February 12, 2004

McMichael Offers New Perspectives

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The effect of globalization is ultimately a local phenomenon. While Ithaca has no industrial base that allows for significant job losses, cities like Rochester, Buffalo and Cortland have seen factories shut down and employees laid off as jobs shift to Mexico and China, contributing to the loss of community revenue base.

Interested in the “changing web of social networks across the world that produce our market culture,” Prof. Philip McMichael, chair of development sociology, has recently updated his textbook Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective. His third edition will include new information on global subcontracting, fundamentalism, terrorism, HIV and AIDS, resource politics and the developing world and the rise of global justice movements.

Globalization as Political

“People think of globalization as the inevitable expansion of the market, and I’m arguing that the market is a political institution,” McMichael said. “Its expansion is subject to politics, not natural processes. It’s important to examine the ways in which globalization involves politically instituted market systems around the world that don’t always benefit the poorer populations, the people who depend on public services, welfare systems, and subsidies.”

McMichael’s book discusses the threat of commercialism in places and cultures uncomfortable with its presence. Not only does he cite both a world-historical and political perspective on development and globalization, but he also emphasizes resistance and social movements, as well as a series of case studies that present the paradox of the universal threat of development

Cultural Diversity

The Pine Forge Press’ review of the book notes, “. . . ‘globalization,’ as it is currently understood, is not necessarily a universal aspiration.” McMichael explained that as cultures and languages disappear, the world becomes more vulnerable. “I’m interested in a globalization that respects the diversity of cultures and bio-diversity of the environment rather than the imposition of a single homogenous culture,” he said. “I think a just and more equal version of globalization that respects the world’s diversity and culture should be a universal aspiration.”

Globalization’s effect on our market culture is not always as negative as the job losses in surrounding areas would suggest. Stores like Wegman’s offer citizens of Ithaca a variety of foods from around the world.

“We have the benefits of year-round fruits and vegetables grown across world regions, rather than in the old days when apples were only available one time a year because that’s when they could be produced,” McMichael said. “And now a lot of the clothes we wear are made from overseas; the food we eat comes from offshore; the climate is affected by global warming; and some of the musical influences we encounter come from overseas as well. Even the debates in Ithaca about Iraq are affected.”

Undergraduate and graduate students in social development, political science, sociology, anthropology and international relations use Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective to gain perspective on the rise of globalization and its increased importance in today’s world. McMichael donates royalties from the book in his international development class to nonprofit organizations which his students recommend. Last year he donated money to Food First and the Mexican Farmers Union.

Global Lifestyle

“I always tell my students that we’re all global customers but not yet global citizens. Our lifestyle depends on people all over the world who produce the goods and services we depend on. I tell them that we need to think about the relationships we have with these people, their wage levels and work conditions, as well as our impact on the global environment and whether the world can sustain the lifestyle we have if it was to be really universalized.”

In addition to teaching, McMichael also conducts ongoing research on the politics of globalization and global agri-food system restructuring.

Archived article by Mary Rao