Border Assemblages: the Political Economy of Asian Regional Vegetable Trade


Kuan-Chi Wang

PhD defended at: 

Spring 2018


In my dissertation, I study the spatio-temporal variegation and transnational circulation of vegetable commodities using the case of edamame beans (the largest frozen vegetable sector in Asia). My dissertation shows that food production and trade in Asia have fundamentally changed over the past several decades. Rapid development has lifted the region out of subsistence and into middle-class and luxury consumption. As a result, Asia is quickly becoming the center of the global food economy. The development of edamame industries is central to explaining the transformation of the agriculture and food industries across the region. I employ a mixed methods approach that includes participant-observation, semi-structured interviews with 40 edamame farmers and entrepreneurs, and GIS mapping, alongside Social Network Analysis (SNA). In my analysis, I coin the concept of “border assemblages,” arguing that edamame trade incorporates network and state-territorial characteristics. Building on this approach, my research bridges two social science sub-fields: international politics and regional agrarian development. Two novel findings emerge from this research: First, my research adds to the literature on Asian colonialism by showing how the Japanese Empire and the post-World War Two (WWII) U.S. Cold War regime territorialized East Asia to develop a regulatory assemblage of regional agricultural production and trade. Second, after the 1980s, a new type of food regime emerged in East Asia following the introduction of new World Trade Organization food safety regulations that reterritorialized the food production networks in Asia. My research conceptualizes the emergence of the new food regimes in an East Asian context according to the political economy and ecology of edamame trade among Taiwan, Japan, and China. Another strand of my research contributes to the geopolitical understanding of the edamame trade with regard to food scares and contract farming. I extend the definition of contract farming to encompass international regulatory bodies and argue that trade agreements and international food laws, such as the Codex Alimentarius, have significantly shaped the agrarian landscape in Asia.