Current Institutional Affiliation
Associate Professor, History, Wesleyan University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Urban Planning, University of California / Berkeley
State Informality in Paraguay's Frontier Economy: Bureaucrats, Border Agents and Entrepreneurial Subjects

Ciudad del Este's informal economy likely circulates as much capital as Paraguay's entire formal economy, but little is known about these economies of trans-border commodity circulation. Against the common imaginary of lawlessness, I argue that the state is a key player animating and regulating the frontier economy through processes of “state informality,” defined as a purposive mode of active re-regulation, deregulation and/or the deployment of regulatory ambiguity. The Paraguayan state is re-organizing and re-regulating the trans-border circulation of commodities, slowly shifting towards export-processing. To study how state authority is being reconfigured, I investigate a partial process of regulating street vendors involved in informal, trans-border trade and one emblematic export processing factory. While street vending is understood as symptomatic of disorder, export processing promises formal sector jobs and is thus imagined as informality's antidote. I use an ethnographic approach to study the “everyday state,” tracking how the state is animated through iterative practice and the everyday spaces of state rule. I ask two main questions: 1. How does state informality shape the Paraguayan frontier economy and manage circulations of commodities and trans-border traders and 2. How is state authority enacted through everyday practices of bureaucrats, border agents and entrepreneurial subjects? I will contrast state-society articulations within the frontier economy across three decades from the boom-years of informal, trans-border trade to the expansion of re-exportation. To do this, I use archival research, participant observation and in-depth interviews with a range of state and society actors imbricated in the frontier economy. My research will contribute to urban studies and other disciplines by theorizing state informality and the restructuring of state authority within a frontier economy and from an understudied region.