Mutants of Development: Special Economic Zones, Economic Corridors, and the Changing Geographies of Capitalism

Dennis Arnold, Department of Human Geography, Planning and International Development, University of Amsterdam / Patrick Neveling, Department of Cultural Anthropology, Utrecht University
Patrick Neveling

From a historical perspective special economic zones (SEZ) and their EPZ and Free Port precursors have typically functioned as enclaves. This historical precedent has contributed to much discussion around zones and other geographically delimited political economic spaces as ‘islands’ or ‘archipelagos’ acting as globalisation footholds in diverse political economic settings and historical eras. More generally, the shared understanding among academics has been that Free Ports, EPZs, and SEZs were and are ‘exceptional’ political economic spaces varyingly separate from the ‘normal’ functions of national political economies and related national sovereignty concerns.

With the WTO-led erosion of liberalization restricting policies, the legal ‘appeal’ of zones is nearly a thing of the past. Yet the number and type of zones have proliferated exponentially in recent decades and SEZs, which are increasingly linked up within wider economic corridors, are still regarded as keys to successful regional and national development. At the same time, the extended and deepening reach of the circuits of capital has evidently ‘normalized’ aggravated exploitation, gendered divisions of labor, and labor informalization across much of the global economy. It seems that such patterns, which have been deemed to be unique SEZ-features that made for the zones’ particular super exploitation, has scaled up and is integral to wider social and political formations.

For good reason, then, the supposed differentiation between a ‘normal’-national, and ‘exceptional’-SEZ located dimension of capitalist exploitation has come into question. The proposed workshop seeks to advance debates on this new research perspective and invites speakers to address one or more of the following questions:

- What can historical studies of zones tell us about these trends towards convergence – rather than divergence - of the ‘normal’ and the ‘exceptional’ that neoliberal-centric readings of contemporary exportism occlude?
- What factors account for the continued proliferation of SEZs, and more importantly, what is the significance?
- What are the logics of the recent spread of zones and the escalating efforts to link up zones to economic corridors, which varyingly set out to connecting otherwise isolated industrial clusters, urban agglomeration economies and other growth nodes?
- What does the changing proliferation of SEZs say about efforts to re-order the disorderly growth of capitalist development?

Workshop objectives:
The objective of this workshop is to bring together researchers studying zones and corridors; to build new and enhance existing research collaboration among workshop participants.

Preparation and intended output:
- We invite expressions of interest by 15 October including paper titles, abstracts (250 words), and short bios (100 words). Please submit to:

- All invited speakers are asked to submit a 1,500 word ‘concept paper’ by 11 November.

- Following the workshop we will collect submissions from speakers. The publishing ambitions will be assessed on the basis of all paper proposals received. Publication may be as a series of blogs (a Symposium in the Progress in Political Economy blog, for example), while the conveners would like to also reserve the possibility to pursue a special issue option in an indexed (Tier-1) peer-reviewed journal.

Participation will be limited to a maximum of eight presenters. We will devote roughly 45 minutes to each contributor’s presentation and discussion.

The workshop organizers will cover food and local travel expenses. Travel reimbursements for Amsterdam and vicinity (i.e. Europe, North Africa and Middle East) based researchers will be considered on a case-by-case basis, as will accommodation. Given the fact it is a one-day workshop, in addition to budget limitations, we cannot consider reimbursements for travel outside of the Europe-Mediterranean region.


Patrick Neveling

Mutants of Development: Special Economic Zones, Economic Corridors, and the Changing Geographies of Capitalism, 16.11.2016 Amsterdam, in: Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists, 14.10.2016, <>.
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