Unsettled Frontiers: The Rise and Fall of Settler Colonialism
In this book project, I uncover the conditions under which states colonize frontier regions by expelling minorities and settling their lands. I have compiled new geocoded data on the incidence of ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism from around the world in the late 20th century. I have also collected new sub-national data tracking the incidence of settler colonialism in 20th century China, the former USSR, Indonesia, and Australia.
Rather than be explained by domestic politics or ethno-racial ideologies, I find that patterns of settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing in the contemporary world are shaped by the value of frontier territory and the military concerns of states. States disproportionately colonize strategically important areas in response to conflict: non-natural frontiers and areas populated by "disloyal" minorities. However, as states develop and cities become magnets for labor, it is increasingly difficult to resettle people to contested frontiers. So, as states like Australia and China have developed economically, I find that they have no longer been able to effectively colonize frontier areas.
Rather, all states undergo what I term a colonial transition with modernization — developed states are are both less likely to engage in settler colonialism and less likely to have success when attempting to do so. Settler colonialism and ethnic cleansing are, for these reasons, best understood as a transitional phase in state building prior to modernization.
Components of this project have been recently published in World Politics and International Organization. For more on these papers, please see Research.