Zones: Beyond the Logic of Exception?

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Department of English, NTNU


Over the past five decades the proliferation of economic zones has been crucial to the emergence of Asian economic power. With historical precedents in ancient free ports, pirate enclaves, and colonial concessions, zones have become crucial spaces of labor and production. They are sites in which globalized forms of capital and logistics interact with populations and administrative bodies to augment the conditions for profit-making and accumulation. How are we to understand the political and legal constitution of zones? In an important sense they are spaces of exception since states create them by sectioning off locations in which foreign investors enjoy exemptions to law and other forms of normative regulation. These exceptions, however, are often established by normative means and are almost always partial. Exceptional forms of rule in zones tend to exist alongside domestic civil laws, opportunistic applications of international law, and diverse norms and standards promulgated by corporate actors. Zones can at once be spaces of exception and spaces saturated by competing norms and calculations. They are strategic sites in which to test the applicability of Agamben’s work on sovereignty, exception and governmentality to the contemporary Asian context. Mindful of the plurality of zones across Asia, the paper highlights mutations in these forms of power to explore how zones disarticulate jurisdiction from territory, produce new kinds of laboring subjects, and prompt processes of spatial and social reorganization.