Academic journal article Human Organization

Close-Ups of Postnationalism: Reports from the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Academic journal article Human Organization

Close-Ups of Postnationalism: Reports from the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Article excerpt

Postnational globalization invents forms of production and creates urban landscapes to contain them. One locus for this process is the indistinct border zone between the United States and Mexico. The forbidding physical character of the region, and its lack of conventional resources, has been counterbalanced by locational advantages for industry and trade, tourism and recreation. The borderlands exemplify forces contributing to an evolving marginal political ecology linking nation-states at unequal levels of development. In the south (Mexico), it combines rapid industrialization with a flood of youthful economic refugees seeking work in a set of "instant border megacities" with horrendous levels of pollution. Equally rapid growth is found in retirement havens to the north (U.S.), superimposed on an older stratum of border cattle ranches, timber concessions, tourism centers, and mineral claims. This special collection provides in-depth snapshots of selected features of the western half of the 2,000-mile boundary between the United States and Mexico. It also examines possible development options for the region's exploding urban centers. It opens with a broad overview of the post-NAFTA landscape, seen from an anthropological perspective.

Key words: postnationalism, politcal ecology, borderlands, NAFTA, globalization

This is one of the most unfortunate regions that could be imagined. Capt. Juan Bautista de Anza, with his California expedition crossing the present border, January 1774

This is certainly the most uncouth, impracticable country of our knowledge.

Lt. Col. Philip St. George Cooke, in southern Arizona with the Mormon Batallion, December 1846

In the past forty years the border region has become a center for North American economic activity.... Now dotted by twelve communities... divided by an international boundary, these sister cities are home to more than 11 million people and over 1,700 national and international companies.

Mark Spaulding and John Audley, reporting on "The Promising Potential of the LJ.S.- Mexico Border," 1997

Transforming the "Heat-Blasted Wilderness" The epigrams above offer 18th, 19th, and 20th century views of the borderlands between the United States and Mexico and document their transformation. While there are no conventions to classify them either by name or content, it is evident that a new sociocultural, political, environmental, and economic reality has emerged here. This metamorphosis occurs amid spectacular economic and demographic growth along what was once a desolate and forbidding frontier.

The radical transformation of man-land relationships invokes the need for an equally radical modification of analytic concepts. In the past century we have seen the submersion of a localized, bounded, and repetitive native ecosystem (Hackenberg 1983). This entity is now contained within a cosmopolitan, potentialized, and self-transforming landscape that escapes containment within traditional boundaries.

The complex dialogue between Mexico and the United States, subsuming immigration and the development of new markets, has exacerbated the complexity of these man-land relationships. And the process has gathered speed since the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994.

Kottak (1999:25-26) has captured the essentials of this new political ecology in concise language:

The changes in ecological anthropology mirror.. the shift from research focused on a single community.. perceived as more or less isolated and unique, to recognizing pervasive linkages and concomitant flows of people, technology, images, and information... and the impact of differential power and status in the postmodern world on local entities.

The focus is no longer on the local ecosystem. The "outsiders" who impinge on local and regional ecosystems become key players in the analysis, as contact with external agents and agencies (for example migrants, refugees, drug dealers, tourists, developers) has become commonplace. …

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