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

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

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The Peace Accords signed between the Colombian government and Armed Revolutionary Forces ofColombia argues that one of the central causes of the armed conflict has been the historic state absenceor abandonment of the peripheral territories most affected by its violence. It proposes expanding thestate to these regions, and posits that certain material conditions – such as the construction of infrastruc-ture – would have a pacifying effect and promote better governance, while others – like the presence ofillicit crops – would undermine these goals. These presumptions fail to recognize the multiple and var-iegated experiences of state formation that have unfolded in the territories. We argue that in theseregions, there has been no gradual and linear progression from state absence to state presence, norhas 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 therelations activated and enabled by two material conditions: coca and roads. Combining ethnographicfieldwork, historical revision, interviews and cartography, we show the complex ways through whichcoca and roads 1) generate the conditions for the emergence of social and political orders 2) are the med-ium 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 complexand non-linear process of state-building in frontiers marked by the armed conflict. Ultimately, we stressthat material conditionsdoimpact state-formation, but the peacebuilding efforts must not understandthis as a mechanical relationship and must rather inquire about the nature of the articulation and powerstructures 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
Pages (from-to)1-13
JournalWorld Development
Issue number105395
StatePublished - 2021

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