(Re)Producing the U.S.-Mexican Border
: State Power and the Citizen/Subaltern Binary

  • Marie Louise Woodling

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis highlights and interrogates the mutually constitutive relationship between marginality, state power and borders. In doing so, it focuses specifically on the U.S.-Mexican border, and the role of the citizen/ subaltern binary.

I use a Postcolonial approach to state power which reads Foucault’s work on power alongside Gramsci’s work on the state to see state power as decentralised and dispersed in society; to see power as acting productively through civil society, and power and resistance as inseparable. Subsequently, I introduce the concept of marginality through the work of Agamben and the Latin American Subaltern Studies Group, focusing on the mutual constitution of the citizen and subaltern whereby state power is reaffirmed through its ability to distinguish between lives and their value. This, I argue, becomes a logic of everyday life in the borderlands that makes sense to ordinary people.

The empirical chapters of the thesis apply this theory to the Undocumented and subaltern women at the U.S.-Mexican border; illustrating the binary nature of state power and how the subaltern both at once sustains and disturbs this binary structure. I argue that citizen-led movements to ‘help’ the subaltern, although well intentioned, tend to act in solidarity with state power, reinforcing subalternity through the binary structure of power. By taking the naked life of the subaltern as their referent point, they too become implicated in the project of statecraft and the (re)production of the border. The thesis concludes by revisiting possibilities for resistance via disturbing the citizen/ subaltern binary in the context of representation. Drawing from Agamben, Spivak and Beverley I tackle the thin line between resistance and recolonisation within representation. Certainly there is an injustice of talking about without talking to. Indeed, I argue that to avoid using subalterns as tokens we must address and acknowledge this.
Date of Award22 Feb 2009
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorLucy Taylor (Supervisor) & Michael Foley (Supervisor)


  • state power
  • subaltern

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