Published in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

The ‘narco-frontier’ is frequently invoked in policy and popular narratives about drugs and armed conflict. It is represented as an unruly, marginal and ‘ungoverned’ space, a magnate for drug traffickers, rebels and migrants. These ‘non state’ or ‘anti state’ spaces are believed to have a comparative advantage in illegality, with borderlands and frontiers becoming centres for the production, consumption and trafficking of illicit drugs.

Linked to this representation is a policy narrative and set of assumptions that statebuilding, peacebuilding, development and counter narcotics policies are mutually reinforcing, and involve the extension of a state presence into these frontier zones, along with effective drug eradication, substitution and development activities. In spite of the evident inaccuracy of this portrayal of the ‘narco-frontier’ the imaginary is extremely resilient and continues to be reflected and reinforced in policy texts and narratives. This paper asks why has this been the case. What ideological work does the imaginary perform and for whom? And what are the implications of an alternative imaginary of the margins?