Sustainability enclaves in Southeast Asia

Jerome Whitington


Resource regimes in postsocialist Laos have been dominated by foreign actors in ways that frequently dovetail with the prerogatives of multilateral investment and the work of nongovernmental development organizations. A common theme among these diverse actors is that the Lao government regularly delegates certain kinds of governing activity to these foreign actors, resulting in specific territories over which foreign organizations can frequently play a dominating role, albeit in highly diverse and idiosyncratic ways. Following on Ong’s concept of graduated sovereignty, I term these governance regimes sustainability enclaves, noting that they frequently revolve around resource extraction, and that “sustainability” broadly construed characterizes contestation over how development should take place. Sustainability enclaves are the outcome of a postsocialist policy of cautious openness toward foreign actors. They involve specific but heterogeneous governance regimes that can and frequently do overlap. They often have important effects on the dilemmas of everyday life for those who live within their domain, while they also characterize the practicalities of state management of foreign organizations operating in the country.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/712091