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Byron Miller

While globalization processes have operated for centuries, the present era of globalization has given rise to extremes of income inequality and wealth, capital and information transfer, and resource consumption and consumerism with attendant environmental consequences. Behind contemporary globalization lurks the question: for whom? The distribution of the costs and benefits of globalization has been highly uneven, both amongst nation-states and within them. Moreover, globalization processes have been controlled and advanced in large measure by states and corporations of the global North and their proxy institutions of global governance – the IMF, World Bank, and WTO. The problematic nature of contemporary globalization has given rise to a variety of responses, including defenses of the status quo, left-wing anti-globalization movements, and right-wing anti-globalization movements laced with xenophobic populism. In contrast to responses that either embrace or reject globalization in its present form, alter-globalization movements (sometimes called ‘global justice movements’) do not seek to end globalization through a return to an imaginary golden era of national autarky. Rather, they seek global engagement and exchange on a basis that protects and advances values of social, economic, and environmental justice. Interestingly, the very idea of just forms of globalization requires the rethinking of norms of justice, which can no longer be tied to the Westphalian nation-state. Moreover, strategies for creating a more just world may take a variety of geographical forms, focusing on different geographical scales. Alternative projects of globalization recognize the relationship between the global (which is always ‘somewhere’) and the local, creatively experimenting with new forms of organization along the local-global continuum.

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Michael Webber, Jon Barnett, Brian Finlayson and Mark Wang

This chapter introduces the problem that this book addresses: how do societies come to be constructed in such a way that residents cannot drink the water that is supplied to them? The example of the supply of water to Shanghai is taken as a case through which to examine this question. Shanghai, it is argued, is an assemblage of interacting actors. This book examines the properties and characteristics of four principal actors: the hydro-geological conditions and rivers that provide water; the people, corporations and institutions within Shanghai who use and pollute the water; the institutions of central and other governments that regulate the use of the rivers and the discharges into them; and the infrastructures that governments and corporations have built to manage the river. The chapter concludes by outlining the organisation of the chapters through which the book addresses the question.

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Michael Webber, Jon Barnett, Brian Finlayson and Mark Wang

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Michael Webber, Jon Barnett, Brian Finlayson and Mark Wang

Shanghai is critically dependent on the Changjiang, China’s largest river, for its water supply. The flow is very stable from year to year but has strong seasonal variation with 70 per cent of flow in the summer season. The total flow is robust in the face of significant human influences. The annual flow is 900 billion cubic metres and only 0.55 per cent of this is taken for Shanghai’s water supply. No significant threats exist to the total volume of water available but there are threats from seasonal low flows, diversions of water to other users, deteriorating water quality and salt water intrusions that affect the main water supply intakes for Shanghai. The operation of the Three Gorges Dam has induced changes to the monthly flow regime, reducing flows in October to fill the dam before the low flow season and raising flows January to March as that water is used for power generation.

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Simon Dalby

Climate change is an increasingly urgent matter of global politics, a consequence of the huge success of the fossil-fueled global economy. The longstanding discussion of the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock’s ideas of earth as a self-regulating life system, and the dangers that rising greenhouse gas concentrations present to this system, foreshadow contemporary earth system science discussions. The formulation of earth as now in a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, has added forcefully to Lovelock’s contentions, and made it clear that globalization now needs to be understood as a driving force operating at such a scale that it is transforming the planet in ways that are very dangerous for the future of humanity. Current attempts to tackle climate change are only the beginning of what needs to be done to shape the Anthropocene in ways that will be benign to humanity’s future.

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Joe Williams

This chapter argues that the development of large-scale seawater desalination over the last two decades has been intimately linked to the privatisation, commercialisation and commodification of water services in general, and urban water in particular. It contends that a desalination “plant” should be more accurately understood as a desalination “factory”, which creates a manufactured product (potable water) in a pre-arranged quantity and with a pre-specified quality. The chapter provides a detailed analysis of the convoluted development of desalination as a decentralised and local water supply for San Diego, California. It focuses on two plants on the North American Pacific coast: the 189 ML/day Carlsbad Desalination Plant in San Diego County, which opened in 2015; and a larger facility currently under construction south of the US-Mexico border at Rosarito Beach, Baja California, which is heralded as the first ever “binational” seawater desalination project. My core contention here is that desalination is emerging as an important technology in political and ideological shift towards the neoliberalisation of municipal water supply.

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Suraya Scheba and Andreas Scheba

Desalination is being adopted in South Africa as an emergency ‘quick fix’ to drought crisis. Despite public opposition over potential social and ecological negative effects, small- and large-scale desalination plants are growing in numbers across the country. In this chapter we use a relational Marxist ontology and draw on the case of desalination adoption in the Knysna Local Municipality, Western Cape, South Africa, to argue that proponents’ representation of the drought as nature-induced, urgent and devoid of history created the political space for desalination technology to emerge as the best solution. Powerful actors used a range of communication and legal tools to discursively produce the drought–desalination assemblage, which resulted in the material manifestation of the technology. We then trace the historical materiality of the drought–desalination assemblage to counter the dominant narrative, providing instead an alternative explanation of how human and non-human actors produced the crisis materially.

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Paul C. Adams

Digital media contribute to globalization through several interlinking processes. First, global infrastructures permit communications to move faster, farther, and more often between distant parts of the world. The proliferation and diffusion of devices such as mobile (cell) phones and computers are integral to this process, as are the complementary signal relay systems provided by satellites and optical fibres. Second, these media and the digital signals they carry facilitate globalization insofar as they support visual and auditory forms of engagement between widely separated locations. People increasingly experience ‘the world’ via media, but this world differs in significant ways from place to place. In effect, people encounter a range of contrasting globalized visions, depending on whether they live in a place that is urban or rural, more or less developed, in the Global North or the Global South. Third, a phenomenon called mediatization folds global forces and processes into everyday life, reworking daily practices in ways that respond to global influences. A familiar activity such as driving now involves long-distance data streams coordinated by an on-board device and its embedded algorithms, all of which mediatize the act of driving and rework the cognitive skills of the driver. The chapter concludes by applying the three dimensions of globalization to the case of Rwanda. This example demonstrates that even where a small percentage of the population actually uses digital communications the diffusion of digital media may have noticeable effects on labour conditions, commodity handling, social power relations, profit distribution and economic vulnerability.

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Maria Christina Fragkou

Desalinated water production has been celebrated by some as a solution to water scarcity and the barriers this means for social and economic development, as it produces water from an infinite source, the sea. Political ecology studies on the other hand, have now long been concerned by the possible social implications of this technique, but without any tangible evidence so far. In this chapter I critically analyse how the production of desalinated water for human consumption has permitted the growth of the mining sector in the world’s main copper supplier, the Chilean region of Antofagasta, while undermining the quality of life for the urban residents who consume it. The results are based on a survey which examined the perception of potable water quality and the uses of tap water in households, over 10 years after the plant´s functioning. Drawing on these, I demonstrate that the gradual introduction of desalinated water in the city’s metabolism has deepened existing socio-ecological inequalities within an already heavily segregated city, and has failed in overcoming tap water quality concerns for the residents of Antofagasta, maintaining perceptual and economic water scarcities, especially for lower-class households. These analyses do not only advance findings on desalination’s social impacts on the urban scale, but also disclose the importance of examining urban water inequalities at the household level, as the formation of daily practices and uses of tap water generate unequal conditions for urban dwellers, which cannot be grasped by city-wide analyses, usual in the urban political ecology tradition.

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Virginie Mamadouh

English is widely acknowledged as the language of globalization and the growing hegemony of English has been seen as a main cultural outcome of globalization. This process is shaped by contradictory forces towards linguistic harmonization but also towards diversification, and is geographically uneven. The chapter introduces the hegemony of English driven by globalization before discussing the debates about the impact of globalization on English (Globish vs. World Englishes?) and the future of English. It then turns more specifically to language use on the Internet to show how the technology, originally a vector of Anglicization, has also become a powerful instrument for the expression of linguistic diversity. The prevalence of English and other languages on the Internet is discussed, as well as its possible impact on offline language geographies. The conclusion offers some directions for research agendas regarding the impact of globalization on languages and more specifically the strategies of states and local communities to cope with English, migrants languages and the erosion of the territorial monopoly of national languages.