The aim of my current research is twofold: First to provide a local perspective on the rapid changing social, political and natural environment in the borderlands of Indonesia, and second, to create an understanding of the often paradoxical and conflicting relationship between border people and their nation states.

My monograph: At the Edges of States: Dynamics of State Formation in the Indonesian Borderlands (KITLV Press, 2012/BRILL 2014) rests on the premise that remote border regions offer an exciting study arena that can tell us important things about how marginal citizens relate to their nation-state. The basic assumption is that central state authority in the Indonesian borderlands has never been absolute, but waxes and wanes, and state rules and laws are always up for local interpretation and negotiation. In its role as key symbol of state sovereignty, the borderland has become a place were central state authorities are often most eager to govern and exercise power. But as illustrated, the borderland is also a place were state authority is most likely to be challenged, questioned and manipulated as border communities often have multiple loyalties that transcend state borders and contradict imaginations of the state as guardians of national sovereignty and citizenship (Full CV).

I am further the editor, with Christian Lund, of a volume titled Rule and Rupture: State Formation through the Production of Property and Citizenship in Wiley’s  Development & Change Book Series and together with Jason Cons I have co-edited a volume titled Frontier Assemblages: The Emergent Politics of Resource Frontiers in Asia for Wiley’s Antipode Book Series (chapter abstracts).

Research  projects

The RISEZAsia project (2016-2019) studies the emergence of new Special Economic Zones (SEZ) that promotes the development of remote and resource rich borderlands across Asia. Theoretically the project wishes to develop tools for critical engagement with the unique forms of exclusion and marginalization in borderlands instigated by SEZs. Secondly, in addition to its contribution to theoretical framings of borderland political economy, the research is significant for documenting the processes through which Asian borderlands currently are experiencing some of the largest land-grabs in modern history. Through the creation of new SEZs, million of hectares of land are being annexed to mining and plantation companies for industrial exploitation and remote borderlands are being colonized by thousands of labor migrants. These large-scale acquisitions of land and the infrastructure projects it has enabled have large impact on these ecologically vulnerable border zones and its population. The project is funded by a Starting Grant from Aarhus University Research Foundation.

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The Rise of Spercial Economic Zones

in Asian Borderlands

This interdiciplinary research programme (2016-2020) is directed by Christian Lund at University of Copenhagen, and funded by the European Research Council (ERC). Political power is established through the production of the fundamental social contracts of property and citizenship. We conduct research on how this takes place, by examining what political authority is actually exercised rather than measuring how governments fall short of theoretical ideals. In developing countries with legal and institutional pluralism, no single institution exercises the political authority as such. Different institutions compete to define and enforce rights to property and citizenship. We believe this is most visible at the local level and after moments of political rupture. Eight country studies with rural and urban field sites will be conducted in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

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Rule and Rupture

The SCIFOR project (2014-2018) is a partnership between four institutions in Denmark, Tanzania and Nepal. In Denmark, the Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO), University of Copenhagen comprises one of the largest research environments on natural resources management and livelihoods in Europe, and this is bolstered with additional expertise on institutional ethnographic approaches by the partnership with the Department of Culture and Society, Aarhus University. The project is funded by Danida and led by professor Jens Friis Lund, and will study the so-called scientific forestry plans in Tanzania and Nepal and their role in granting – or not granting – rural people forest management rights. The aim of the project is to develop and promote participatory forestry approaches that, in practice, support equitable, environmentally sound, and economically rational forest management. Read more about SCIFOR: Science and Power in Participatory Forestry.

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Science and Power in Participatory Forestry

Copyright © Michael Eilenberg 2018