chapter  12
12 Pages

Genesis of state space

Frontier commodification in Malaysian Borneo
WithNoboru Ishikawa

This chapter examines the genesis of state space by looking at historical trajectories of the frontier commodification (jungle produce, timber, rubber, and pepper) in the maritime borderland of southwestern Sarawak, Malaysia. The nonstate space is a region immersed in a dense web of commodity chains, while the organizational power of the state is nominal. In such a borderland, how does a border come into existence in the mental mapping of local peoples? This chapter concludes with the following findings. Both the state and local society contribute to the making of the state boundary in a type of call and response resonance rather than an antithetical relationship. The more illicit flows of goods and people intensify, the clearer the state boundary becomes. This seemingly paradoxical relation illustrates that the state and the borderland communities are more symbiotic, rather than two separate and dichotomous, or conflicting entities. The borderland under study also differs from counterparts in mainland Southeast Asia, where distance and elevation separate hills (highland) and plains (lowland), and such geographical and geomorphological factors therefore matter far less in the process of boundary making. Rather, global market forces play the transformational role in establishing a marker that separates identities of people and commodities on both sides of the porous border. These forces, for instance, include the imperial quota system for the production of rubber in the 1930s and the widening economic gap between Malaysia and Indonesia manifested in the monetary crisis in the 1990s. The structural forces enabling the genesis of the boundary have not been the expansion of state power, but the connectivity between the borderlands and commodity markets. This illustrates that where the state machinery is weak, global forces of capitalism are instrumental in making state space.