Neoliberal rhetoric would have us believe that we are living in a borderless world of free circulation; a world in which goods and persons may migrate and fluctuate across the globe almost as if they were particles striving for perfect distribution in perfect homeostatic aggregations. However, the exchange of goods (both material and immaterial), of means, and of people across very real physical geographies hardly corresponds to such an image. The flows of global goods and humans converge at certain physical and systemic straits where these fluxes condense, swell, bottleneck, and become tangible. The geophysical limitations of these maritime and terrestrial straits do not simply indicate that a global market past physical restriction has yet to be fully realized; they are also the guarantors of that market despite the inequalities it produces.
Often enough, straits imply a political canalization and thus become an instrument of identification and selection, which itself has a long history. After the initial euphoria of the age of discovery, passengers leaving for the New World from Spanish ports of call had to go through precise identification practices as early as the mid-16th century, practices that their European descendants renewed in the 20th century when they were gathered at entry-points like Ellis Island.
Thus, since the early modern period, the more geographical mobility has become available, the more its political implications have become evident. Suez and Panama not only stand for further achievements on the way to unimpeded world-wide circulation, they have also become markers of strict regulation. These narrows —zones of passage and transit spaces that simultaneously circumscribe and restrict exchange— ought to be part of our attention now even more than ever, as they are the place where the actual mechanisms of globalization become visible.
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