Asia has seen rapid and profound transformations in the context of contemporary globalisation, and changing practices of capitalism have produced new forms of connections, flows and mobilities in the region. For example, the development of supply chain capitalism and its spread from manufacturing to the service sector has changed the international division of labour. New economic and political powers such as China and India have gained prominence not only as sources of low-skilled labour power and low-value products, but also as globally prominent players that produce a wide range of services and commodities, which are an integral part of a post-Fordist, information economy. New networked models of distributed production as well as newly emerging patterns of consumption have changed the face of the global economy, impacting on the ways in which labour and capital move transnationally.
Changing modes of capital accumulation and distribution intersect with the increased use of ‘exceptions’ or ‘special rules’ to maximise capitalist profits. Special economic zones are one example of state sovereignty applying the logic of exception to forge a new relationship with global capitalism. Ranging from the Greater Mekong Sub-region and the ASEAN Free Trade Area to the more recently opened Shanghai Free-Trade Zone, many Asian countries have benefited from such special zones in recent decades, the use of which has become a staple strategy to achieve economic reform and industrial development through attracting foreign capital.
Spaces where exceptions and special rules operate to maximize capitalist profits are not all geographically bounded. Exploitation of ‘flexible labour’ absolves employers from the responsibility to provide job security and welfare to which employees are otherwise entitled. Combining leisure and industrial activities in places such as integrated resorts is an example of generating certain mobile flows of domestic and transnational tourists and workers while increasing tourism consumption. These new formations which adapt or evolve from the "special zone" model demonstrate the versatility of the concept of "making special" or "making exceptional", and have the potential to transform fundamental notions of sovereignty, citizenship, rights, freedom, subjecthood, and mobility.
Exceptional space frequently requires the endorsement if not active creation on the part of the state, and therefore occupies a hybrid space between “neo-liberalisation and active state intervention” (Park 2005: 868). Powerful international donors and non-state actors such as the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank and large private enterprises also play significant roles in the making of spaces of exception.
Global capitalism thrives on and is worked through the use of exceptions, and ironically, such spaces are increasingly the norm. As is the case of special economic zones, spaces of exception are established selectively at first, with the intention of expanding their application more generally (Ong 2006). In many ways, the ‘normalised exceptional’ space is a strategy of neoliberal governance: by harnessing sovereignty to global capital, the strategy also classifies the population for better surveillance, protects against political unrest, introduces reform in a controlled manner, and manage both the ‘dangerous’ class of workers and the middle-class comprising new professionals (Ong 1999). From exceptional spaces emerge certain rights, but this is also a form of control, be it conferring the privilege of lenient visa rules for expatriate travellers who enter free trade zones, or providing multiple entry visas to Chinese tourists who enter Japan through Okinawa. This exceptional regime both contrasts and combines with the more traditional disciplinary labour regime in its inclusion of features such as physical punishment, monetary penalties, compulsory overtime, control of the body, and the bonding of labour to employer through mandatory deposits (Chan & Xiaoyang 2003).
This workshop presents fresh empirical research on a variety of spaces of exception in Asia to shed light on new ways capitalism works socially and culturally under contemporary globalisation. Participants include scholars from sociology, anthropology, human geography and other related disciplines.
Dr Kumiko KAWASHIMA
Macquarie University, Australia
Professor Brenda YEOH
Asia Research Institute, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences,
and Department of Geography, National University of Singapore
Miss Sharon ONG
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore