24 February 2009

How has globalization affected the livelihoods of rural families?

This is a picture of my host mom, taken while herding cows.

It is amazing to see how globalization has affected the lives of so many people in Thailand. During this past unit, which focused on rural issues and development, our group stayed with various families in Yasothorn province. These families were in support of the transition from chemical farming to organic agriculture. Their lives revolve around self-sufficiency and food– its production and its consumption. Many of our host parents were farmers and cow herders, who help sell their produce at a weekly Green Market. Besides being inspiring in their work to better their health and the environment, our families were extremely welcoming and open to us foreigners. They showed us a different way of working and living with the environment. However, even with these unique outlooks present in the communities, there were multiple globalizing forces present, which influenced people’s livelihoods in obvious and not-so-obvious ways.

One example of a not-so-obvious way comes right to my mind. One day during the unit we had a full day with our host families. In this time, I was able to herd cows with my host mom, the other CIEE student staying in the family with me, and our host mom’s friend (or relative, we weren’t quite sure!). This experience was amazing, and I felt that I was finally connecting with my mom, for I could somewhat understand what she was talking about.  This was a large accomplishment after many hours of miscommunication.

After taking a nap on the field with the cows, we headed back to the house to rest and catch up on some of the reading that I had put off during the day. As soon as I returned home I was reminded that “private time” is not really practiced in the same way in these communities. This was shown through constant interactions with neighbors, relatives and children passing by and wanting to talk. The combination of herding cows and the realization that I wasn’t going to have time to read, hit me with an overwhelming feeling of “Wow.” I felt completely out of my comfort zone, and completely happy. And right in the midst of this realization, my ears filled with the bumping beats of a hit Rihanna song, “Umbrella.” The song was being played from a boom box of a neighboring house. Soon following the start of the song were a few other voices, jumping on the chance to sing along. I heard many of these voices get loud specifically on the “Ella, Ella, Eh Eh Eh” portion of the song.

“Umbrella,” while completely popular in the states, felt so out of place in the community I had experienced so far. In class, I learned about ways in which agriculture and the livelihoods of our families had been impacted by globalization. But I had not thought of music as a globalizing force. What does it mean that a song such as “Umbrella” can cross borders and oceans, and connect lives that seem so different from each other? Is it a good thing that music can connect different people with such different livelihoods? Also, does this globalization of Western music have negative impacts on local music practices? These questions do not have straight answers, but only speak to the difficulty of analyzing globalization, since it has now become such a large part of social structures and individual lives all over the world. 

So, how has globalization affected the livelihoods of rural farmers? It has affected every part of their lived experiences, from farming practices to popular music. 

Julia Lee - Bates College

1 comment:

Kim G. said...

That's so interesting how globalization is affecting even countries that were never formally colonized. I would have thought that it would be completely different in a country that doesn't have such a strong legacy of colonization, but perhaps modern globalization is such that everyone is affected.

One thing that I've really been struck by in Mexico is the prevalence of US culture and media. Most of the movies I see for sale are from Hollywood, and a lot of the music is from the US. In fact movies almost serve as a really important link between cultures because they are often common experiences. One of my home-stay sisters was talking about a certain breed of dog, which I couldn't understand because I apparently didn't study when we were supposed to be learning dog breeds. So to try to explain it to me, she told me it was the dog in Men in Black. It's been a long time since I've seen that movie, so I couldn't remember, but she kept naming different US movies that had the same type of dog...

I guess it's not that surprising that Hollywood and mainstream music are common here, but I've also been really surprised by how many people listen to music that's not even in the US mainstream, like Placebo and Sonic Youth...