From the Afghan frontier with British India to the pampas of Argentina to the deserts of Arizona, nineteenth-century empires drew borders with an eye toward placing indigenous people just on the edge of the interior. They were too nomadic and communal to incorporate in the state, yet their labor was too valuable to displace entirely. Benjamin Hopkins argues that empires sought to keep the “savage” just close enough to take advantage of, with lasting ramifications for the global nation-state order.
Hopkins theorizes and explores frontier governmentality, a distinctive kind of administrative rule that spread from empire to empire. Colonial powers did not just create ad hoc methods or alight independently on similar techniques of domination: they learned from each other. Although the indigenous peoples inhabiting newly conquered and demarcated spaces were subjugated in a variety of ways, Ruling the Savage Periphery isolates continuities across regimes and locates the patterns of transmission that made frontier governmentality a world-spanning phenomenon.
Today, the supposedly failed states along the margins of the international system—states riven by terrorism and violence—are not dysfunctional anomalies. Rather, they work as imperial statecraft intended, harboring the outsiders whom stable states simultaneously encapsulate and exploit. “Civilization” continues to deny responsibility for border dwellers while keeping them close enough to work, buy goods across state lines, and justify national-security agendas. The present global order is thus the tragic legacy of a colonial design, sustaining frontier governmentality and its objectives for a new age.
Benjamin D. Hopkins is a historian of modern South Asia, specializing in the history of Afghanistan and British imperialism on the Indian subcontinent. He has authored, co-authored, and co-edited numerous books on the region, including The Making of Modern Afghanistan, Fragments of the Afghan Frontier, and Beyond Swat: History, Society and Economy along the Afghanistan-Pakistan Frontier. His new book, Ruling the Savage Periphery: Frontier Governance and the Making of the Modern State, presents a global history of how the limits of today’s state-based political order were organized in the late nineteenth century, with lasting effects to the present day. He is currently working on A Concise History of Afghanistan for Cambridge University Press, as well as a manuscript about the continuing war in Afghanistan provisionally entitled, The War that Destroyed America.
Dina Rizk Khoury is a researcher whose work focuses on the early modern and modern history of the Middle East. Her first book, State and Provincial Society in the Ottoman Empire, (Cambridge University Press, 1997, 2002), for which she won the Turkish Studies Association and British Society of Middle Eastern Studies awards, explores the relationship between the Ottoman state and group of local power holders and urban gentry on the eastern Iraqi frontiers of the Ottoman Empire. She has also written on the politics of reform and rebellion in eighteenth and nineteenth century Baghdad. Since 2007, she has been researching and writing on war and memory. Her latest book, Iraq in Wartime: Soldiering, Martyrdom and Remembrance, (Cambridge University Press, 2013), draws on government documents and interviews to argue that war was a form of everyday bureaucratic governance that transformed the manner in which Iraqis made claims to citizenship and expressed notions of selfhood.