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"Informal States":
Neoliberal Governance and Border Crossings along the Pan-American Highway

   The primary purpose of the project is to conduct 28 days of exploratory fieldwork this summer in preparation for my dissertation research. My specific goals for this trip are to 1)   select 3 field locations for a multi-sited ethnography, 2) establish contacts with border community residents and 3) secure institutional affiliations. This preparatory fieldwork will lay the logistical foundations for a dissertation project that examines social interactions between border community residents, border crossers, and state officials along the Central American stretch of the Pan-American Highway system. These relationships, I argue, offer vital insights for a nuanced understanding of globalizing policies and the ways that border communities affect the flows of people and cargo that are critical for the economic development of Central American countries. 


   One aspect of this project is situated within anthropological studies of the state that analyze the duties of “the state” and the ways that individuals perceive themselves within the realm of this structure. Specifically, these studies identify the basic necessities provided by the state and the methods that individuals seek to achieve them (Foucault 1991; Sayer 1994; Petryna 2002). A second aspect of this research is located within the anthropological studies of borders that engage with a number of themes: the growth of culture on the border (Nordstrom 2000; Poole 2004), the pursuit of illegal activities (Roitman 2004; Abraham and van Schendel 2005), and the importance of the social relationships of state agents (Blundo and Olivier de Sardan 2006; Chalfin 2010). Each of these approaches contributes facets of research that, when combined, help to guide the questions raised within this project. 

   The current project consists of four tasks that will ensure that I achieve the goals of the proposed research. First, I will conduct interviews with management and drivers of the Transportes Internacionales Centraoamericanos (TICA) bus system. The interview process will provide me with preliminary information on experiences of and interactions with border crossing processes from individuals who are accustomed to traveling the Pan-American Highway. Second, I will travel with the TICA bus company on round trip travel along the Pan-American Highway from San Jose, Costa Rica to Tapachula, Mexico. This aspect will provide me with the time and setting for more robust interviews with TICA Bus drivers. Third, I will interview customs agents (aduanas) and affiliates of academic institutions within 5 capital cities along the TICA bus route. The interviews in the capital cities will be used to establish contacts and obtain preliminary data that will guide future field work. Fourth, I will engage in non-participant observation at 5 border locations that are encountered through travel with TICA Bus. The information gathered will be used to select 3 field sites that will be the focus of further research.

   Overall, this project is significant to broad issues of development because it analyzes the ways that globalizing policies and international development projects are maintained and perpetuated through the informal work of border residents. In this case, the critical question is: how does the informal work of border community residents help to ensure a more global flow of goods and people along international infrastructure; i.e. the Pan-American Highway? It is here that this research project finds its significance. 




Abraham, Itty and Willem van Schendel

   2005     Introduction: The Making of Illicitness. In Illicit Flows and Criminal Things: States, Borders, and the Other Side of Globalization. Willem van Schendel and Itty Abraham, eds. Pp. 1-37. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.


Blundo, Giorgio and Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan

   2006     Everyday Corruption and the State: Citizens and Public Officials in Africa. London: Zed Books.


Chalfin, Brenda

   2010     Neoliberal Frontiers: An Ethnography of Sovereignty in West Africa. Chicago: Unversity of Chicago Press.


Foucault, Michel

   1991     Governmentality. In The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Graham Burchell, ed. Pp. 87-104. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Nordstrom, Carolyn

   2000     Shadows and Sovereigns. Theory, Culture, and Society 17(4): 35-54.


Petryna, Adriana

   2002     Life Exposed: Biological Citizens after Chernobyl. Princeton: Princeton University Press.


Poole, Deborah

   2004     Between Threat and Guarantee: Justice and Community in the Margins of the Peruvian State. In Anthropology in the Margins of the State. Veena Das and Deborah Poole, eds. Pp. 35-66. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.


Roitman, Janet

   2004     Productivity in the Margins: The Reconstitution of State Power in the Chad Basin.  In Anthropology in the Margins of the State. Veena Das and Deborah Poole, eds. Pp. 191-224. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.


Sayer, Derek

   1994     Everyday Forms of State Formation: Some Dissident Remarks on “Hegemony.” In Everyday Forms of State Formation: Revolution and the Negotiation of Rule in Modern Mexico. Gilbert M. Joseph and Daniel Nugent, eds. Pp. 367-378. Durham: Duke University Press.

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