Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, Peace & Conflict Studies and Geography, Colgate University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Geography, University of California / Berkeley
Territories of Life and Death: Space, Power, and Violence on a Colombian Frontier

The deadly conflation of political violence and the cocaine boom in Colombia has fueled the displacement of four million campesinos. The northwest frontier region surrounding the Gulf of Urabá has been an unruly epicenter for this mass dispossession, mainly by narcotrafficking paramilitaries who use land appropriation and agribusiness as conduits for money laundering. Despite terrifying violence, some displaced peasants have collectively and peacefully seized back portions of their stolen farms from the armed groups. But Urabá is not simply a tale of political disorder. I argue that the region’s combustible mix of narco-driven economies of violence, peasant struggles, and deeply contested forms of governance have converged into a deadly form of frontier state formation. Urabá has also cradled a handful of well-organized peasant spatial formations against the paramilitary takeover, providing fertile ground for comparing the territories produced by two separate peasant groups: the Afro-Colombians of the Curvaradó River and the mestizos of San José de Apartadó. Against Urabá’s violent political-economic order, militant campesino groups produce these territories by grounding “global” discourses of ethnic rights, environmental conservation, and humanitarianism. I argue that these discourses provide them the means for articulating novel political claims connecting life, land, and livelihood into discrete territorial formations that exceed liberal notions of statehood. Amid frontier governance, narco-fueled economies of violence, and peasant resistance, territory itself has become not only an object of political contestation, but also a collective springboard for peasants’ reclamation of stolen lands. Through their territorial strategies, displaced peasants are not fighting in the war, but actively mobilizing against the war.