Posted by: hobbesonafob | June 18, 2009

Unspoken Implications Should be Addressed

My last entry “Ungoverned Areas” did not sit perfectly well with me because of the possible conclusions one may draw from it. During my brief time in school, I’ve learned that one’s material could be misinterpreted or misread (e.g. Darwin) and then used for unethical purposes (e.g. justifying sterilization campaigns) quite easily. After reading an article (“Human Terrain in Oaxaca”) I felt it necessary to clarify what I meant by “ungoverned areas” (the article was written by Dustin M. Wax a cultural anthropologist). The piece highlights some of the studies taken by a team of geographers in Mexico:

From 2005-2007, a team of geographers led by Jerome Dobson and Peter Herlihy of the University of Kansas worked with local trainees to map land ownership and claims on collective lands in indigenous communities in Oaxaca and San Luis Potosi. Called “México Indigena” and partially funded by the US Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office (FMSO), the project was a pilot program for the American Geographic Society’s Bowman Expeditions, which intends to create maps of the “cultural terrain” of poor and indigenous communities throughout the world.

Long story short (again, I recommend reading the article in its entirety especially if you’re a budding academic thinking about engaging in fieldwork at some point) the project has suspected ties with the US Army and this has, of course, moral implications for some researchers.

Now, what caught my eye in this article is a quote from FMSO’s IberoAmerican researcher Lt. Col. Geoffrey B. Demarest, who authored a book, Geoproperty: Foreign Affairs, National Security, and Property Rights. According to Wax, the basic argument in Demarest’s work is the following:

[I]nformal property ownership in either rural or urban settings is the breeding ground for criminal or insurrectionary activity…. He specifically cites concerns about the criminality of large areas of the dispossessed, as they become separately governed autonomous zones….

Demarest asserts that the privatization of property is the key to stability, prosperity, progress, and security in Latin America, and that formal land titling leads to effective government control [and] existing property of real value must be made secure… through a phenomenon he describes as the “architecture of control” (Sedillo 2009).

And this is when I have to clarify my position on Mos-Eisley-ish regions and their difference from indigenous ways to mobilize resources (excuse the wording, I’m studying a economics this summer). Now I am not an expert on indigenous forms/ways of living, but the idea that privatizing of property is the key to stability, prosperity, and progress runs contrary to my outlook (I may have to read Demarest’s book so I can articulate my argument a bit more, but for now I’ll just be analytical with my “gut” – Colbert stylez).

I would define the  Mos-Eisleys of the world as ungoverned or poorly governed regions that have individuals willing to and capable of committing crime. Now, I imagine that there are places in the world that are poorly governed by the state or are ungoverned, but have ways to organize and use resources that do not use principles of privatization and could not be labeled as wretched hives of scum and villainy.

One could make the argument that in some ungoverned areas the scum and villainy are the ones who are trying to change indigenous societies. For example, the militants in the Pakistani tribal area of Bajaur selective assassinations as used to weaken the traditional tribal structures in these territories and, in turn, empower CCNAs in the region. In 2006 alone, 120 tribal elders were assassinated by militants in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan (1).

Privatizing property does help promote the most efficient use of resources (and that’s good if your goal is to use up as much and many resources as possible), but I would like to think that there are other reasons why an area is dominated by a CCNA. Again, I would have to read Demarest’s book to  see if his arguments are being misrepresented or not, but I just wanted to elucidate my own position:

ungoverned areas ≠ wretched hives of scum and villainy

There are other factors that are needed for an ungoverned area to be considered a “terrorist haven” or whatever the buzzword is for that.

Again, in spirit of this web log, one of its purposes is to find other forms of political orders (e.g. hybrid states) and limiting ourselves by equating unprivatized regions with crime and insecurity is, well, limiting.

If resilient communities (if or when they are created) are based on different principles than privatization, I would not want to think that these communities become prone to criminalization.

Works Cited from Wax’s Article

Dobson, Jerome. 2009. AGS Bowman Expeditions. American Geographical Society Website. URL: (last accessed 4/18/09).

Mychalejko,Cyril and Ramor Ryan. 2009. U.S. Military Funded Mapping Project in Oaxaca: Geographers used to gather intelligence? Z Magazine 22(4). URL: (last accessed 4/18/09).

Sedillo, Simon. 2009. The Demarest Factor: The Ethics of U.S. Department of Defense Funding got Academic Research in Mexico. El Enemigo Común (website). URL: (last accessed 4/18/09).

Works Cited

1. Ahmed Rashid, Descent into Chaos (New York: Penguin Books Ltd, 2008), 278.


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