Territories of Life and Death on a Colombian Frontier

by Teo Ballvé

Published by Antipode, Essay, Jan 02, 2013

With few exceptions, scholars have explained the violent history of Colombian regions such as Urabá with arguments about the “weakness” or “absence” of the state. Wedged into the northwest corner of the country, the gulf region of Urabá has always been positioned by Colombia’s dominant geopolitical imaginaries as a kind of dystopian Eden—a stateless and ungoverned place of exuberant natural wealth. Claims of statelessness, however, should only be taken so far; otherwise, they risk glossing over the persistence of governmental structures and the way in which “non-state” or even “anti-state” armed groups can in many ways be perversely compatible with state-led projects of accumulation and rule.

With this note of caution in mind, the central question of this book is: 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? I argue that the long-standing problem facing Urabá is not so much an absence of the state, but how the region’s economies of violence have caused struggles over the state to become territorialized.


2013. "Territories of Life and Death on a Colombian Frontier." Antipode 45(1): 238-241.

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