Ambiguous jurisdictions: navigating U.S. Foreign-Trade Zones as extraterritorial spaces

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2 Scopus citations


This article explores the potential for exploitation of jurisdictional ambiguity presented by Foreign-Trade Zones (FTZs) in the United States as extraterritorial spaces within national territory. Nearly half a million people work in hundreds of U.S. FTZs. Transnational corporations are increasingly, with states’ assistance, operating in rural FTZs and asserting extrajudicial authority to create totalising environments of power and labour relations within the zones. Ethnographic examples are provided from research on how variously situated interviewees make sense of the web of local, state, national and international jurisdictions they navigate daily in FTZs in Kentucky and South Carolina. Fear, silencing and contingency are among the technologies of control workers experience in FTZs along with the daily physical disciplining of bodies leaving U.S. territory while still on U.S. soil. FTZs illustrate the extent to which U.S. economic activity is global, contradicting the economic nationalist and isolationist rhetoric of the recent Trump administration. That contradiction is foregrounded for workers in rural factories utilising Foreign-Trade Zones, who may be uncertain of the applicability of U.S. legal protections in the workplace.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-127
Number of pages15
JournalCulture, Theory and Critique
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Foreign-Trade Zones
  • Globalisation
  • United States
  • jurisdiction
  • rural
  • transnational corporations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Sociology and Political Science


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