Manufacturing Commodity Frontiers

Authors: Joshua Steckley*,
Topics: Economic Geography, Land Use
Keywords: Commodity Frontiers, Special Economic Zones
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 1:20 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Iberville, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


My paper asks why, despite their uneven results, are ‘special zones’ in developing countries increasing, while simultaneously diversifying from industrial manufacturing into primary commodity production? Moore (2015) argues that historic waves capitalist accumulation are sustained through commodity frontiers, where small amounts of capital are capable of appropriating massive amounts of unpaid work/energy to generate an ‘ecological surplus.’ The problem for capital, however, is that appropriating the unpaid work/energy of commodity frontiers is a ‘one-off’ and can’t be repeated twice. He justifiably asks whether dwindling commodity frontiers spell the end of capitalism’s great waves of accumulation. I argue that ‘special zones’ that govern primary commodity production in developing countries attempt to reconfigure space as a manufactured commodity frontier: a space where capital, land, and labour are organized to reset the conditions that had previously permitted massive rounds of accumulation. In place of colonial conquest, indentured and slave labour, or imperial puppet regimes, ‘special zones’ can generate ecological surpluses within the context of 21st century globalization through legal structures that suspend domestic laws pertaining to trade, tax, the environment, and labour. I compare two banana plantations in Haiti — one governed by domestic laws, and another governed by ‘special zone’ laws — to demonstrate how primary commodity ‘special zones’ are capable of turning previously exploited “useless” land into a commodity frontier where massive surpluses of unpaid work/energy are extracted with little capital overlay.

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