Accepted paper:

The flexibility of accumulation before "flexible accumulation": cornerstones for a post-fictional historical anthropology of the twentieth century capitalist world-system


Patrick Neveling (University of Bergen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper assesses the bad timing of periodisations of world history in anthropology. Alternatively, I outline the changes in the capitalist world-system in the twentieth century with the global spread of export processing zones and special economic zones since the 1940s as my main example.

Paper long abstract:

I argue that mainstream assessments of the rise of neoliberalism are highly problematic for two reasons. First, neoliberalism did not appear as a watershed in the world-system after the 1970s global crisis, as many macro-approaches would have it. Instead, if we can speak of a neoliberal model at all, this emerged in the 1930s and became powerful via US policies towards the Global South. Since the US-Truman administration's Point Four program of the late 1940s policies were about maintaining, and not establishing, deregulated labour relations and "off-hands" postcolonial policies towards multinational corporations. Notions of a global emergence of neoliberalism are then, at best, Western-centric orientalisms. Second, the global spread of export processing zones (EPZs) and special economic zones (SEZs) is often propagated as one of the defining features of a global shift in the 1970s. This is often associated with a rise of Newly Industrialised Countries (NIC) in East and Southeast Asia. A concise enquiry of the spread of such zones on a global scale and in particular national settings reveals two very different periodisations, however. The world's first EPZ was set up in Puerto Rico in 1947. Similar policies spread rapidly in the 1950s. If we consider the impact of these policies on the ground, it is evident that the shift from Fordism to neoliberalism that is so central to macro-models in anthropology, never actually happened. What is called neoliberal was instead a slight revision of existing colonial policies in many nations of the Global South.

panel P022
Reconsidering anthropologies of neoliberalism and globalization: historical conjuncture and narratives of rupture (Commission on Global Transformations and Marxian Anthropology)