Interpreting the Visual Evidence

Media Representations of Globalization

Because the set of historical developments collectively known as globalization are so complex and because the local effects of these developments have often been felt as disruptions of well-entrenched habits or ways of life, debates about globalization are particularly open to manipulation through the presentation of charged imagery. Since the end of the Cold War, provocative images that capture certain aspects of the world's new interconnectedness—and the accompanying need for new kinds of boundaries—have become ubiquitous in the media. The movement of peoples and goods are variously defined as necessary to maintain standards of living or a threat to local jobs and local production. Globalization is defended as good for the economy, good for the consumer, good for competition but is also blamed for hurting workers, destroying local cultures, and eroding long-standing definitions of national identity.

The images here all illustrate essential aspects of globalization. Image A shows ships waiting for loading and unloading at one of the largest container terminals in the world, in Hong Kong. Most of the shipping from China comes through this terminal. Image B shows family members separated by the border fence between the United States and Mexico in Mexicali, Mexico. In the twentieth century, Mexicali grew to be a city of 1.5 million people, in large part on the prosperity generated by sending field workers across the border to the United States. Image C shows a Labor Day protester in Manila, Philippines, at a demonstration in which globalization was blamed for amendments to the labor code favorable to employers, a ban on strikes, and antiterrorist measures that were perceived to be an infringement of personal liberties. The medical mask is a reference to the SARS epidemic.


Questions for Analysis

Image A is typical of images that emphasize the economic consequences of globalization. Does globalization appear to be a force subject to human control in this image? How do such images shape perceptions of China’s place in the global economy?
Compare images A and B. Is there a connection between the accelerating flows of money and goods between different parts of the world and restrictions on the movements of people?
In image C, the woman’s medical mask names globalization as the en emy of Filipino workers. In so doing, who is being targeted? What does this say about the local contest over the conditions of labor in the Philippines?

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