Royal Geographical Society with IBG Annual International Conference, 31 August – 3 September 2021.

Convenors: Dr Patrick Meehan (SOAS) and Dr Nick Pope (SOAS)

Militias engage in diverse and multifunctional activities such as ordering marginal spaces, trading and smuggling illicit commodities, or deterring migrants from crossing borders, to name a few. And whilst the fluidity and flexibility of militias has been long noted (Hills, 1997), the analytical toolkits available to explain militias remain contested, confusing and contradictory (Tapscott, 2019).

‘Militia’ is a descriptive ‘catch-all’ and most analytical roads tend to lead back to ideological, behaviourist or systems grounded typologies (Alden et. al). So, how can we move beyond these descriptive, analytical, and conceptual limitations and better understand militias? What can frontiers and borders reveal about the complex social, political, and economic dynamics and processes (Cons and Eilenberg, 2018; Rasmussen and Lund, 2018) in which militias are implicated?

In this session, we encourage thinking that challenges the narratives of militias as temporary governance fixes in marginal spaces, in lieu of anticipated diffusions of state and market from the centre (Harvey, 2006). Instead, we invite thinking that reflects on: (a) how militias produce and shape boundaries, borders, and territories; (b) the links between militias, illicit economies, security, and socio-spatial transformation; (c) how violent militia b/ordering practices contribute to (or detract from) frontier governmentality; and (d) the role of militias in processes of (de)territorialisation and/or frontierisation.

Spatialising an analysis of militias and locating them within power assemblages spanning sub- and trans-national and cross-border networks, provokes important questions about militias and claims to sovereignty, the importance of values, beliefs and ideas, the affective and emotional effects of everyday life in marginalised spaces (Anzaldúa, 1987), and co-dependence and/or proxy relationships with partners and other authorities (Ahram, 2011).

In particular, we welcome submissions that address, but are not necessarily limited to the following questions:

  • How can a frontier analytic help to address the problematic conceptualisation of ‘militias’; and is it a useful frame of analysis for comparative thinking?
  • What do gendered readings of borders and frontiers highlight about the masculinities of militias and the way power is exercised?
  • How do militias and their practices relate to processes of state formation, state building, separatism, economic development, and/or local forms of resistance?
  • What are the different roles that militias fulfil in different circumstances – i.e. peace processes, separatist movements, the rise of authoritarianism, advancement of democratisation, far-left or far-right political activism and protest, wars waged by foreign powers, self-defence, and beyond?; and to what effect?
  • How do different types of frontiers (e.g. urban, natural resource, narco) affect militia practice?

Interested participants should contact Nicholas Pope ( by Wednesday 3 March 2021 to indicate their interest. Please include your affiliation, a proposed title, and a 250-word abstract.

All session presenters must register for the conference. We expect this will be a fully virtual session.


Ahram, A. (2011). Proxy Warriors: The rise and fall of state-sponsored militias. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Alden, C., Thakur, M., and Arnold, M. (2011). Militias and the challenges of post-conflict peace: silencing the guns. Zed Books Ltd.

Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands/La frontera: The new mestiza.

Cons, J., & Eilenberg, M. (2019). Introduction: On the new politics of margins in Asia: mapping frontier assemblages. Frontier assemblages: the emergent politics of resource frontiers in Asia, 1-18.

Harvey, D. (2005). Spaces of neoliberalization: towards a theory of uneven geographical development. Vol. 8. Franz Steiner Verlag.

Hills, A. (1997). Warlords, militia and conflict in contemporary Africa: A re‐examination of terms. Small Wars & Insurgencies8(1), 35-51.

Rasmussen, M. B., & Lund, C. (2018). Reconfiguring Frontier Spaces: The territorialization of resource control. World Development101, 388-399.

Tapscott, R. (2019). “Conceptualizing militias in Africa.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics.