Our group of early career scholars came together at the 3rd Antipode Institute for the Geographies of Justice in the spring of 2011. We arrived with disparate backgrounds bridged by a common interest in social justice and “radical” geography. We also shared an eagerness to pose new questions in the present and organize for a better future. When we actually got down to it, however, the achievement of those ambitions initially proved more difficult than anticipated. Our commitments were scattered across a wide range of pressing concerns. We could not rally our discussion to any unified analytical focus, as the groups from 2007 and 2009 Institutes seem to have done so well (see 283 Collective 2008; SIGJ2 Writing Collective 2012). Moreover, we became disquieted by an underlying sense that world events—the ongoing responses to the economic crisis and the Arab Spring to name but two—continued to hurdle ahead of comprehension. Just as frustration was starting to set in, one of us said: “You know what I would like to talk about? Just what the fuck is this current conjuncture that we find ourselves in? What is it that we need to figure out? Can we just talk about that?” It was a generative moment, and this became our defining question.
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This article shows the grassroots development apparatus—its discourses of political participation, environmental conservation, and ethnic empowerment—became a conduit for paramilitary-backed state formation and land-grabbing in northwest Colombia.
How has state formation developed in a region where relations of land, labor, and capital have been violently contested and in which the government has never been the sole nor the most powerful source of political authority?
This article shows how state formation in northwest Colombia was produced out of the convergence of paramilitary strategies, counterinsurgency, and government reforms aimed at territorial restructuring through decentralization.