Globalization, Culture and Sharing

Article excerpt

If you asked me a year ago about my travel plans, I'd have offered destinations like Ghana, Brazil and South Africa. Somehow, though, I found myself traveling to Oslo, Norway, earlier this summer for a meeting of the International Association for Feminist Economics (IAFFE) to give a paper, talk to feminist economists and experience a new part of the world.

In many ways, this was just another academic meeting -- the pedagogy of interaction and presentation no different from anything that happens at the National Economics Association or any other economists meeting. In other ways, because of the international context, this was an opportunity to be engaged in a discourse about language, power and culture, and to have old impressions confirmed even as new possibilities are explored.

In particular, it was fascinating to find such dominance by the United States in a meeting billed as international. And, it was riveting to be involved in a conversation about relationships between the United States and the rest of the world in which someone simply asked if power was ever willingly shared.

If economics is about the allocation of scarce resources, what is it that feminists do to share the resources differently? Does feminism mean that we count the women and categorize their effort with the same vigor that others count men, or does it mean that we ask questions about what our accounting means? Do we approach the pie with a different knife based on our feminist sensibilities, or do we work to bake a different kind of pie?

Questions like these bubbled past conversations about the workplace, globalization and power dynamics. Many questions weren't answered, especially the question about power sharing. Indeed, questions about hegemony and power sharing were likely to get people involved in an uncomfortable squirming and evasiveness.

Few are prepared to ask how the pie is sliced when they are comfortable with their piece. As an example, consider the use of language in a small country like Norway. Though Norwegian is the national language, most people speak some English. Indeed, English is taught to the smallest children as part of their education. Thus, in a week, I ran into only one cab driver that spoke absolutely no English. Still, he was able to take directions through my pointing at a map and showing where I wanted to go.

As I rode comfortably in his cab, I wondered if someone from Norway who could not speak any English would have the same sense of security in the United States. Nearly 5 in 6 Americans speak nothing but English. Most could not help a tourist who did not speak our language. …