Special Economic Zones as New Forms of Deterritorialized Relations of Economic and Cultural Exchange
The ongoing globalization of economic and cultural relations increasingly takes place via deterritorialized zones as self-governing sites of trans-local exchanges.
A Blog Article by Pablo Markin.
In her seminal article on export processing, special economic and free trade zones, Keller Easterling indicates the emergence of these zones as locations where relations of exchange are determined by the presence of infrastructure, transnational flows and architectural structures, rather than the traditional localizations of state sovereignty.1 In other words, as urban governance practices, architectural development and social forms have become increasingly standardized, cities-in-a-box, as special economic zones can also be conceived of, have become practical reality.
Before the modern period of industrial capitalism and place-bound nation-states, prominent cities have almost always played key roles as intensive nodes in trans-local networks of trade that have maintained a significant degree of autonomy. At the same time, while the fortunes of free cities, such as Hamburg and Hong Kong, have ebbed and flowed in tandem with the shifting dynamics of economic and cultural exchange, the accelerated rise in the number of special economic zones as instruments of free trade and globalization in recent decades cannot be separated from the groundwork that international organizations, such as the United Nations, have laid for the special status that these areas of exchange can claim in relation to local jurisdictions from which they become excised.
Especially in China, special economic zones not so much complement the operation of local jurisdictions as replace these, in the course of their continued proliferation. These dynamics are reinforced by the culture of globalization that can be conceptualized not only as it contents, but also as its infrastructure in the form of digital code, such as Internet protocols, automated algorithms and more recently blockchain-enabled solutions, that subtends the place-independent relations of exchange for which special economic zones offer landing pads.2 This is exemplified by Dubai’s Media, Knowledge, International Humanitarian, and Industrial Cities as zones with dissimilar sets of assets that attract international corporations, non-governmental organizations and other agencies to their urban quarters. Similarly, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore vie with each other for global preeminence in the flows of economic and cultural exchange by setting up multifunctional and constantly growing airport areas comprising transportation infrastructures, entertainment facilities, natural parks and logistics centers.3
Thus, these hotspots of exchange escape traditional categories that have applied to pre-modern and modern economic and governmental relations, as technology, culture and capitalism produce hybrid spatial forms in which forces of globalization territorialize, such as in the form of conferences, congresses and summits, while calling forth counter-forms of cultural deterritorialization, such as art biennials.4
Featured Image Credits: Quotidian Architectures: Hong Kong in Venice, November 18, 2010 | © Courtesy of Nicholas Ng.
- Easterling, Keller. “Zone: The spatial softwares of extrastatecraft.” Places Journal (2012).
- Easterling, Keller. “An Internet of things.” E-flux Journal 31 (2012).
- Hirsh, Max. “Techno-Pastoral Fantasies at Hong Kong International.” Places Journal (2013).
- Dustin Breitling, Václav Janoščík, Vít Bohal. “Reinventing Horizons: An Introduction.” Reinventing Horizons Conference, 2016.