Aarhus Universitets segl

Michael Eilenberg


Lektor, PhD

Primær tilknytning

Michael Eilenberg


  • Antropologi
  • Development Studies
  • Political Ecology
  • Environmental History




I am Associate Professor in Human Security and Anthropology at School of Culture and Society, Aarhus University. My primary research interests’ center on issues of state formation, citizenship, agrarian expansion and environmental politics in frontier settings. In particular I investigate state-society dynamics in borderland regions of Southeast Asia, Africa, North America and Europe. Within this research frame, I have been dealing with different transnational processes such as illicit cross-border trade, labour migration, land grabs and biosecurity.

My studies are based on extended fieldwork in both Indonesia, Malaysia, Tanzania, USA and Denmark and archival studies in British and Dutch archives. I have more than 20 years research experience on issues of state formation in Southeast Asia alone including a total of 40 month of fieldwork in the region. Additional experience includes international research networking, organization of workshops, internships within international development NGOs and public education and supervision at institutions of higher learning in Denmark, Indonesia, Malaysia and Tanzania.

For additional information please visit my personal webpage: www.eilenberg.dk and project webpages: Settler Colonial Beasts, Fencing the Feral and RISEZAsia or the Human Security Community site and the Aarhus Centre for Conflict Management (Aarcon).



  • Associate Professor, Aarhus University (2014-present).
  • Assistant Professor, Aarhus University (2010-2014).
  • Coordinator of the Master's Program in Human Security & International Coordinator (2013-2018)
  • From 2011 to 2012 I was a Visiting Professor at Department of Anthropology, University of Toronto associated with the research cluster "Producing Wealth and Poverty in Indonesia's New Rural Economies" headed by Professor Tania Murray Li.
  • In 2013 I was a Visiting Scholar at Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, UC Berkeley associated with the "ESPM Land Lab" headed by Professor Nancy Peluso.
  • From 2018 to 2019 I was a Visiting Professor at Department of Food and Resource Economics, University of Copenhagen associated with the Rule and Rupture Programme headed by Professor Christian Lund.


Research projects

  • 2023-2026: Project leader of ‘Settler Colonial Beasts’ Funded by Aarhus University Research Foundation - AUFF.
  • 2021-2024: Project leader of ‘Fencing the Feral - Biosecurity and the Invasive Other in the Danish-German Borderlands’ funded by the Danish Research Council.
  • 2017-2021: Project participant in ‘ANTHUSIA'. Directed by Lotte Meniert, AU (16 PhDs). Funded by a Grant from the European Commission Horizon 2020, Marie Curie.
  • 2016-2020: Project leader of ‘The Rise of Special Economic Zones in Asian borderlands’. Funded by Aarhus University Research Foundation - AUFF.
  • 2016-2020: Project participant in ‘Rule and Rupture.' Directed by Christian Lund, IFRO. Funded by the European Research Council - ERC.
  • 2014-2019: Project participant in ‘Science and Power in Participatory Forestry’. Directed by Jens Friis Lund, IFRO. Funded by the Danish Research Council for Development Research.
  • 2010-2014: Project leader of ‘Agrarian Expansion and the Politics of Territoriality on the Indonesian-Malaysian Frontier’. Funded by the Danish Research Council.
  • 2010-2012: Project co-lead (with Steffen Dalsgaard). ‘Co2 Economy: Global and Local Negotiations over the Value of Forest’. Funded by WWF/Novozymes.
  • 2012-2014: Project leader of ‘Climate Politics and Carbon Economy’. Funded by Aarhus University Research Foundation - AUFF.



  • 2012-present: Main supervisor of  50+ graduate students (doing field research, writing field reports and master theses).
  • 2013-present: Main Supervisor of 5 PhD students, co-supervisor of 7 PhD students.
  • 2017-present: Supervisor of 2 post doc researchers


Graduate advising

I advise graduate students that work in the intersection between Anthropology and Development Studies. I am particularly interested in students whose work is on political borders, resource frontiers, land rights, sovereignty, and state formation. My primary regional expertise is in Southeast Asia, however, I am willing to take on students with similar thematic interests irrespective of their regional focus. Please send me an informal email describing your potential research interests if you are considering applying to our PhD programme.


I am currently working on

  • A book on biosecurity governance and fencing (with Annika Pohl Harrison)
  • A chapter on biosecurity and fencing in the Danish–German borderlands (with Annika Pohl Harrison)
  • A chapter about biopolitics and strategies of wild pig eradication (with Jason Cons)
  • An article on value, food, and alien invasive species (with Jason Cons)
  • A book on feral pigs in Texas (with Jason Cons)
  • An article about roads and state formation in Indonesia



Development Zones in Asian Borderlands

Co-Edited with Mona Chettri. Published by the Asian Borderland Series, Amsterdam University Press 2021.

Development Zones in Asian Borderlands discuss how, the nexus between global capital flows, changing economic policies, infrastructural connectivity, migration and aspirations for modernity are rapidly transforming borderlands across Asia. From remote, peripheral backyards to front-yards of economic development and state-building, Asian borderlands are increasingly becoming the ‘face of the nation’ as a result of ‘Development Zones’. (Link to authors version of manuscript).

Simultaneously wide-ranging and focused, Development Zones in Asian Borderlands traces the transformation of borderlands in South and Southeast Asia into a diverse array of official, de facto, and informal development zones. The empirically rich and absorbing collection provides a compelling conceptual framework for such zones, and is particularly strong in its focus on their temporalities and affective qualities. It will be of great value for borderland and infrastructural studies, as well as for scholars of contemporary Asia. - Emily T. Yeh, Professor of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder

Theoretically ambitious and empirically rich, this volume shows how development zones are much more than sites of capital accumulation. As places of economic, spatial and military experimentation, of imagination and desire, they are also critical sites for interrogating how life itself is ‘zoned’ in contexts of shifting geopolitical fortunes. An original and important contribution to our understanding of borderland lives in South and Southeast Asia. - Madeleine Reeves, author of Border Work: Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia

Frontier Assemblages: The Emergent Politics of Resource Frontiers in Asia

Co-Edited with Jason Cons. Published by the Antipode Book Series, Wiley-Blackwell 2019.

Frontier Assemblages offers a new framework for thinking about resource frontiers in the contemporary moment. Over the past several decades, there have been radical transformations in marginal spaces throughout Asia. Millions of acres of land have been rapidly converted to sites of large-scale monoculture production, mining, and other forms of resource extraction. At the same time, alternative marginal spaces are also being reframed as new kinds of productive sites—zones slated for massive infrastructural projects, spaces of capital extraction through privatized health care, habitats of ecological reclamation and sustainability, speculative locations for carbon storage, and areas where environmental degradation is itself a source of productive power. See Chapter Abstracts here.

Cons and Eilenberg’s Frontier Assemblages is a collection of richly textured essays tracing the incorporation of remote areas into new territorial formations in the context of Asia. Framed through the notion of assemblage, the collection speaks to the complexity, lability, and nonlinearity of these transformative processes. It will be essential reading for border scholars and specialists of Asia alike. — Franck Billé, University of California, Berkeley.

This fascinating collection sheds new light on the varied dynamics of frontier-making across a diverse and sometimes surprising set of spaces in Asia. It is especially strong on frontier temporalities of anticipation and ruin, and on the productive (not just extractive) work of resource frontiers. Frontier Assemblages is highly stimulating, analytically rich, and not to be missed. — Derek Hall, Wilfrid Laurier University.

Rule and Rupture: State Formation Through the Production of Property and Citizenship

Co-Edited with Christian Lund. Published by Wiley-Blackwell in 2017.

Rule and Rupture examines the ways in which political authority is defined and created by the rights of community membership and access to resources. It combines the latest theory on property rights and citizenship with extensive fieldwork to provide a more complex, nuanced assessment of political states commonly viewed as  “weak,” “fragile,” and “failed”. Contains ten case studies taken from post-colonial settings around the world, including Cambodia, Nepal, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and Bolivia.

Rule and Rupture begins with a striking and original point of departure: the realization that the disposition of property and of the rights of membership in the political community are what constitute public authority. The volume fully realizes its promise in the subtle analysis of both failure and success in case studies. Henceforth I will insist that students read Lund and Eilenberg’s path-breaking book on state-formation in conjunction with the classical text of Max Weber. - James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science, Yale University.

Rule and Rupture provides a fresh and powerful empirical analytic of State formation. By focusing on the dialects of recognition that create both authorities and rights holders, the volume shows us how society is constituted through multiple social contracts. The book offers a truly new and exciting approach to the material study of society and social change. - Jesse Ribot, Professor of Geography, University of Illinois.

At the Edges of States: Dynamics of State Formation in the Indonesian Borderlands 

Published by KITLV Press in 2012 (Series on Power and Place in Southeast Asia) and re-published BRILL Academic Publishers in 2014 (Verhandlingen van het Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-,Land- en Volkenkunde). Full text (Open Access)

Set in West Kalimantan, Indonesian borneo, this study explores the shifting relationship between border communities and the state along the political border with East Malaysia. The book rests on the premise that remote border regions offer an exciting study arena that can tell us important things about how marginal citizens relate to their nation-state. The basic assumption is that central state authority in the Indonesian borderlands has never been absolute, but waxes and wanes, and state rules and laws are always up for local interpretation and negotiation.

Eilenberg’s rich insights could not have been achieved without years spent developing trust and experiencing firsthand the ambiguity of a border as a zone of opportunity as well as control. The analysis of the border elite who combine traditional authority with bureaucratic ones, charisma with force, and legal practices with illegal ones throws into sharp relief a set of practices that are found not only on the fringes of the Indonesian nation, but on the fringes of its cities as well. Anyone interested in understanding how power works in Indonesia should read this book - Professor Tania Murray Li, University of Toronto

This pioneering study of state formation ‘at the margins’ forms a perfect demonstration of the promise of borderland studies. Eilenberg argues convincingly that borderlands – and the international borders that run through them – are critical sites for understanding shifting state-society relations. His book provides a powerful analysis of the local historical contexts of resource struggles, state policies and social strategies in what many consider to be a remote and insignificant Indonesian borderland. Eilenberg makes us realize how the unpredictable dynamics of such borderland societies affect entire nation-states - Professor Willem van Schendel, University of Amsterdam

Udvalgte publikationer

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