Term Paper: Geographies of Global Change

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Geographies of Global Change

(1.) Globalization may be understood as Christopherson describes it as a globally-scaled process involved in "the increased international flow of people, commodities, and information" (245). It involves the transformation of worldwide communication and information systems (e-commerce and e-marketing), as the editors of Geographies of Global Change mention, and it "transcends relations between states" so that it is a "trans-state" process dominated by flow rather than place (3). No one doubts that globalization has occurred, but its consequences are often contested. Globalization is sometimes justified on grounds that it brings increased prosperity, justice, development, equality of access to opportunities, and a better quality of life. However, such boons are not in evidence. On the contrary, polarization and inequality has resulted between rich and poor, urban and rural, and north and south. Private over public interests are prioritized. The WTO promotes a laissez-faire market detrimental to the poor. Child mortality and ethnic conflict have risen in the developing world. Consumerism poisons diversity. The wealthy are getting wealthier while the poorer nations suffer crisis. This is the portrait in Geographies of Global Change, where there is no globalization from below.

One reason why globalization has not led to prosperity for the majority is that capital flow into developing regions of the world is unevenly distributed and creates economic dependency of the periphery on the developed and expanding core. Routledge writes, "The process of development is seen as selective, reinforcing the accumulation of wealth in the core at the expense of the periphery" (315). Developing nations do not have the same base of natural resources on which to develop. The technology required for development is produced in the West, is expensive, and is capital-intensive not labor intensive so that traditional labor is displaced. Further, developing nations are forced to rely on foreign investment for development, new markets, and technology, so that they are placed at the mercy of transnational corporations and banks. Loans are granted by requiring structural adjustment (e.g., privatization), which favors the already wealthy. This dependence is a result of globalization. The speed of global information exchange in what Thrift has called a "hyperactive world" -- a phantom flow across national borders and telecommunication networks -- creates perplexity, stress, and abstraction, which adds to the malaise and closes many marginalized poor off from the networks (34).

Transnational corporations have also created a shift in the division of labor as a result of new communication and transportation modes. Materials are no longer shipped back to the West for processing. Now, rather, work is done in factories in developing nations by low skill workers in a standardized, low quality environment. The north keeps its high-skilled people and technology, while the large labor force in developing nations is underpaid and suffers knowledge loss. In other words, globalization takes advantage of moving production out of the wealthy nations and into the poorer ones where labor is cheaper, but those nations do not benefit from their own production. This is important since, as Herod points out, "The fact that goods can now be made in one part of the world and flown to the other side of the planet in only 24 or 48 hours means that many workers now have to compete globally for work and investment in their particular towns and communities" (78). As a result of transnational organizations, the workers are subject to competition in other places that can drive their wages down ("whipsawing"). The use of transnational solidarity to combat this has had minimal effect on creating equality.

Another problem with transnationalism is that the national state is forced to undermine democracy and its own citizens by falling sway to the interests of global business. Not only does centralized authority in hierarchical transnational corporations challenge negotiation and democratic decision making, but often democracy is conceived as a hindrance to the free market. This happens, for example, when governments pay more heed to international investors than to their own citizens' demands. Authoritarian governments run by the elite act in disinterest to their disadvantaged population. With respect to patronage politics, Agnew says, "Richer regions can use their wealth to buy political advantage" (129). Regional investment and income redistribution is ignored in order to encourage outside investment. Equality of wealth, opportunity, and political participation is derailed. The state fails to protect its citizens against displacement and instability caused by global mobility of labor because it caters to corporations.

Another reason why globalization has not led to the achievement of greater equality and fairness is the failure of the transnational political instruments. As Roberts indicates, institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the UN may "reflect and reinforce the highly uneven global distribution of political and economic might" (152). These political and economic organizations adjust policies and extend disciplinary measures in an unfair way against the poorer nations. People living in developing nations have been forced by world banks into structural economic readjustments that have led to worsening lifestyles. The point is that trans-state institutions involved in global management are guided by ideologies that may be harmful to developing nations and reflect inequality of power relations. Even within states, as with the predominant workfare states of Europe and the British commonwealth, there has been an unequal distribution of benefits, with women, minorities, and immigrants often left out. Most of these seem to go to the middle class, not the lower working class. There is a further discrepancy in the payment of benefits to women and to minorities or immigrants. As will be seen in the next two sections, agricultural and industrial production also puts the poor and indigenous at a disadvantage, leading to social deprivation, environmental destruction, and the disruption and impoverishment of traditional communities at the expense of Western values.

(2.) Globalization has transformed agriculture from traditional farming to agribusiness or the "agro-food system." The food production business is now its own political economy with unique industrial and technological production systems, and global networks of institutions (information) and distributors (transportation). Intensive production is concentrated in certain specialized zones (unevenly distributed) and is done by a few companies, which, Whatmore says, are "highly integrated into the global networks of the agro-technology and food industries through the ties of technological dependence, debt and production contracts" (67). Many traditional farmers (e.g., organic growers) are marginalized and occupy a resistant place in the gaps of the transnational network. Large industrial farming produces its food as manufactured goods and organizes on a global corporate model. Thus, agribusiness as the way humans now get their food is an important reflection of the way in which globalization tends to develop.

One of the results of globalization has been the reorganization of traditional rural economies and farming communities. Transnational organizations have come to coordinate the activities of food production through subsidiaries under the model of industrial manufacturing. Agricultural products are viewed as commodities to be made, processed, distributed, and sold on the mass market in the same way as other products. Mechanization has reached new levels, along with the use of chemicals (such as fertilizers and pesticides) and genetically modified crops. This illustrates one key factor in the growth of agribusiness related to globalization: the negation of nature as a factor and its replacement by technology. Whatmore writes, "As a result of these constraints, the capitalist restructuring of agriculture has centered on reducing the dependence of agro-food accumulation on 'nature' and increasing the market size and value of agro-food products through a process of industrialization" (62). In other words, since nature is inadequate, companies must modify farming biologically. This means that elements are industrialized and incorporated into agriculture from outside and synthetically. Rather than grow foods naturally, techniques are used to make standardized food substitutes through genetic and biochemical manipulation. Governments support this globalization (and technologization) of the industrial food system through research, extension services, price supports, and subsidies.

A number of problems with this system relate to indigenous populations. In the developing world, this business model for the production of food has led to the replacement of staple food crops that are essential for local markets. There is greater, if not exclusive, focus on cash crops for export. "Agriculture in these countries," says Whatmore, "has become increasingly tied into Western markets for unseasonal or luxury primary foods, or bulk feed crops for intensive livestock production" (65). As a result, the poor countries become importers of the manufactured foodstuffs from the wealthy countries rather than self-reliant on their own native agricultural products. Perhaps most absurd is that the rich gobble up a higher percentage of the food than the poor. Rainforests are cut down in Brazil to graze cattle for consumption in the U.S. People in the poor nations are often malnourished but unable to afford to buy grain, which is itself fed to livestock. The food production system, in other words, reflects globalization's exploitation of the majority poor, and their natural resources, for profit with the minority rich.

Agricultural development also creates dependency for developing countries. Imported… [END OF PREVIEW]

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