Magazine article Radical Teacher

Web 2.0 and Critical Globalization Studies

Magazine article Radical Teacher

Web 2.0 and Critical Globalization Studies

Article excerpt

I asked all of my students this year to raise their hands if they knew which country their shoes, trousers, or shirts came from. Very few hands came up. I then asked if any of them had ever been to a farm that produces food that they regularly eat. Again, only one or two hands were raised. Finally, I asked the students if any of them had ever been to a factory that produces a commodity that they have purchased. Only one hand was raised in the air.

A central paradox of contemporary capitalism is the fact that while the production of commodities has been globalized at a staggering pace, our knowledge about the production of those same commodities has shrunk. Consumers are usually only able to see commodities in the here and now of time and space, and rarely have any opportunities to gaze backwards through the chains of production in order to gain knowledge about the sites of production, transformation, and distribution.

While the opacity of commodity chains is deeply troubling, it does present university-level geography students with interesting hands-on opportunities to test out their research skills. In the introductory human geography course that I taught at Trinity College Dublin, I asked groups of students to research and then represent a global commodity chain from the points of production in the Global South to the points of consumption in the Global North.

The assignments were graded in traditional paper form. However, all students were then encouraged to upload their work to a wiki website that I created (wikichains.com). The purpose of the website is twofold. First, as a wiki, it enables their represented knowledge to take on a fluid and changeable form. Second, it allows the students to share their findings with the rest of the world and thus, through their research, actively shape patterns of consumption and production. …

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