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A Statement for the Margin

Rudolf C. Heredia

Edited by Veena Das and Deborah Poole
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 330, Rs. 595.00


This volume is an edited collection of the papers presented as part of an advanced seminar at the School of American Research, Santa Fe. Margins are normally discussed in terms of a centre but here the perspective is somewhat reversed: margins are not just where the rationalized administrative forms of the state are less effectively represented, but rather practices and policies outside the mainstream that somehow also play a role in constituting the state as a necessary entailment. In this perspective the margin is the exception that proves the rule.   The state’s presence in local life is effected through administrative and hierarchical rationalities, which become illegible or breakdown into disorder at the margins where a state of nature is imagined as wild and uncontrolled. However, the need for economic and political survival creates its own imperatives for regulation and accepted practice, and it is this very counterpoint nature of the margin that in its turn plays its own crucial role in defining the state.   The essays in this volume elaborate this insight with several rich ethnographic studies that evolve around three approaches to the ‘margin’: as the historical periphery into which state power has yet to penetrate; as a source of illegibility of state practices and forms; as the extension of sovereign powers of the biopolitical state over the bodies of its people. The margins then “do not so much lie outside the state but rather, like rivers, run through its body” (p.13). A brief overview of the contributions will corroborate this.   Thus Deborah Poole’s study of ‘Justice and Community in the Margins of the Peruvian State’ shows the slippage between “Threat and Guarantee” and how the arbitrary forms of the “Republic of Spaniards” leave the peasants of the “Republic of Indians” ambiguous and frustrated, participating in the system yet excluded from its justice, while in his essay on the “Checkpoint” in Sri Lanka Pradeep Jeganathan describes how the checkpoint helps to map in fields of anticipation that people use to cope with the unpredictability of violence, whether it is from insurgent terror or state counter-insurgency.   Mariance C. Ferme uses the Sierra Leonean state to illustrate how the arbitrariness of the state constricts migrants and refugees while at the same time creating the space for them to claim ‘Deterritorrialised Citizenship’. In her discussion of ‘Duplicity in Postwar Guatemala’, Diane M. Nelson discovers that for the “Legendary Two-Faced Indian” ...

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