Theory and Society

, Volume 44, Issue 4, pp 355–384 | Cite as

Global borderlands: a case study of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Philippines

  • Victoria ReyesEmail author


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.


Borderlands Geographic boundaries Global cities Globalization Inequality Symbolic borders 



I would like to thank Miguel Centeno, Viviana Zelizer, and Doug Massey for their guidance during this project. I would also like to thank Kerstin Gentsch, Joanne Wang Golann, and Erin Johnston for comments on earlier versions of this article as well as Sally Engle Merry and Annie Bunting for their feedback during the Law and Society Association’s 2013 Graduate Student Workshop, and Saskia Sassen for her comments at the 2014 Junior Theorist Symposium. Additionally, Amy A. Quark provided valuable advice at a PEWS mentoring activity at the 2014 ASA. The Editors and reviewers at Theory and Society also provided invaluable feedback. The research and writing for this article were supported by generous funds from Princeton University’s Department of Sociology, East Asian Studies Program, Center for Migration and Development, the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, as well as the American Sociological Association’s Minority Fellowship Program.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bryn Mawr CollegeBryn MawrUSA

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