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1. 'Human Geographers Argue That the World May Be "Shrinking", but Not at the Same Rate for Everybody Everywhere'. Discuss

By 0606002c Nov 03, 2008 2061 Words
Today’s world portrays vast communication and exchange across geographical borders, due to centuries of technological innovations causing places to “move” closer together. People can themselves physically move around the planet far quicker, by means of modern transport innovations. People can also communicate across ever increasing distances, due to modern media and ICT innovations. Although there has been a long history of human movement and communications spanning the world, it is in the last two hundred years that we have seen a dramatic “speeding up” of this. The geographer Nigel Thrift called this a ‘hyperactive world,’ a world that is ever more inter-connected. As he put it, simple distinctions break down between the ‘here’ and ‘there’, between the ‘local’ and the ‘global’. It is this that in many people’s views constitutes globalisation. These main concepts of time-space compression (due to modern innovations), globalisation and how these have spread unevenly and have caused inequalities across the globe, will constitute the main body of this essay. With the spread of transnational corporations we find that the goods we buy and consume are most likely to be produced in countries thousands of miles away, by workers we will never meet. The books, films, music and art that we admire as cultural beauties will too stem from a wide range of locations. Even the food we eat tends to be a conglomeration of national dishes from across the globe. So, in a sense, everywhere contains bits of everywhere else. Aside from this, these days our own worlds expand to take in many other places. This is due to the ease and relative in-expense of modern day travel, which allows us physically to travel the length and breadth of the globe, and the spread of technical innovations such as the internet, allowing us to contact anywhere in the world at the push of a button. All of this however begs the question, who are ‘we’ here, and is this situation the same for everybody, everywhere? (Philo, 2007) Globalisation is defined as, the economic, political, social and cultural processes whereby places across the globe become increasingly interconnected, where social relations and economic transactions increasingly occur on the intercontinental scale, and the globe itself comes to be a recognisable geographical entity (Wills, 2005). This however, does not mean everywhere in the world becomes the same, and it is in fact quite a highly uneven process as different places are integrated differently into the world, and each view that world from their own perspective. Although it has been around for several hundred years with the start of colonialism, globalisation today is characterised by the new and more effective connections across space (Held et al., 1999) in short, globalisation these days is very much associated with shrinking space and time, disappearing borders and thus, linking peoples lives more deeply, more intensely and more immediately than ever before (Wills, 2005). In the 1970s, geographer Donald Janelle expressed how times and spaces were in effect ‘getting closer together’, he called this ‘time-space convergence’. Peter Gould, another geographer, once remarked:

“In 1840 it might have taken a hundred days to communicate from San Francisco to London, or around 8,640,000 seconds. Today, a direct-dial telephone makes the same connection in about ten seconds, so in ‘telephone space’ this part of the world has shrunk by a factor of about 864,000.” The internet, the most recent innovation in technology and communications, and the pace of its development, allows people all over the world to be in contact at the touch of a button. It is in effect a global network connecting people through a series of wires. However these advantages do not come without concern, the internet has a highly uneven power-geometry (Massey, 1995) through the so called ‘electronic ghettos’ found especially in less economically developed countries, as figure 1 clearly shows for data collected c.2001.

Figure 1 Source:

More recently, geographers inspired by David Harvey have begun to talk about what he coined, Time-space compression, in his work, “The Condition of Postmodernity (1989).” Time-space compression often refers to technologies that seem to accelerate spatial and temporal distances, including technologies of communication, (telephones, fax machines and internet as demonstrated above), travel (rail, cars, trains, jets) and economics (the need to overcome spatial barriers, open up new markets, speed up production cycles, and reduce the turn-over time of capital) (Decron, 2001). Harvey argued, that it expressed the transformations in “temporality” and “spatiality” produced in a world of ever more rapid turnover and quicker forms of communication, and the subjective experience of these changes (Wills, 2005). It is the divide between rich developed countries, and poor, developing countries, which in effect determines who’s world is ‘shrinking’ at a faster rate, as only the wealthier of nations can generally afford these innovations. Technologies of travel, on land, over water and, most recently, in the air, clearly influence our ‘shrinking world’ as Harvey pointed out. The time it takes to get from one place to another has been sliced to a fraction of the time it once took when the first modes of transport such as the stagecoach were being used, as figure 2 clearly shows.


It was the initial exploration journeys on the seas in the 1400s, and later the introduction of the steam engine and railways which fuelled colonialism, which many claim was the beginning of globalisation, and thus the divide between developed and undeveloped countries. It was indeed the introduction of trains in the 1800s that diffused industrialisation and urbanisation around Europe North America and beyond. As the first mechanised mass-transportation system, the railway was instrumental in the reworking of temporal and spatial relations central to the economic, social and cultural experience of modernity known as ‘time-space compression’ (Revell, 2004) However as global coverage of railways progressed, it did so highly unevenly. The fact that railways simply did not connect everywhere clearly illustrated Massey’s argument of power-geometries. Figure 3 demonstrates this.

Figure 3 Source: O’Dell, A. (1956) Railways G and Geography

The railway experience was described as: “a ‘panoramic perception’ in which the world is presented as a passing, momentary spectacle to be glimpsed and consumed” (Thrift, 1994, p.199) this again showing the way humans were becoming more and more oblivious to the sheer realities of distance. The introduction of the automobile further increased this ability to travel where we want, when we want, in a fraction of the time. This then brings us on to the latest development, that of air travel. “The view from the air differs from the ground view not merely in its visual perspective but also in the sense of detachment that it provides” (Bayliss-Smith and Owens, 1990, p.10) This has therefore, increased the sense of a shrinking world even more so by the fact we can travel right across the globe in a matter of hours, and allows us to hop on and off at destinations with ease. Of course with this comes greater numbers of tourists, and it has been stated that: “Tourism creates complex interconnections between communities and economies dispersed across the globe.” (Philo, 2007) Along with this Harvey also emphasized the role of capitalism as the driving force for time-space compression and how this process causes us to lose our ‘maps’ of the present and cause our ‘ethics’ and ‘politics’ to become uncertain, questioned and questionable. However, although it may all seem beneficial, time-space compression does have some casualties. Millions of people still live in places greatly untouched by the chief global flows of capital, so called ‘slow’ places. Others end up in places abandoned or even exploited by global flows of capital, so called ‘used’ places. What we do not realise is that it is by no means an elite group who benefit from these flows of capital, but the majority of us in the developed world. “ In effect, there is an uneven power-geometry that criss-crosses a world that is not shrinking at the same rate for everybody everywhere” (Massey, 1995) We can see this from the following: There are now estimated to be over 60,000 transnational corporations globally, the majority of these based in Europe and North America, although since the twentieth century more and more of these can be seen emerging from South America and South East Asia. As for commodity production in a TNC, an item of clothing, for example, is the product of a complex geography of commodity movement and labour that spanned the globe. This is because although a TNC may outsource its production site to another country, due to economic reasons, the raw materials and components needed in that site have themselves been gathered from far and wide across the globe from the most competitive and suitable suppliers. This organizational structure is also known as a global commodity chain, and it greatly pressurizes those furthest down the supply chain. For example workers in sweatshops located in developing countries, who suffer terrible working conditions and a measly wage. It is in effect exploitation. Thus branded clothing bought in the shops is likely to have been made by an independent supplier in a low-cost location, often in the developing world, that, in turn, might have cut costs further by outsourcing the work to small workshops and homeworkers (Oxfam, 2004). These commodity chains are therefore, a powerful means to reveal, or, to remind us why in ‘a shrinking world’ we should still care about and value the lives of ‘distant others’. If we look closely and track the chain of a particular commodity, we may well find social inequalities, social injustice, and examples of environmental exploitation and degradation came about in its production. So we see, commodity chains in effect, introduce us to fellow humans and non-humans, those distant others in places near and far who work to make our day-to-day things. (Philo, 2007) This method is backed up by the Neo-liberal model of globalization which states that: free market economies, deregulation of national economies, decentralization and the privatization of previously state-owned enterprises are all favourable (Wills 2005). This view once more benefits the powerful TNC’s over the poorer, indigenous people within the less developed countries. They believe the increase in economic investment and growth that results from the erosion of national barriers, is the only route to development. As Paul Krugman stated in 2003: “ The raw fact is that every successful example of economic development this past century has taken place via globalization.” Critics of the Neo-liberal theory of globalization argue that the methods used create vast inequalities in wealth within or between nation states. Thus the world’s resources these days are also more unequally distributed than ever before. In practice, globalization produces “winners” and “losers” within and between different places, and has benefited the rich and powerful but has often left the poor and disadvantaged lagging behind in all parts of the world (Wills, 2005). It is this divide between rich developed countries, and poor, developing countries, which in effect determines who’s world is ‘shrinking’ at a faster rate. We in the developed world have ever increasing access to these technological innovations bringing the world closer for us. Developing countries too are beginning to gain more access, however, not to the same extent, and one might argue: even if they did, would they possess the wealth necessary to take advantage of them?


Bayliss-Smith, T & Owens, S. (1990) Britain's changing environment : from the air. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

Cybergeography (2006) An Atlas of Cyberspaces., accessed 03/03/07

Decron, C. (2001) Speed-Space. Sage: London.

Harvey, D. (1990) The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change. Blackwell: London.

Massey, D. (1995) A place in the world? : places, cultures and globalization. Oxford University Press, Oxford

May, J. & Thrift, N. (2001) "Introduction." TimeSpace: Geographies of Temporality .Routledge: New York.

O’Dell, A. (1956) Railways and Geography. Anchor Press LTD, Essex.

University of Colorado at Boulder (2006) Research Program, accessed 03/03/07

Wills, J. (2005) Introducing Human Geographies 2nd edition (Chapter 42). Hodder

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