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Special economic zones (SEZs) are a key manifestation of neoliberal globalization. As of 2020, more than 150 nations operated more than 5,400 zones. The combined workforce of factories and service industries in bonded warehouses, export processing zones (EPZs), free trade zones (FTZs), science parks (SPs), regional development zones (RDZs), economic corridors (ECs), and other types of SEZs exceeds one hundred million. These figures include tax havens, offshore financial centers, and free ports. Neoliberal academics and researchers from international organizations say that this has been a long time coming, as the freedom offered in the zones was integral to being human and first implemented in free ports of the Roman Empire. Critical social scientists, among them many anthropologists, have instead identified the zones as products of a 1970s rupture from Keynesian welfarism and Fordist factory regimes to neoliberal globalization and post-Fordist flexible accumulation. Since the early 21st century, scholarship in anthropology has expanded this critical stance on worker exploitation in SEZs toward a historical analysis of SEZs as pacemakers of neoliberal manufacturing globalization since the 1940s. A second strand of ethnographies uses a postmodern lens to research the zones as regimes that produce neoliberal subjectivities and graduated sovereignty.


M.P. Pimbert, N.I. Moeller, J. Singh, and C.R. Anderson

Agroecology is an alternative paradigm for agriculture and food systems that is simultaneously: (a) the application of ecological principles to food and farming systems that emerge from specific socioecological and cultural contexts in place-based territories; and (b) a social and political process that centers the knowledge and agency of Indigenous peoples and peasants in determining agri-food system policy and practice. Historically, agroecology is associated with a multifaceted body of transdisciplinary knowledge. The academic literature emphasizes the role of scientists in developing an interdisciplinary agroecology over the past ninety years. However, the practice of agroecology is much older, with deep roots in many Indigenous and peasant societies of Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Polynesia. Although these societies never adopted the term “agroecology,” their time-tested practices in growing food and fiber illustrate many principles of modern agroecology. The transdisciplinary field of research on agroecology examines how agroecology contributes to equitable and sustainable food and fiber production, processing, distribution, and consumption. Agroecology builds on people’s knowledge, Indigenous management systems, and local institutions through “dialogues of knowledges” with social science, natural science, and the humanities. The study of Indigenous and peasant agri-food systems has thus been pivotal for the development of both agroecology and anthropology. The agroecological perspective is based on a transformative vision of the relationship between people and nature. Economic anthropology has unearthed a wide diversity of systems of economic exchange that are informing work on agroecology, including the vital importance of Indigenous and peasant economies, gift economies, circular economies, subsistence, and economies of care. These are pushing agroecologists to think outside of the box of dominant commodity capitalism. Agroecology is also based on a radical conceptualization of knowledge systems, whereby work on cognitive justice, epistemic justice, Indigeneity, and decoloniality is upending the dominance of Western, scientific, Eurocentric, and patriarchal worldviews as the basis for the future of food and agriculture. Agroecology is also underpinned by radical notions of democracy and new conceptualizations of popular education, transformations in governance, and empowering forms of participation. While the transformative agenda offered by agroecology is deeply contested by proponents of industrial and corporate food and agriculture, agroecology is increasingly important in academic and policy debates on sustainable food, farming, and land use. Exploring the relationship between agroecology and anthropology is both fruitful and timely because it can help re-root agroecology—which is increasingly at risk of becoming an abstract and devitalized concept—in the fundamentally localized practices and culture of agri-food systems.


Keir James Cecil Martin

Corporations are among the most important of the institutions that shape lives across the globe. They often have a “taken for granted” character, both in everyday discourse and in economic or management theory, where they are often described as an inevitable outcome of the natural working of markets. Anthropological analysis suggests that neither the markets that are seen as their foundation nor corporations as social entities can be understood in this manner. Instead, their existence has to be seen as contingent on particular social relations and as being the outcome of long processes of historic conflict. The extent to which, at the start of the 21st century, corporations satisfactorily fulfill their supposed purpose of managing debt obligations in order to stimulate economic growth is particularly open to question. This was traditionally the justification for the establishment of corporations as separate legal actors in economic markets. Some 150 years on, other sociocultural relations and perspectives shape their boundaries and activities in a manner that means that their purpose and character can no longer be assumed on the basis of such axiomatic premises. Instead, their actions can be explained only on the basis of historic and ethnographic analysis of the contests over the limits of relational obligation that shape their boundaries.