global borderlands – a guest post by victoria reyes

Victoria Reyes is an assistant professor at Bryn Mawr in the Growth and Structure of Cities Department. Her research is about specific urban sites in the global system. This post addresses her recent article in Theory and Society.

Thanks to Fabio for allowing me to post about my work. I study global inequality through a cultural and relational lens, and am particularly interested in places of foreign-control, by which I mean places that are either foreign-owned or are heavily influenced by foreigners. I have two recent articles about this (see below for citations and abstracts).

In one that was recently published in Theory and Society, I draw and extend work on global cities and cities along geopolitical borders to develop a concept I call “global borderlands”—semi-autonomous, foreign-controlled, geographic locations geared toward international exchange. These are places like overseas military bases, embassies, tourist resorts, international branch campuses (e.g. NYU Abu Dhabi), and special economic zones, where tariff barriers are relaxed. When I speak of global borderlands, I do not necessarily assume negative connotations. Indeed, some people may enjoy or prefer working, visiting, and/or living within global borderlands, while others are excluded from these places.

I argue that these places have three features in common. First, semi-autonomy and foreign-control. These are places where the notion of “who rules?” is fluid and negotiated, and where regulation depends on nationality. Second, like many other places, global borderlands are defined by geographic and symbolic boundaries. Third, these places are built on unequal relations, by which I refer to structural inequality that again, does not necessarily come bundled with negative connotations. For example, in my work, I examine the Harbor Point mall within the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Philippines, and compare it to both the SM mall in Olongapo City—which is 30 feet away, on the other side of the Freeport’s gate—and Hanjin Shipping, a Korean-owned shipping and manufacturing company within the Freeport that is known for human rights violations. Although most Harbor Point mall employees cannot afford to purchase lunch within the mall, they prefer working within it because of the higher wages they earn and the relatively more stable employment, when compared to similar work outside the Freeport.

The Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Philippines was originally the location of the former U.S. Subic Bay Naval Base. In another article, in City & Community, I examine how the legacies of the U.S. military continue to influence present day practices and discourses, and Filipino elites’ role in institutionalizing these legacies.



Reyes, Victoria. 2015. “Global borderlands: A case study of Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Philippines” Theory and Society 44(4): 355–384

Abstract: By developing the concept of global borderlands—semi-autonomous, foreign-controlled geographic locations geared toward international exchange—this article shifts the focus of globalization literature from elite global cities and cities on national borders to within-country sites owned or operated by foreigners and defined by significant social, cultural, and economic exchange. I analyze three shared features of these sites: semi-autonomy, symbolic and geographic boundaries, and unequal relations. The multi-method analyses reveal how the concept of global borderlands can help us better understand the interactions that occur among people of different nationalities, classes, and races/ethnicities and the complex dynamics that occur within foreign-controlled spaces. I first situate global borderlands within the literatures of global cities and geopolitical borderlands. Next, I use the case study of Subic Bay Freeport Zone (SBFZ), Philippines to show (1) how the semi-autonomy of global borderlands produces different regulations depending on nationality, (2) how its geographic and symbolic borders differentiate this space from the surrounding community, and (3) how the semi-autonomy of these locations and their geographic and symbolic borders reproduce unequal relations. As home of the former US Subic Bay Naval Base and current site of a Freeport Zone, the SBFZ serves as a particularly strategic research location to examine the different forms of interactions that occur between groups within spaces of unequal power.

Reyes, Victoria. 2015. “Legacies of Place and Power: From Military Base to Freeport Zone” City & Community 14(1):1-26

Abstract: This article examines the place-making of global borderlands—semi-autonomous, foreign-controlled geographical locations geared toward international exchange. I use the case study of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone (SBFZ), Philippines as an example of a global borderland that resides within a space formerly occupied by a colonial power. I show how elite Filipinos adapted and transformed the spatial boundaries the U.S. military initially erected.  The earlier boundaries differentiating Americans from Filipinos and military personnel from civilians, helped the native elite to perpetuate familiar patterns of inequality based on nationality, class, and skin color. This differentiation occurs through (1) the indirect and direct exclusion of the poor vis-à-vis the SBFZ’s socio-spatial organization, and (2) the maintenance of cultural practices (litter, traffic) and moral discourses (of what is “good” and “bad”) formerly associated with the base, so that the SBFZ remains distinct from the surrounding city of Olongapo. Places of power have legacies, structural and spatial residues that continue to influence cultural practices and discourses even after the original uses of a place are transformed.

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Written by fabiorojas

August 10, 2015 at 12:01 am

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