Violent Geographies: Ordering Space at the Margins of the State

Sharri Plonski
Patrick Meehan
  SOAS, University of London


This paper attempts to untangle the violence and instability embedded in the uneven territorialisation of state institutions and capitalist social relations, through the lens of borderland space. Our vantage point from ‘the margins’ is a means through which to analyse how power is mobilised and mediated, disrupted and re-ordered in the production of state-space and territorial sovereignties. Borderlands are commonly sites of intense contestation, embodying competing visions of development, peace, security and political legitimacy, and where state authority is weakly embedded and strongly challenged. At the same time, these spaces at the periphery of state lines and control are not residual to development processes; they are actively produced, constituting and interacting with flows of power and capitalist production. Through exploring the social and material relations produced in the margins, we unravel the mobilities of power between putative centres and peripheries and the agents and modes of violence that delineate power and order space. In unravelling the dissonance between ‘imagined’ and ‘real’ geographies of power – through the (human and non-human) agents that shift, disrupt and mediate how power flows – we unveil the violence that is intentionally hidden in the history of ordering state-space and territory, and the relevance of struggle to producing its limits.

Drawing upon empirical work on the resource-rich frontier regions of the Burma/China borderland and frontiers and bordered-spaces in Israel/Palestine, we reveal how there is an ‘art’ to paving over the history of ordered violence that moderates, links and de-links the centre from the periphery; to smoothing out territory and to encouraging the flow of power, and the circulation of things. This art (one could also call it a technology) takes form through the inter-connectedness of conceptual productions of knowledge (maps, legal statutes, master plans that unify space), the material infrastructure (the ‘things’ that extend legibility and lawfulness) and the agents and actors that draw (and secure) the path/nodes of circulation.

Hidden within this technology are the remnants of violent clashes; demarcated and articulated in space as lines, limits and boundaries – the borders and margins that disrupt the mobility of power, and force the employment of new and different logics and methods to bypass them.

Violence - Borderlands - Burma/Myanmar - Israel/Palestine - Uneven Geographies