Kabul, Afghanistan. Bette Dam.

Kabul, Afghanistan. Bette Dam.


The Zomia Center is dedicated to the rigorous study of non-state spaces for scholarly and humanitarian pursuits.

Since 2001, the number of civil wars across the globe has increased 30 percent, leading to a proliferation of ungoverned and semi-governed spaces — territory under the control of militias, insurgent groups, or other autonomous local actors. Such spaces are often difficult or impossible to access for state authorities and international organizations. For this reason they are understudied, even as they remain critical to global political, cultural, and scientific conversations. The Zomia Center addresses this gap. 

The core strength of the Center is its alliance of researchers. Currently living and working across Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Afghanistan, they have decades of experience in contested environments. By building and maintaining trusted networks, they ensure access to the data necessary for robust analysis. Researchers include physicians, journalists, anthropologists and ethnographers, collaborating with the guidance of acclaimed sociologists and political theorists. 

The Center's projects are diverse. Current themes include:

    • Collecting local, community-level histories in order to understand the hegemony of “political” Islam as a discourse of resistance

    • The modalities of rebel governance

    • The role of neoliberalism in producing and shaping the contours of anti-state resistance

    • Public health and epidemiology in non-state spaces

    • The role of imperialism and proxy warfare in producing and maintaining non-state spaces

    • Alternative modes of humanitarian delivery, including direct cash transfers and universal basic income

While geographically varied, the Center’s projects seek to enlarge our understanding of spaces that effectively remain outside the international state system. The Center's goal to encourage the free exchange of information among the scholarly and humanitarian communities. Named for the historically contested uplands of Southeast Asia, The Zomia Center seeks to builds on a rich tradition on non-state scholarship, in the belief that empirical understanding of the contested present is necessary for a more peaceful and egalitarian future.