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Importing Export Zones: processes and impacts of replicating a Chinese model of urbanization in rural south India

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Original languageEnglish
JournalURBAN GEOGRAPHY
Published17 Dec 2021

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Abstract

This article examines the development and impacts of an anonymized south Indian “industrial city”, directly modelled on a Chinese counterpart. The privately-owned and -operated city was founded in the 2000s and is a key example of India’s new-style Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These represent a national shift, directly motivated by the success of China’s SEZs, from older enclave-style “export processing zones” to new integrated townships. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in the city in 2018, the article takes a grounded empirical approach to explore how the Chinese SEZ “model” is translated into and interacts with specific Indian local contexts to produce new forms of urban experience. Specifically, it compares three salient issues seen in both the Chinese and Indian cases: first, the city’s establishment and spatial planning; second, the gendered hiring practices of firms based in the city; third, incorporation of local villages into the city. These three aspects represent different mechanisms through which the “model” is translated into the Indian context, by different actors, with different outcomes. In line with recent scholarship on policy mobilities, we argue that a “model” cannot be straightforwardly replicated, and we call for more attention to the context-specific outcomes of attempted replication, in order to understand fully the urban development implications arising from the selective, complex, multi-level adaptation of a Chinese “model” and its interaction with local Indian contexts.

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