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Territories of the South and globalization: between disparities and solidarities

The process of globalization has been at work since the 1990s. Its overriding trait is the desire to involve all the spaces of the globe in the construction of a “global village”, in which every space would have the same chances for development. It functions in line with a strategy of homogenization of the economic and legal rules enacted by the countries of the North, to which the countries of the South, with less powerful institutions and representative parties, are obliged to comply if they do not want to stay on the sidelines.

This process does not get rid of the existing disparities, but sets them in a different form. While the disparities are clear to see between the countries of the North and those of the South, they are just as stark between countries of the South themselves. The principles of globalization are not everywhere applied in the same way and do not lead to the same consequences in Peru and Senegal, in Argentine and South Africa, in Brazil and Mauritius. By the same token, inequality is also growing within countries, between the regions and local areas which fit with varying degrees of success into the transnational economic dynamics. Even if globalization can, in some cases, offer a real boost to deprived areas, the consequences of its extension often prove serious for populations already weakened by poverty, discrimination, violence or abuse of power.

The researchers used that observation as a starting point for their investigation. Mostly geographers, working jointly on the programme “Territoires et mondialisation dans les pays du Sud”, led by the IRD and the ENS, they sought a better grasp of the globalization process in the countries of the South. Changes occurring in territories at different scales were studied: regional, national and supranational. These areas represent spaces that are organized and invested by societies, and therefore are good indicators for revealing the power dynamics brought into play in the globalization process.

Internationalization of companies and trade have led commercial relations and flows to expand progressively into zones of the world that were hitherto outside such transnational movements. Exploitation of natural resources and the relocation of businesses and services have generated direct links between rural areas and the world economy. This is the case for the pioneer fronts as in the Amazon region, or outer suburbs of large cities such as Johannesburg. Whereas such areas connected to the global economy are changing and developing, in step with innovations worldwide, the neighbouring regions stagnate, which impairs local and neighbourhood ties and creates an increase in competition between territories.

Concentration of knowledge and power in certain more fortunate places, the creation of centres of economic activity connected to the global system, or operation within a network, implies the necessity for new methods of management and organization of these territories, notably by reinforcing controls at certain borders or a reorganization of the places where trade fluxes are concentrated. The spaces for production and transport are reconfigured following a global pattern, no longer according to that of the States or regions concerned. Thus the exchanges between the different centres of activity require a smooth circulation of goods, channelled by large highways which do not in general benefit the territories they cross. The poverty and poorer level of infrastructure of such areas aggravate their marginalization. Government investment goes in priority to zones that are potentially profitable and attractive for international investors.

Globalization, thought of as a process for harmonization, appears in the context of the countries of the South as a source of inequality. It creates “winner” areas and generates benefits for certain societies, yet simultaneously pushes certain other social groups aside if they are unable to adapt to this new dynamic global trend. Measures to counter this trend, the researchers suggest, imply a rethink of the notion of “territory”, by taking the different scales into account: those of the State, the region and supranational spaces. The setting-up or reinstatement of mutual territorial socio-economic systems, from local to global scales, demands a political will and an active role of the State for organizing a re-equilibrium of investments and their returns, between the connected centres and local markets. Coordination of such forms of solidarity should contribute to the emergence of new development potential for all concerned, by preventing isolation of communities and their withdrawal behind their own boundaries.

The book resulting from this research, “Mondialisation côté Sud. Acteurs et territoires”, deals with theoretical subjects from the starting point of case studies conducted in a dozen countries in Africa, Latin America and the Indian Ocean, which give as many concrete examples of spatial changes under way. Examination of the expansion of soya bean in the Mato Grosso of Brazil, analysis of the economic transformations taking place in Mauritius, the study of international emigration in Dakar, are examples. They give ample illustration of how the populations and societies of the South move, link up to the global networks, regulate access to resources, reshape their political space and look for international sources of support, in their search for their own path towards developing their territory.

Marie Guillaume | alfa
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