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Spaces of Refusal: Rethinking Sovereign Power and Resistance at the Border

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This article investigates local actions that transgress, subvert, and ignore the imposition of sovereign authority at the borders of sovereign states. It describes the creation and gradual securitization of the 4,096-km border between India and Bangladesh, which has culminated with the construction of roads, floodlights, and fences on the majority of the previously open and lightly guarded border. Then, by drawing on interviews with borderland residents, it analyzes the ways that people interact with, talk about, and cross the border in their daily lives. The motives and consequences of these cross-border connections are not precisely captured by the literature on sovereign power and the state of exception, which identifies very little space for resistance, or the literature on dominance–resistance in power relations, which understands most actions as political resistance in a broad milieu of power. To reconcile these conflicting views on resistance, this article proposes spaces of refusal to understand a range of activities that are not overt political resistance but nevertheless refuse to abide by the binary framing of state territorial and identity categories.
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Keywords: South Asia; Sur de Asia; borders; fronteras; poder; power; resistance; resistencia; soberaneidad; sovereignty

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Geography,University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa,

Publication date: 2012-05-01

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