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The dynamics of frontier spaces in contemporary Sub-Saharan Africa, South-East Asia and Latin America

Research period:2018.10-2023.3





This study will focus its attention on the dynamics of frontier spaces of governance, that is, spaces that are distant from centers of national government and under weak control. P. Clastres, I. Kopytoff, and J. Scott have discussed the relationships between the nation-state and inhabitants outside its control at several regional levels. Their investigations were mainly concerned with regions of the world prior to colonization or the outbreak of the Second World War. However, the national incorporation of frontier spaces is not an irreversible process. In some cases, frontiers that were thought to have been placed entirely under a given nation’s rule later regained their frontier status as that nation’s powers of governance waned. Additionally, some regions left ungoverned and largely ignored by nation-states have been “rediscovered” as frontier spaces by capital interests or national governments that seek to develop and commercialize their resources. The “discovery and disappearance” of frontier spaces is a cyclical phenomenon. In fact, since the beginning of the 21st century, many new frontier spaces have been “discovered” worldwide, and efforts to develop and nationally incorporate those spaces are moving forward. Drawing from case studies of regions in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and Central and South America, this study aims to demonstrate how the inhabitants of frontier spaces have attempted to reorganize their lives as members of a modern world that is unable to completely free itself from the bonds of national control and capitalism.

Research Results

The purpose of this workshop was to shed light on the dynamics of frontier spaces where territorialization has advanced due to profit-making activities of companies and governance of governments, with “frontier space” as the keyword. Therefore, anthropologists, political scientists, and geographers who have conducted fieldwork in Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America discussed what phenomena are occurring in regions where states, capital interests, and antigovernment forces are active.
One thing the workshop revealed was that while it is true that territorialization by states has moved forward with the strong ability to take action, that ability should not be gauged too highly. Key to ascertaining the current state of each region is to avoid dividing land into “state” and “stateless” spaces, and to focus attention on the concrete ability to execute governance and the limitations of said ability. Furthermore, instead of treating territorialization by the state as unilinear and irreversible, focus needs to be directed on its reversibility and cyclicity. We also confirmed that attention should be placed on the relations between the many actors—including NGOs and merchants—involved in the dynamics of territorialization, rather than on the binary relation between the state and its residents. It was also argued that it was necessary to keep distance from the totality of the state-centered image in which all phenomena occurring in a region are regarded as being related to the state, and consider the autonomous imaginations surrounding the spaces of each actor.
There is always conflict between the ability to take action and the imagination among the actors who carry out activities in frontier spaces. This workshop shed light on how inhabitants living in regions identified as frontier spaces by the state reorganize their lives while renewing their imagination themselves. While inhabitants may share the national and capitalist imagination that views specific land as an economic resource, and proactively use it for that purpose, they may migrate seeking new land based on a view that differs from the national imagination or demand that the government provide living space that differs from the current space. This workshop revealed how such diverse imagination, and diverse ability to take action based on said imagination, can drive or prevent territorialization.