Tag Archives: globalization

Landscapes of Power – Moscow

Peter the Great Statue, MoscowBy Alexander Leo Phillips

On Tuesday 28th September Yuri Luzhkov was sacked after 18 years as Moscow’s mayor.  Given the secretive nature of Russian politics, the ongoing spat between Luzhkov and Putin/Medvedev was unusual  not only for its viciousness, but also for the publicity it received.  Accused of mismanagement and corruption he was offered a simple choice – jump or be pushed.  The charges against him have yet to be proven, with supporters claiming that it was his popularity which saw him removed, as he was seen as a threat to the Kremlin.

Luzhkov came to power as the Iron Curtin fell and since that time oversaw the massive redevelopments of Moscow’s centre and the establishment of a new financial district.  These changes attracted a great deal of praise, but also their fair share of criticism due to the destruction of historic landmarks that the redevelopments left in their wake.   However, the most visible legacy of his power is doubtlessly the ‘300 years of the Russian Fleet’ monument, more commonly known as the Peter the Great Statue (pictured).

Standing taller and heaver than the Statue of Liberty the monument has been voted the 10th ugliest structure on the planet and become a symbol of Luzhkov’s  power. Now that he has finally been ousted plans are afoot to dismantle it and move it away from the public gaze.  Such a move can be read simply as the removal of a controversial work of art, or as something more sinister as the power of Kremlin exerts itself beyond its traditional boundaries. After all, Muscovites have been left with little doubt that their new mayor will be someone with a little more official approval.

The role architecture plays in the domination of landscapes is nothing new to Human Geography.  Across the globe Geographers have studied how the design of buildings has been implemented to give an unrivalled physicality to the power relationships which dictate the political, economic and cultural structures which inhabit our built environment.  In Transactions’ current issue Maria Kaika has explored London’s changing skyline and how its shift from the traditional to revolutionary designs like the Swiss-Re tower (the Gherkin) is symptomatic of the recent institutional reconfigurations of the Corporation of London.  She argues that “the internationalisation of London’s economy after the 1970s challenged the Corporation’s insular character… [And responding to the threats from ‘foreign companies’] the Corporation reinvented itself with an institutional reform [strategy,] and re-branded its identity… as an outward-looking institution, open to London’s new transnational élites” (2010:453).

Kiaka, M. 2010. ‘Architecture and crisis: re-inventing the icon, re-imag(in)ing London and re-branding the City’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 35 (4), pp. 453-474.

Profile of Yuri Luzhkov.

More information on the ‘Peter the Great Statue’.

Rethinking Transport Geography

These lorries have a much larger impact than you might think. Wikipedia Commons.

Benjamin Sacks

The geography of transport is a field scholars traditionally take for granted. Ideas and cultures spread via cars, trains, aircraft, ships, and buses, facilitating transnational exchanges. Precisely because of this simplistic summation, transport geography has often been ignored relative to its more glamorous siblings, defense geography, human geography, and political geography. As developing countries establish powerful domestic transport industries, however (e.g. Embraer in Brazil, Tata in India and Geely in China), geographers are taking a fresh look at global, mechanized movement. In a July 2010 article for Transactions of the Institute for British Geographers, John Saw (University of Plymouth) and Markus Hesse (University of Luxembourg) highlight what they term as “the new mobilities paradigm” (305). In many respects, this paradigm shift is not revolutionary; the angle of perspective has simply been substantially widened. As was discussed at the 2008 annual conference of the Association of American Geographers (305), geographers should contextualize transport within the interdisciplinary nature of the local and global.

Transport – the conduit by which trade and cultural links have been established throughout world history – traditionally reflected relative international power. In the long sixteenth century (c.1450-1600) Portuguese and Spanish shipbuilders, spurred by prospective wealth in the East Indies, radicalized vessel designs. William Adams, an Englishman stranded in Japan who eventually became a close advisor to the shogun Ieyasu, introduced Western ship designs. The Chinese had lambasted their Japanese counterparts; in We Pei Chih (1600), Mao Yuan haughtily dismissed Japanese merchant vessels as “wretchedly small…and easily sunk”. Adams’s design, incorporating two masts and a deep, ocean-going hull, proved extremely valuable to the Japanese elite. The experiences of such visitors as Adams opened new paths of communication that would subsequently widened and enhanced. As transport diversified, so did the means and types of cultural, political, and linguistic transmissions.

Jon Shaw and Markus Hesse, “Boundary Crossings: Transport, Geography and the ‘New’ Mobilities”, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 35 n0. 3 (Jul., 2010): pp. 305-312.

Giles Milton, Samurai William: the Englishman Who Opened Japan (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002), p. 110.

Mao Yuan, Wu Pei Chih (On Preparations for War), 1600.

Islamic Finance

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Public confidence in the banking sector has been significantly shaken over recent years.  Given the turmoil caused by the global financial crisis, the depression and the public bail-outs of banks like RBS and Northern Rock; the raising levels of doubt and mistrust are hardly surprising.  Furthermore, such doubts show little sign of abating this week, as seven EU banks fail newly imposed ‘stress tests‘ by the Committee of European Banking Supervisors (CEBS).  As a result increasing numbers are looking for an alternative form of banking in which to invest and Islamic finance could just fit the bill.

Unlike the traditional banking sector, Islamic banking is based upon a strict set of principles; the central of which is that “money itself has no intrinsic value. [Also] as a matter of faith, a Muslim cannot lend money to, or receive money from someone and expect to benefit – interest (known as riba) is not allowed. To make money from money is forbidden – wealth can only be generated through legitimate trade and investment in assets. Money must be used in a productive way” (IBB).  As a result of this central principle Islamic finance is considered more stable (as the temptation to risk in search of profit is reduced) and more ethically appealing to many private savers and investors dismayed by increased profits and bankers bonuses.  Moreover, Pollard (2010) suggests that many organisations like the IBB, are attempting to market themselves as ‘ethical banks’ in areas such as the EU and USA which could otherwise be sceptical of the Islamic name.

In a recent issue of Area geographers Bassons, Derudder and Witlox detail the global spread of the Islamic finance model in recent years, charting how Islamic financial services have moved out of their historical base in the cities of the Middle East and become “anchored in the more conventional world cities” (2010, 44) of London and Paris, challenging our pre-existing geographical imaginations of the global financial sector.

These changes should be of great interest of all Human Geographers, as they offer a potentially fruitful intersection between social & cultural, political and economic geographical research; as we explore how the actions and values of the individual impact upon these globalised networks.

Bassons, D, Derudder, B and Witlox, F. 2010. ‘Searching for the Mecca of finance: Islamic financial services and the world city network’, Area, 42 (1). pp. 35-46.

Pollard, J. 2010. Faith in Economic Geography: some reflections on Islamic finance. In: Geographies of Religion: a new dialogue, Newcastle University, 9th March 2010.

Live Aid 25

By Alexander Leo Phillips

Tuesday 13th July marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Live Aid.  The “global jukebox”, devised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, was held simultaneously in Wembley Stadium, London and John F. Kennedy Stadium, Philadelphia and viewed by an estimated two billion people across the globe. The aim of the concert was simple; to raise money for the millions of Ethiopians struck by the devastating famine of 1984. The result was over £150 million raised for famine relief and a defining television event marking the generosity of millions.

Its easy and indeed reassuring to look back, twenty-five years on, and think of the event as the day the “developed” nations and publics of Great Britain, America and others got together and said NO to starvation, suffering and death amongst some of our poorest neighbours; but did the event really make much of  a difference?

To mark the anniversary, celebrities, activists and charities are once again joining together in a renewed call for aid, since the situation now is as bad as ever.  To quote Colin Firth on East Africa “These people are facing another food crisis. A dangerous storm of factors, drought, conflict, poverty and rocketing food prices, are pushing people over the edge. Oxfam needs public support to avert catastrophe and keep people alive” (Mirror.co.uk).

International aid, poverty and global development remain critical issues in our world today.  Indeed international aid and the NHS were the only two areas protected from the savage cuts of Britain’s new coalition government.  Geographers have also written extensively on the subject.  In recent months Paul Milbourne has provided a critical review of the recent geographical work on poverty and welfare and William Gould has asked us to reconsider our understandings of links between HIV/AIDS and poverty in Africa, questioning the nature of our aid policies.

As the decades pass and the preventable deaths multiply, it’s becoming abundantly clear that throwing money at the issue does little to help; furthermore the very act of doing so has become ‘big business’ in itself as Linda Polman‘s new book illustrates so painfully.  So what are the solutions, if they even exist and what can geographers do to help?

Gould, B. 2009. ‘Exploring the Anomalous Positive Relationship between AIDS and Poverty in Africa’, Geography Compass, 3 (4), pp. 1449-1464.

Milbourne, P.  2010. ‘The Geographies of Poverty and Welfare’, Geography Compass, 4 (2), pp. 158-171.

For further information regarding the 25th anniversary of Live Aid see The Daily Mirror.

For further information regarding Linda Polman’s work on the aid industry see The Sunday Times.

The Social Geography of Youth

City Centre, Belfast, Northern Ireland

by Benjamin Sacks

Naomi Bushin and Allen White’s excellent article in the June 2010 issue of Area analyses the critical impact of migration in conflicting zones through the spatial geography of youth. In the past decade the Republic of Ireland has become a popular destination for EU and non-EU immigrants alike; the result of extended economic growth. Irish society, however, remains caught between traditional conservatism and progressive globalization – a quagmire that has served to isolate children of immigrants. Bushin and White ‘illuminate the “tangled politics” of immigration procedures that are constructed by adults and imposed upon young people, often with little regard for opportunities for their participation’ [Naomi Bushin and Allen White, “Migration Politics in Ireland: Exploring the Impacts on Young People’s Geographies,” Area 42 no. 2 (June, 2010): p. 170].

Why is this is the case? Academic and professional attention  historically focused on the composition of migrant workers and their reasons for migrating to Ireland. As Bushin and White argue, many recent arrivals are migrant workers; short-term employees seeking higher wages than the equivalent in Eastern Europe or North Africa. But the children and teenagers who are brought along are often ignored, their experiences in Ireland undocumented. Area sheds new light on migrant youths’ travels and decisions.

In a survey of twenty-four students, fourteen returned to their native countries during holidays, in order to reconnect with family and friends. One student, Adam, “Said that his Mum is worried that he will lose his Lithuanian if he doesn’t have any Lithuanian friends” (Bushin and White, 173). Migrant youth struggle to find a socio-cultural balance between their desires to learn, make new friends, and ‘fit-in’, while parents and other adults strive to instill their children with the beliefs and languages of home.

Read ‘Migration Politics in Ireland’ here.

Learn more about Ireland and the immigration question in this BBC article.

iPad controversy highlights growing inequality in China

by Michelle Brooks

Despite a plethora of reasons why I am not holding a new Apple iPad (mostly financial), recent news of a spate of suicides at the Foxconn plant near Shenzhen in China where it is made has forced me to consider concerns that are of course hardly new to Geographers.  Don’t get me wrong, I am as gadget hungry as the next person but I was struck by the sense of crisis that led to this final act of desperation, and as a consumer of electronics (like the laptop I am writing on) I can’t help but feel deeply my part, the consumers part, in all of this. The 300,000 workers who live at the Longhua factory work six days a week and average overtime is 120 hours per month equating to an average 70 hour week, the maximum set by Apple. Workers must not talk during working hours and regularly ‘burn out’ leading to an enormous staff turnover of 50,000 a month.

The mediation of commodities through markets, advertising, global hysteria, exoticism and status et alia dilutes the knowledge we have of the half-life existence of those whose hands produce them, as discussed in an article by Peter Jackson for Transactions(1999), and increases the distance between us and the production line. It is possible that though factory conditions have not got worse or changed recently, what has changed is the Chinese factory worker. Globalisation produces outcomes on all sides one of which is rising inequality. With its previously socialist framework China is experiencing the emergence of inequity; industrialisation and the economic boom potentially fuelling new aspirations and heightening expectations. 
Fulong Wu
(2003) writes in Area of the impact of this emerging inequality in Beijing through a case study of housing trends.

Reaction from Apple has been swift, and a raft of measures to increase wellbeing for the workers is planned including a reported 80% pay increase, indicative of previous low wages.  For my part the events at the Longhua plant are a stark reminder that though we in the ‘West’ increasingly manage to drive down the price of commodities; somewhere, someone is paying the price.

Environment, geopolitics and critique

By Matthew Rech

Simon Dalby, writing in Geography Compass, provides a compelling argument that prompts us to reconsider our place in the world, and to challenge implicit geographies associated with globalisation, geopolitics and the environment. As Dalby suggests, “some of the most taken for granted and obvious parts of environmental political thought are assumptions about context and environmental circumstances” (104), and it must be our role as geographers to continue to critique geopolitical categories and scientific understandings that shape political discourse.

Specifically, and in relation to the ongoing Copenhagen summit, Dalby takes issue with certain spatialisations used to organise our understandings of the world, which might often be out of line with the new contexts of our lives. These new contexts (meaning post September 11th politics, the transformation of humanity into an urban species, and new thinking in earth systems science) demand a rethink of the categories we use to make sense of our place in the world.

So, as we are beholden to the twists and turns of the climate summit this month, we should be mindful that “the taken for granted nature of geographical categories – states, regions, blocs, continents, resources and environments” (104) – shape political will and discourse. And also, that whilst “geopolitical reasoning is mostly about the view from the metropoles of the global polity” (104) we must remain cognisant of strategic silences, and the unheard voices of those that climate change may threaten most.

See the BBC Copenhagen newspage

Read Dalby, S (2007) Anthropocene Geopolitics: Globalisation, Empire, Environment and Critique. Geography Compass. 1. 1, 103-18