24 February 2009

How has globalization affected the livelihoods of rural families?

Thoughts of globalization didn’t cross my mind for the first few days of the homestay. I found myself in a farming utopia. The village held a strong sense of community. My host parents seemed close to their neighbors; I couldn’t tell who was part of the family and who was just a friend or visitor. My host parents would give away most of their excess food rather than sell it. Everyone seemed to be looking out for each other My hosts seemed happy. At first, I viewed this utopia as being free from the flaws of the outside world. I saw it as being completely separate from my life at Khon Kaen University and separate from my life in America.

My host mother’s daily life fit into a schedule that she dictated herself. She answered to no employer or higher authority regularly. She could chose when she went to work in the fields and when she wanted to chat with her friends. Her life seemed to have choice and flexibility, because it was somehow free of the limits and regulations brought about by globalization.
This isn’t to imply that she lacked work ethic. She seemed to constantly be working. Her work had a certain kind of fluidity; it never really started because it never really stopped. One night, she stayed up late preparing her vegetables for sale at the Green Market the next day. The next morning she woke at three to pack up her produce and travel with it to sell in the city of Yasothorn. That night she only got two hours of sleep. But with this seeming lack of flexibility (she couldn’t get very much sleep), she had flexibility in other ways. Though she slept only a little, she could choose her own prices for her goods at the Green Market. The fact that these prices were not determined by my host mother rather than greater market forces (though I a sure they are connected).

In my understanding globalization and capitalism are inextricably linked. My host parents, though part of a capitalist system, have found a way to exist within this system almost completely self-sustaining. They are not profit driven, which seems essential to maintaining a capitalist system. They still manage to exist within our current set up. By spending time at the Green Market and by having an exchange with its organizers, I began to see how the market (and so my host parents) fit into a global market.

As the days went on I began to see globalization outside of market terms. My host father liked to talk about Obama. I couldn’t really ever understand what he was saying, because he would often speak Isaan, the Northeastern dialect, and I would stumble over my simple Thai phrases. But one night, we had P’Lek (one of our translators) for dinner to help us write a profile of our host mother. With her help, we talked some politics. I can’t remember now exactly what was said, but the very fact that international politics exists the way it does shows another aspect to globalization.

Globalization has to do with knowledge transmission as well as the creation of one international political system. This single system is made up of the relationships of each country’s individual governments. I imagine our host parents knew about American politics mostly because of their TV. Interviews with Obama were broadcast, we even saw some of the coverage during our time there. Our host parents understood that the election of Obama would somehow affect the Thai government, which would in turn affect the Thai people, which means they themselves would be affected. My host family in Yasothorn Province is not free from the effects of globalization, as I first thought. Instead, they have found a way to live a self-sustaining life with a globalized world.

--Catherine Fuller, Vassar College

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