverned Spaces’

Authors: Teo Ballve*, Colgate University
Topics: Political Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Development
Keywords: Frontiers, state, territory, ungoverned spaces, illicit
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Jackson, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Based on research in northwest Colombia, this paper is about the political formations that are enabled by the discourse of “ungoverned spaces.” It shows how “statelessness” becomes a powerful ideological and material force in these spaces. I call this “the frontier effect.” The frontier effect describes how imaginaries of statelessness in these spaces compels all kinds of actors to get into the business of state formation. In northwest Colombia, it thrusts a variety of groups—rebels, paramilitaries, and drug traffickers—into the role of would-be state-builders. The frontier effect turns land into a particularly productive springboard for state formation. Indeed, rather than an index of state absence or failure, violent struggles over land are a constitutive part of everyday state-making in these spaces; conflicts over land are what make frontiers into such crucibles of competing political authorities and the rival state-building projects they bring in tow.

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