Accepted Paper:

Export processing zones within the project of modernisation: a theoretical and empirical re-evaluation of diffusionism, imperialism and globalism  


Patrick Neveling (University of Bergen)

Paper short abstract:

The presentation evaluates Export Processing Zones, one of the most widespread forms of late capitalist economic policies in the global South, as a testing ground for a comparative evaluation of theories of diffusion, imperialism and globalism.

Paper long abstract:

The world's first Export Processing Zone, founded in Puerto Rico in 1947, triggered the dominant model for southern countries export-led development and industrialisation. For 2007 the International Labour Organisation listed more than 3500 EPZs or EPZ like zones worldwide employing more than 60 million workers. Whereas in the 1970s, when EPZs were comparatively analysed in Fröbels theory of the New International Division of Labour, their number, the amount of employment and therefore the impact of these zones on the capitalist world economy was still limited, today their impact is much more substantial. At the same time, zones in Taiwan, Ireland and other places exist for more than thirty years and thus, particular zones have particular histories.

The paper analyses EPZs as a global institution central to the project of modernisation. Applying theories of diffusion, imperialism and globalisation to the histories of zones in Mauritius, Mexico, and China, it is suggested that EPZs offer an entry point for an archaeology of 20th century global capitalism. Secondly, as investors, workers, ideas and imaginations of relations of production have moved between the zones and institutions such as the World Export Processing Zones Association have been actively engaged in spreading information and technologies, a picture emerges that validates the concept of informal imperialism as a form of diffusion of innovation beyond cultural centres but within a system of unequal distribution of power in the capitalist world economy.

Panel W105
Globalisation as diffusion? Critical re-assessments and contemporary researches