What is the state made of? Coca, roads, and the materiality of state formation in the frontier

Silvia Otero-Bahamon, Simon Uribe Martinez, Isabel Peñaranda Currie

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15 Scopus citations


The Peace Accords signed between the Colombian government and Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia argue that one of the central causes of the armed conflict has been the historic state absence or abandonment of the peripheral territories most affected by its violence. It proposes expanding the state to these regions and posits that certain material conditions – such as the construction of infrastructure – would have a pacifying effect and promote better governance, while others – like the presence of illicit crops – would undermine these goals. These presumptions fail to recognize the multiple and variegated experiences of state formation that have unfolded in the territories. We argue that in these regions, there has been no gradual and linear progression from state absence to state presence, nor has the presence of the state been historically equated with peace. We analyze the process of state-building in the frontier municipality of Cartagena de Chairá between 1978 and 2016, by observing the relations activated and enabled by two material conditions: coca and roads. Combining ethnographic fieldwork, historical revision, interviews, and cartography, we show the complex ways through which coca and roads 1) generate the conditions for the emergence of social and political orders 2) are the medium through which they are formed 3) are the product and instantiation of shifts in these orders and pro-cesses. This brief material history records the relationship between actors who participate in the complex and non-linear process of state-building in frontiers marked by the armed conflict. Ultimately, we stress that material conditions do impact state-formation, but the peacebuilding efforts must not understand this as a mechanical relationship and must rather inquire about the nature of the articulation and power structures realized through these material conditions, as well as the kind of state they build. In doing so, these materialities can contribute towards constructing a just and enduring peace.
Translated title of the contribution¿De qué está hecho el Estado? La coca, los caminos y la materialidad de la formación del Estado en la frontera
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number105395
Pages (from-to)1-13
JournalWorld Development
Issue number105395
StatePublished - May 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics


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