Accepted paper:

Reconfiguring "global capitalism" beyond the regulationist approach: The emergence of the global regime of export processing zones and special economic zones after 1945


Patrick Neveling (University of Bergen)

Paper short abstract:

Based on examples from the large-scale relocation of industries from the US-northeast to Puerto Rico after 1945 that triggered the worldwide spread of export processing zones, I develop a multipolar approach to the global relocation of industry that explains changes in capitalist accumulation.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropological works from Harvey to Graeber often follow regulation theory's conceptual periodisation of world history that assumes a single regime of accumulation determining the location of industry (and capitalism in general) on a global scale. Building on Baca's critique of the "Legends of Fordism", this paper argues that relocation of industries does not necessarily follow a unilinear development. Instead, I show how economic models guided by flexible accumulation and locational advantages as well as other changes in the spatio-temporal fixes of capital (Harvey) emerged in the US and elsewhere as early as 1945. In those days, the US dependency of Puerto Rico embarked on a large-scale program of industrial restructuring that soon attracted numerous relocations of production from the US-Northeast. By tracing how this process was negotiated and contested in both regions and identifying the actors involved I show how profound changes in global capitalism have begun in peripheries such as Puerto Rico. This was so because what emerged in Puerto Rico after 1945 was the blueprint for the global regime of export processing zone/special economic zones that dominates global manufacturing in many sectors in the present. From this I conclude that here we find a process similar to that identified by Sidney Mintz' who argued that Caribbean sugar production processes were the blueprint for European industrial revolutions. In sum, this paper argues that global capitalism's historical development can only be accurately periodised as "neoliberal" or "fordist" if the so-called peripheries are considered.

panel PE37
Reconfiguring capitalism, reconfiguring industry, reconfiguring livelihoods