GEOG 597i
Critical Geospatial Thinking and Applications

Geography’s Role in a Globalizing World

It might seem that, as a result of globalization, the world is becoming so homogenous in nature that there is very little use for a discipline that focuses on describing the similarities and differences of places around the world. Globalization, however, has instead actually increased the importance of understanding the significance of places.

As material culture and lifestyles have become more diffused throughout the world, understanding ethnic and regional identities is also becoming more important. For example, many groups are now exhibiting growing resistance to the influences of the dominant American culture. Moreover, this resistance is not necessarily found only outside the boundaries of the United States. Some Native American groups, for example, are striving to preserve their ancient languages and cultures in response to the assimilative powers of modern consumerism, instant communications, and the influences of the mass media.

As information moves around the globe at ever faster rates of speed, people increasingly seek a sense of belonging or a sense of community. Therefore, while modern technology can put us in contact with the greater world community in a matter of seconds, it cannot give us a sense of belonging. The impersonal nature of the modern global economic system has lead many to seek to put down roots in small communities or to become part of social and/or religious groups.

As corporations have become multinational in scope, they now move quickly from one place to another depending on where they are able to make the greatest profits. Thus, their manufacturing centers are less permanent and their markets tend to shift with increasingly regularity. The old, familiar patterns that once held for decades can no longer be counted upon for planning, and they are no longer valid as a foundation for regional analysis. Now, workers and consumers must react quickly to regional changes in production and consumption. Communities that once served the needs of hundreds of families who operated small farms have been changed by the changing nature of the rural landscape from places dominated by small farms to places now characterized by a few huge, mechanized agribusiness enterprises. Many small farm towns have simply withered on the vine since the end of World War II, while others have adapted by becoming retirement communities and/or by developing services that attract tourists. In cities such as Detroit, Michigan, the shift of automobile production to other parts of the country and to places outside the United States has created landscapes of devastation and poverty. These cities are currently striving to find ways to rebuild their infrastructures, rejuvenate their economies, and reestablish an acceptable level of social order.

Tensions that revolve around issues associated with race, ethnicity, and religion have been somewhat exacerbated by globalization. In some parts of the world, including the United States, there has been a relatively recent resurgence in nationalism. Whereas people may enjoy the benefits of globalization, including inexpensive clothing, shoes, and other goods, many complain that it now nearly impossible to find consumer products manufactured in the United States. This is also true in other nations with advanced economic systems in which the cost of labor is not competitive with wages in China, India, and many other industrializing countries.

All of these examples suggest that globalization does not threaten the need for or the vitality of geography. If anything, geographers now have more to do than ever before.