Archive for the ‘Volume 3’ Category

Visual Culture and Pedagogy: Teaching Human Rights with Film and Images

November 11, 2009

Safia Swimelar, Elon University



Contemporary globalization takes place visually – whether it be images and videos transmitted by cell phone and webcams, public video surveillance in buses or on street corners, a protestor or journalist’s capturing of political violence then seen by millions, or the plethora of international films that document diverse global experiences.  Images have a democratic quality to them: regardless of one’s language, level of literacy, or nationality, looking at a photo of Iraqi prisoners assembled naked into a pyramid with American soldiers grinning behind them or a video of Iranian student Neda killed by security forces in the streets of Tehran gives one evidence and perspective on state policy, human rights, and the universality of suffering.  As Murray Edelman chronicles nicely in his From Art to Politics, our perceptions of current political events stem from the images and stories that our memory recalls from art – films, books, paintings, but also the recreated events on TV.

Given the power of images to create meaning and expose and hide multiple realities, they can be important pedagogical tools for teaching global studies and human rights; although, there are both advantages and disadvantages to its use.  Film can be used to enrich the classroom in relation to substantive content and student engagement and also in terms of what perceptions and assumptions about global issues images construct for us.

Diverse and foreign films provide students with a powerful, visual global perspective.  While this may sound obvious, film’s comparative advantage of powerful images, compelling and concrete dramatic stories, and close-up shots of conflict (that are rarely directly observed or felt) means that students can be temporarily immersed into another cultural and political milieu. This can provide a jumping off point for the academic lesson, as I discuss below.  In my experience, students are eager to see how issues look from different cultural perspectives.  For example, many students naturally think of the American case when we talk of racism and discrimination.  Showing a film with detailed stories and images of discrimination and violence against European immigrants and Roma-Gypsies or indigenous peoples in Central America can provide a needed comparative and global perspective and take the conversation to another critical level.   It enables the idea of human rights to be universalized and individualized, thus bringing the global and local together.

Film can also inform, educate, and engage students about human rights.  Not only is film crucial for representing, identifying, and providing evidence for human rights challenges, it is useful to illustrate case studies of broader concepts and importantly as catalysts for engagement and academic study.  For example, when I teach human rights foreign policy and genocide, the feature film on the Rwandan genocide Sometimes in April (dir. Raoul Peck, 2006) is a potent visual text that spurs students to ask questions about how states and international organizations grapple with the legal, political, and moral dilemmas of mass violence and genocide in general and in Rwanda in particular.  It is especially powerful because through the personal story of a mixed Hutu/Tutsi family and a Hutu extremist brother on trial, we see the Rwandan genocide personalized and individualized.  At the same time human rights are universalized – we see that mass violence and the struggle for security are common and global phenomena. Lastly, almost all aspects of the Rwandan genocide that can spin-off into class examination are represented in the film: the causes of genocide, its preparation and process, identity politics, role of U.S. and the United Nations, international war crimes trials, reconciliation, and the local gacaca trials.

Moreover, one of the ways of using film and photography in the classroom is to examine the assumptions we gain from those images.  For instance, students’ common stereotypes about conflict and poverty in Africa are reinforced through film and media images of starving African children, for example.  By contrast, Sometimes in April’s portrayal of a conventional middle-class Rwandan family does well somewhat not to fall back on these common assumptions.  This type of analysis can lead to an examination of how images can create or minimize the potential for international action, such as the importance of images of starving Bosnian concentration camp prisoners (that resembled Holocaust images) and spurred awareness and eventual NATO intervention.

Another example more dramatic and less political in its purpose, but that also illustrates the catalyzing power of film is Lilya-4-Ever (dir: Moodysson, 2002), a gripping, morose, cinematographically rich tale of child abuse and transnational trafficking that on its own does not tell us much about the broader causes, effects, and local/global efforts to ameliorate human trafficking.  It focuses intensely on Lilya’s post-Soviet life.  (Interesting, the U.S. State Department screened this film in connection with a discussion about policy on sex trafficking.)  In my experience, students gain an exceptional (yet tough-to-watch) visual representation of what a specific case of trafficking may look like today; it is also hard for students not to empathize with Lilya as she is abused and humiliated and thus be drawn into the issue and seek to learn deeper. While the use of emotion in film may be seen by some educators as a distraction, inappropriate, or too subjective, I believe that the dramatic nature of film can increase student’s interest and commitment to the subject; moreover, it can illustrate how the effects of abuse and hindrances to protection stem from psychological, personal, and socio-cultural issues, not only political and economic issues.  In learning, the categories “cognitive” and “emotional” are not distinct, but are aspects of one another.

In review, film can contribute to the goals of the human rights classroom by providing evidence and also by powerfully illustrating: (1) what abuse looks and feels like; (2) how individuals are affected by human rights struggles, including the short and long-term consequences of violations; (3) the different forms of human rights abuses and campaigns and how they are perceived cross-culturally; (4) the causes and processes, agents and actors; and (5) the explanations for action or inaction by outsiders.  Film is versatile as a form of art; it has the power to challenge conventional views, to call for social action and change, but also to reinforce entrenched assumptions.  All of these traits possess teaching moments.

This brings us to a brief overview of some of the disadvantages and concerns when using film in the global studies / human rights classroom. While emotion and personal drama can galvanize interest, there is also the potential for films with human rights content to be shallow, exploitative, and visually gratuitous in an attempt to use emotion manipulatively, thus we must be selective.  Secondly, art creates order out of disorder; it presents the ambiguous as coherent.  While this may be helpful to students, there is a risk of over-simplification, de-politicization, and de-contexualization of the problem.  Other potential disadvantages to the use of or over-reliance on film might be: (1) over time, the proliferation of negative images may become banal, unreal, and promote apathy, as Susan Sontag cautions; (2) the post-modern critique and the myth of the image: the belief that pictures can tell the whole story, while in fact they may conceal a great deal; (3) Shocking and violent images may overwhelm students.  Here, I suggest being both understanding to those students who have trouble with violent images, but also to be clear that being shocked, saddened, and uncomfortable may be part of the learning process, particularly on the subject of genocide.

In short, and despite the potential disadvantages noted above, I have found that using film and photographic images (for example, the Face of Human Rights book edited by Lars Müller) brings stories and images from the far corners of the world directly and vividly into the human rights and international studies classroom.  It can be a catalyst to engage students in critical thinking and deeper analysis .  Furthermore, while space limits further explanation, a study of images within global studies gets us to think about how our perceptions and assumptions about the world are affected by the inundation of images that surround us.

Brief List of Recommended Human Rights Films

  • Night and Fog
  • Sometimes in April
  • Ghosts of Rwanda
  • Grbavica: Land of My Dreams
  • Lilya-4-ever
  • The Lives of Others
  • Standard Operating Procedure
  • Taxi to the Dark Side
  • The Prisoner: how I planned to kill Tony Blair
  • Dead Man Walking
  • Battle of Algiers
  • Well-Founded Fear
  • Srebrenica: Triumph of Evil
  • Long Night’s Journey into Day
  • Bamako
  • Darwin’s Nightmare
  • Romero
Safia Swimelar, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of political science at Elon University in North Carolina where she teaches courses in human rights, international studies, and comparative politics. She is a Fulbright Scholar (Bosnia-Herzegovina) and recently published an article in the International Journal of Human Rights on human rights change and the Roma-Gypsies. She is currently working on a collaborative year-long project involving her students and courses examining the use of film, images and art in the teaching international studies and human rights.  She also studies human rights and politics in the contemporary Balkans.

Rethinking Gender and Human Rights in the Global Political Economy

September 9, 2009

Deborah M. Weissman

Rosie the Riveter

Rosie the Riveter

Globalization has required a change in our way of considering and teaching human rights, gender and justice. Gender equality had hardly begun at the national level when transnational developments called attention to the need to think about the condition of women on a global scale. The relationship between human rights and women’s equality has indeed assumed a place of prominence in the debates on globalization and international law, including universal human norms to guide the conduct of public life as well as private realms.[1]

Women’s organizations and human rights groups have frequently relied upon legal approaches and rights-based claims. Violence against women is now considered a proper subject for international human rights law.  Indeed, the issue of human rights for women has moved to center stage of the United Nations in terms of programmatic, administrative, and methodological approaches to international relations.  So too has the International Criminal Court included both substantive protections, procedural safeguards, and administrative structures that are gender-sensitive and designed to fully incorporate the needs of victims of and witnesses to gender-based crimes.

But it is more complicated, for this process is itself often a microcosm of the larger debate about globalization, specifically the degree to which old paradigms of colonialism are being recreated in the guise of global integration.  The call for women’s equality, a summons to which all people of good will cannot but be sympathetic, must, nevertheless be received warily, to be examined for hidden agendas and ulterior motives.  Transnational feminist human rights advocacy cannot yet be unhinged from nation, where one nation, the United States, so dominates global dynamics.  Caution is warranted if the pursuit of objectives that envision women’s human rights is not as an end unto itself but a means by which to enhance U.S. global interests.  To this end, this essay proposes the need for including a critical perspective in classroom debates and academic endeavors about the gendered imperative of human rights.

Certainly, advocacy efforts to develop gendered international legal standards, most often framed as human rights protections function positively in a number of ways.  As a rhetorical matter, the appeal to globalized legal standards, particularly in the area of human rights, serves as a harbinger of change and messenger of modernity and progress.  In these circumstances, rules regarding the treatment of women have, at the very least, symbolic value.  But they may likely provide benefits beyond mere signaling for instrumental purposes.  For example, in countries that ratify human rights treaties such as the Convention to End Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), albeit without intentions to comply, CEDAW may still serve as a signpost of the government’s obligations about which women’s rights activists can make claims and raise issues both in domestic and international fora (Hathaway 2003).

Furthermore, by reframing the issue of women’s inequality as a global issue, it may be easier for activists to raise concerns that might otherwise be relegated to the background, or perhaps even abandoned, if such issues were to be articulated as a problem arising within the modern territorial state.  For example, during times of political turmoil that threaten the stability of state regimes, when governments experience pressure, particularly in the form of external hostility, women may be reluctant to mount criticisms that target state practices.  However, when these issues are expressed as global concerns, the tension between the need to critique internal state practices and the need to defend against external threats may be lessened.

While there is little doubt that women have benefitted by using the international human rights framework to seek and obtain equality and justice, it is also true that the efforts to harness such norms on behalf of women’s equality often acts in tandem with a different set of concerns and may serve as intellectual currency to advance U.S. political interests, defined in terms of power, and its ideological purpose of global economic liberalization.

The United States has invoked the circumstances of women as a pretext for humanitarian intervention, often with devastating consequences.  During the period of the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, advocates of U.S. expansionism justified military intervention in the Pacific and the Caribbean by appealing to the need to save, uplift, and civilize the women of the region (Hoganson 1998; Renda 2001; Merry 2000).  Intervention and occupation, it was claimed, would be the means by which to deliver the goods of human rights, particularly in the form of the rule of law.  Despite the inflammatory rhetoric used to describe the condition of women in order to promote intervention in the Caribbean and Pacific, these new legal measures were not designed to improve the circumstances for women.  Cuban women found themselves restricted in family arrangements and ownership and control of property (Stoner 1991; Ibarra 1998).  Once under U.S. influence, the doctrine of coverture was introduced in Hawai’i, effectively eliminating once powerful and active women from political participation (Merry 1998).  For many women, humanitarian intervention was experienced as rape and sexual harassment.

Concern for human rights continues today to function as a master narrative of U.S. imperial tendencies.  As historian Emily Rosenberg notes, at the end of the twentieth century, public commentators and scholars promoted America’s Empire as capable of delivering a host of public goods including freedom and democracy and the uplift of women (Rosenberg 2006).  The same missionary discourse that originated with saving women in the nineteenth century continues to play out in stereotyping and ongoing concerns about veils, polygamy, and women’s seclusion despite Arab feminist resistance to such formulaic depictions (Saunders 2002; Abu-Lughod 2002).  The current use of the condition of women in Afghanistan as an illustration of the need for intervention is thus, not without historical antecedents, presented in its current form as a product of a historical trend.

Moreover, human rights have been largely defined as individual political rights.  Rights pertaining to economic and social justice have been relegated to lesser considerations.  Others have described human rights initiatives targeted at women’s equality as a form of instrumental feminism that supports women’s rights as a means to enhance the development of market economies (Bessis 2004, Orford 2000).  Women are the new component of the globalized work force moving across international borders.  Gender inequality in the form of obstacles that prevent their free movement by which they enter the low-paid workforce are inimical to the interests of transnational corporations that rely on cheap female labor.

The current focus on human rights related to violence against women assumes, paradigmatically, the duty of the state to enforce standards and indeed, the obligation to punish offenders.  In a review of one study of one hundred eighty-five CEDAW reports, the most frequently noted human rights reform pertaining to gender equality was the enhancement of criminal penalties (Goldscheid, 2006).  Many of these reforms were modeled after legal developments in the United States, although such criminal intervention models may poorly serve women for a number of reasons.  State interference in the private realms of family or within local communities where gender-based human rights violations may occur is problematic in many settings, particularly where the state often poses as great a threat to human rights as do individual or local violators.  Criminal justice remedies may have little transference value in cultures where punishment for purposes of deterrence or retribution is not the norm.  Moreover, invoking state enforcement mechanisms in circumstances where economic and social justice issues are background considerations not only reduces the opportunity to eliminate human suffering, but may encourage the arbitrary exercise of power.

The benefits of the human rights discourse on behalf of global equality for women cannot be denied.  However, it is not a straightforward endeavor.  Put differently, to what extent must we question with our students and in our research whether the historical misuse of human rights create the very problems that the interveners claim they are seeking to interrupt?


Abu-Lughod, Lila, Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and Its Others, 104 Am. Anthropologist 783 (2002)

Bessis, Sophie, International Organizations and Gender: New Paradigms and Old Habits, 29 Signs 633 (2004)

Goldscheid, Julie, Domestic and Sexual Violence as Sex Discrimination: Comparing American and International Approaches, 28 T. Jefferson L. Rev. 355(2006)

Hathaway, Oona, Do Human Rights Treaties Make a Difference? 111 Yale L. J. 1935 (2003)

Hoganson, Kristin L., Fighting for American Manhood (1998)

Ibarra, Jorge, Prologue to Revolution (1998)

Merry Sally Engle, Law, Culture and Cultural Appropriation, 10 Yale J. L. and Human. 575(1998)

Merry Sally Engle, Colonizing Hawai’i: The Cultural Power of Law (2000)

Orford, Anne, The Subject of Globalization: Economics, Identity and Human Rights, 94 Am. Soc’y Int’l L. Proc. 146(2000)

Renda, Mary A. Taking Haiti (2001)

Rosenberg, Emily S. Bursting America’s Imperial Bubble, 53 Chronicle of Higher Education 63 (Nov 13, 2006)

Saunders, Kriemhild, Introduction in Feminist Post-Development Thought, (Kriemhild Saunders, ed. 2002)

Stoner, K. Lynn, From the House to the Streets (1991)

[1] This entry is abstracted from Deborah M. Weissman, Gender and Human Rights: Between Morals and Politics in Gender Equality: Dimensions of Women’s Equal Citizenship (Linda C. McClain & Joanna L. Grossman, eds. 2009).

Deborah Weissman is the Reef Ivey II Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

What 20th-Century Theorists Have to Say about Our World Today

August 11, 2009

Amy Stambach


One day, way back in the 20th century, Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Roland Barthes sat under an equatorial tree, living in their own imagined primitive past, discussing Global Studies. “What,” asked Barthes, “might the four of us contribute to a field that analyzes the world as a global system, stitched together—as Michael Curtin deftly puts it—by trade protocols, governance covenants, and communications networks?” Lévi-Strauss checked his notes, Lacan thought introspectively, and Foucault answered complicatedly. Each spoke of the cultural schemes that inform public policy and that structure debate about contemporary life. Let me summarize their conversation—translated from French.[1]

On public issues of human rights, health, trade and transit, and environment—key foci of Global Studies—all agreed (though Lacan sat quietly) that global market integration between 1880 and 1914 and again beginning in the late 1970s drove a convergence of cultural practices that intensified human connectivity. In other words, this quartet concurred with what Suzanne Berger would later argue (2003): that 21st-century globalization had historical precedent, and that contrary to the classical idea of law as the rule of reason over human action, global norm-making is shaped by a few key ideas—including liberal-democratic ideas about resource distribution, social justice, equity, and popular sovereignty, which are themselves at the core of a few liberal democracies, including but not limited to the US, UK, France, and Germany.[2]

This recognition that global treaties and policies articulate particular norms and values led Lévi-Strauss to reflect on the wisdom of using information-technology to advance universal structures of humanity. For he recognized that although the above-named countries dominated 20th-century politics, he also foresaw that BRICs nations increasingly would collaborate.[3] “We can easily conceive of a time when there will be only one culture and one civilization,” he postulated. But he added quickly that while this is possible, this would also be a shame: “What threatens us right now is probably what we may call over-communication—the tendency to know exactly in one point of the world what is going on in all other parts.” He muttered something about global-e’s illusion that there is in fact a global electronic world out there, but he turned this into a positive (if self-descriptive and paradoxical) point: that to innovate and produce, to be truly creative, people must “be convinced of their originality and even, to some extent, of their superiority.” He did not slam electronic media but he recognized—proudly, with neither bravado nor need for apology—his own national identity.

Foucault jumped in with a qualifying thought about power, knowledge, and the media—not that the world’s wealthy nations had a responsibility to distribute resources equitably (this argument was to be popularized by Jeffery Sachs twenty-eight years after Foucault’s death; and with Sachs, Foucault would in part wisely agree). Instead, Foucault argued that information-technology produced social connections around the globe, like a thread that discretely “connects points and intersects with its own skein.” Foucault borrowed back an idea later taken by cultural geographers (Held 2005, Hetherington 1997): that “our epoch is one in which space takes for us the form of relations among sites.” He wrote and spoke about national archives and cinema but foresaw that new media would become a 21st-century heterotopia: a “simultaneously mythic and real contestation of the space in which we live” and a “counter-site” that is outside of all places, like “a mirror”—a “placeless” place that makes other spaces look “absolutely real.”[4] More sociological than geographic, more conceptual than localizable, new media juxtapose “several sites that are themselves incompatible.” He added that Global Studies might be more up front in admitting the power-knowledge dynamics of this media and in seeing the Internet as a form of governmentality—that is, as a double-edged tool for constraining and monitoring as well as for enabling social movements. Looking forward, he agreed with a student in UW-Madison Global Studies’ capstone graduate course—a former regional representative of Coca-Cola from a BRICs country who said that Twitter and Facebook facilitate surveillance and stalking; she wanted none of it.

At the mention of Coca-Cola, Barthes came to life; he had a lot to say about branding and trade protocols. After all, he had written about “Wine and Milk,” “Steak and Chips” and “Ornamental Cookery” and about “the bourgeoisie as a joint-stock exchange.” He began with an observation: that not only is today’s wine not as good as in the past but today’s world is a parody of liberalism—a point later so-articulated by Achille Mbembe (2000) and Jean and John Comaroff (2007). Instead of regulating trade and distributing wealth, nation-states sell off public services and go semi-private, he observed. The politically powerful make their own wealth appear a reflection of having access to resources by virtue of their nation-states’ geology and geography instead of recognizing that they have inherited their privilege historically. This privatization and naturalization of common wealth blurs the distinction, Barthes said, between legality and illegality; it gives rise to branding, which in turn invites cloning and fuels a shadow economy that renders state sovereignty unsteady. Put simply, law is like myth in Barthes’ scenario. It “transforms the products of history into essential types.”

Analyzing this complexity of meaning and legality brings methodological challenges for Global Studies, all four agreed. The problem, they said, is to discern how public policy and lawlessness, grassroots understandings and global governance, inter-relate; to address and include but not reproduce International Relations models that examine dominant organizations’ procedural logic; and to teach about the world as a global system through an interdisciplinary lens that “married” (Lévi-Strauss’ term) critical analysis with prescriptive models.

They had lots of ideas, first and foremost that nation-state governments return to the business of exercising the will of popular sovereignty. Global economic and environmental crises, they said, demanded a new historic compromise between capital and democracy. Whereas historically, liberal democracies had protected and regulated private wealth, governments needed to share investments and support social movements as a force for human security. Funding streams needed to finance basic research, to demonstrate commitment to public policies, and to harness the political good will of the populace in the interest of using research to inform education. In exchange, all four agreed, free enterprise was not all bad; indeed they had benefited from its history. This self-realization enacted Barthes’ point that power “constantly dresses up a reality.” Like global prospectors—financiers who had commandeered “third-world” wealth in the 20th century—these four too, they admitted, had exploited the primitive, in their case for their own intellectual capital in the academy.

Replacing grass-skirts with khakis and collared shirts of a professoriate, these seminarians returned to Jeffrey Sachs’ Millennium Research Village,[5] where they struggled mightily with colleagues from the global north and south to keep their ideas clear and pragmatic for a new 21st century.


Barthes, Roland. 1989. Mythologies. NY: Noonday.

Berger, Suzanne. 2003. Notre Première Mondialisation: Leçons d’Une Échec Oublié. Paris: Seuil. English version

Comaroff, Jean and John L. Comaroff. 2007. Law and Disorder in the Postcolony. Social Anthropology 15(2):133-152.

Foucault, Michel. 1986. Of Other Spaces. Diacritics 16(1):22-27.

Halliday, Terence and Bruce Carruthers. 2007. The Recursivity of Law: Global Norm-making and National Lawmaking in the Globalization of Corporate Insolvency Regimes. American Journal of Sociology 112(4):1135-1202.

Held, David. 2005. National Culture, the Globalization of Communication, and the Bounded Political Community. Planetary Politics, ed. E. Bronner. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Hetherington, Kevin. 1997. The Badlands of Modernity: Heterotopia and Social Ordering. London: Routledge.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1979. Myth and Meaning. NY: Schocken.

Mbembe, Achille. 2000. At the Edge of the World: Boundaries, Territoriality, and Sovereignty in Africa. Public Culture 12(1):259-284.

Roudinesco, Elisabeth. 2003. The Mirror Stage: An Obliterated Archive. The Cambridge Companion to Lacan, ed. Jean-Michel Rabaté. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sachs, Jeffrey D. 2008. Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet. NY: Penguin.

[1] Except in this first paragraph, text placed in double quotes is taken directly from these writers’ works.

[2] Halliday and Carruthers’ (2007) discussion of global norm-making is one of the most insightful I have seen.

[3] Brazil, Russia, India, and China—countries whose economies grew in the 1990s and whose governments increasingly work together.

[4] Foucault failed to reference Lacan on this point about mirrors, which is perhaps why Lacan looked away, indignantly. Lacan’s idea that individuals move through a stage of development in which they see themselves (as though in “a mirror”) in relation to a designated “cultural other” was informed by Lévi-Strauss’ idea that universal structures undergird human realities but was never taken up by Foucault or Barthes.  For Lacan—the least historically prescient of the four—the radical Other was Europe’s grass-skirted primitive. See Roudinesco 2003.

[5] Sachs 2008:238-241.

Amy Stambach is the Director of Global Studies and Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Rise of the Global Imaginary and the Persistence of Ideology

July 30, 2009

Manfred B. Steger


Political ideologies emerged at a crucial historical juncture—the great American and French revolutions of the eighteenth century—as authoritative systems of meaning consciously competing with religious doctrines. Taking a more this-worldly perspective on the origin and purpose of human communities, ideologies nonetheless resemble religion in their attempts to link the various ethical, cultural, and political dimensions of society into fairly a comprehensive shared mental models. Imitating religions’ penchant to trade in truth and certainty, political belief systems rely heavily on stories that persuade, praise, condemn, cajole, convince, and separate the ‘good’ from the ‘bad’. Like narratives of the sacred, ideologies both generate and thrive on human emotions. Certain political belief systems have inspired mass murder, torture, and rape much in the same way as some religious doctrines have fueled the flames of human suffering throughout the centuries. In fact, nearly all of the major political crimes committed in the last two centuries have been justified on the basis of some ‘ism’. But although ideologies serve such deceptive and manipulative purposes, they also represent ideas and claims that express the noble aspirations of particular sections of society at a given time in history.

The defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 and the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1991 enticed scores of Western commentators to relegate ‘ideology’ to the dustbin of history. Proclaiming a radically new era in human history, they argued that ideology had ended with the final triumph of liberal capitalism. But this dream of a universal set of political ideas ruling the world came crashing down with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Since then, Western political leaders as different as George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Nikolas Sarkozy have argued that the contest with jihadist Islamism represents much more than the military conflict: as they put it, it is the ‘decisive ideological struggle of our time.’ In short, far from being moribund, competing political belief systems are live and well in the twenty-first century. But which ideologies? Liberalism? Conservatism? Socialism?

This is where the confusion starts. Although we know that ideology has not ended, we still grope for words to name what’s actually new. So what have we come up with so far? Neoliberalism. Neoconservatism. NeoMarxism. Neofascism. Postmodernism. Postindustrialism. Postcolonialism. And the list goes on. But does this proliferation of prefixes really help us to understand the novelty of our shifting ideological landscape? Are today’s isms merely updated versions of our familiar ideologies? Or have we moved into genuinely new territory?

Let me suggest that there is, indeed, something genuinely new about today’s isms. These shared mental maps that help us navigate our political universe no longer correspond neatly to our familiar mental and geographical spaces built over two centuries on the foundation of sovereign and self-contained nation-state. Instead, ideologies have begun to translate into political programs and agendas of what I call the ‘global imaginary’. What I mean is a shared sense of a thickening world community, bound together by processes of globalization that are daily shrinking our planet. The rising global imaginary finds its articulation not only in the ideological claims of political leaders and business elites who reside in privileged spaces around the world. It also fuels the hopes, disappointments, and demands of migrants who traverse national boundaries in search of their piece of the global promise. In fact, the global imaginary is nobody’s exclusive property. It inhabits class, race, and gender, but belongs to neither. It is an impressive testimony to the messy superimposition of the global village on the conventional nation-state.

Consider, for example, today’s asymmetric wars that pit alliances of nation-states and non-state actors against amorphous transnational terrorist networks that nonetheless operate in specific localities-usually in ‘global cities’ like New York, London, Madrid, or Jakarta. New global pandemics expose the limits of our national public health systems. Nationally framed environmental policies cannot respond adequately to accelerating global climate change. Conventional education and immigration schemes based on national goals and priorities are incapable of preparing shifting populations for the pressing tasks of global citizenship. Cultivating global fan clubs of millions of members, European football teams like Manchester United have long escaped the confines of nation-based geography. And the list goes on.

Indeed, well-intentioned attempts to ‘update’ modern political belief systems by adorning them with prefixes resemble futile efforts to make sense of digital word processing by drawing on the mechanics of moveable print. Since liberalism, conservatism, and socialism have been transformed beyond recognition by the forces of globalization, it is imperative that we get to know the new political belief systems that fuel the great ideological struggle of the twenty-first century. This is not merely an academic exercise but a moral imperative for people interested in finding answers to the pressing global problems of our time. For it is these new articulations of the global imaginary that have begun to offer us possible roadmaps to solving our energy crisis without adding to the pollution of our great green planet; to maintain our economic prosperity while reducing global disparities in wealth and wellbeing; and to combat new transnational forms of political violence without unleashing the nightmare of nuclear confrontation or perpetuating an ill-conceived ‘global war on terror’.

About the author:

Manfred B. Steger is Professor of Global Studies and Director of the Globalism Research Center at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the Globalization Research Center at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa. He has served as an academic consultant on globalization for the US State Department and as an advisor to the PBS TV series, “Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism.” He is the author of seventeen books on globalization and the history of political ideas, including: The Rise of the Global Imaginary: Political Ideologies from the French Revolution to the Global War on Terror (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Creating the Global Studies Curriculum – A Space for the Local?

July 13, 2009

Jack Luletulips-japan

In Fall 2006, Lehigh University created an undergraduate major in Global Studies. In this essay, I examine theoretical, methodological and pedagogical approaches ultimately chosen for the new curriculum. In particular, I consider our attempt to emphasize the local in our global study.[1]

Discrete research and teaching on global topics had gone at Lehigh for more than a century. However, the attacks of 9-11-01, just 90 minutes from our university, galvanized faculty and students to more fully internationalize Lehigh’s campus. Faculty took on the role of globalizing research and teaching.

One of our first theoretical and pedagogical decisions: Out of the many ways in which a university might internationalize curriculum and research, we decided to focus on globalization.

A number of factors lay behind the choice. One was focus. In some Global Studies programs, students choose from an array of courses, sometimes hundreds, tied together only by virtue of international content and concern. Globalization gave us a subject of study for teaching and research.

Another factor was the importance of the subject: No matter how it is defined – and we have some faculty who deny its existence – globalization must be considered one of the defining terms of modern life.

A third factor was its interdisciplinary potential: We have four colleges – 18 departments in the College of Arts and Sciences alone – and yet each discipline was engaged in studies that took up globalization.

In Spring 2006, we submitted a proposal to create the Globalization and Social Change Initiative. It was immediately accepted – and funded. I had headed one of the working groups and was asked to be director of the Initiative. By Fall 2006, we were up and running.

I should explain what is meant at Lehigh by an “Initiative.” The concept, at one level, is similar to a research institute or center. Primary functions of the Initiative are to foster and promote faculty research.

Yet at Lehigh, and other campuses, research institutes do not get involved with the undergraduate curriculum, nor do they sponsor extracurricular student clubs and activities.

The concept of an Initiative allows us to support almost any activity on campus that falls under the rubric of globalization and social change. We do traditional center activities, such as hosting research symposia and conferences. But we also created the undergraduate Global Studies major and plan a graduate degree in Global Studies. Too, we sponsor international student clubs and activities. The breadth is rich and satisfying.

Why an initiative in “globalization and social change?” Again, theoretical and pedagogical considerations guided us.

Globalization, we felt strongly, is not simply an economic process. This was important for us to emphasize as we worked alongside our colleagues from the business college.

We believe that globalization, while surely an economic process, is also historical, social, religious, cultural and political. Globalization and social change, we felt, signified our scope.

With our understanding of globalization and social change in place, we set out to situate that understanding within the curriculum. Like many programs, we felt that a primary strength of Global Studies is its interdisciplinary nature. We tried to create a markedly interdisciplinary curriculum (and courses).

An introductory course presents students with competing notions of globalization and then proceeds through modules, each showcasing how the study of globalization is undertaken in different disciplines: history, political economy, culture and anthropology, political science and international relations, communication, sociology and others.

Students then work their way through a core curriculum made up of course work from more than eight different departments, courses specifically tailored for the major: globalization and history; the political economy of globalization; culture and globalization; politics and globalization, global communication, globalization and religion, and more. Advanced electives and a capstone research seminar round out the curriculum.

However, the Global Studies curriculum is only one part of the major. Following the work of Appadurai (1996), Pieterse (2004), and others, we felt that globalization is fruitfully studied at the local level – “the global production of locality” (Appadurai, 1996, 188). We debated how to give our students experience and tools for understanding the ways globalization is negotiated within local contexts.

As a start, we require intermediate language proficiency of our students, the equivalent of four semesters. We encourage – and gave serious consideration to requiring – a major in a foreign language but ultimately felt the credit requirements for a double major would be too intense. But language is a tool for understanding and we wanted our students to at least experience language instruction, to understand the connection between language and culture, and to know that the world does not speak English.

We also require two courses in one Area Studies program (and strongly encourage at least a minor), such as Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, and others. Like Appadurai, we felt that Area Studies, though contested, still provide “a site for the examination of how locality emerges in a globalizing world” (18).

Finally, we require Study Abroad, either a full semester or two six-week summer sessions. We believe that immersion in another culture is essential for our students’ education. We help students seek out service learning projects while abroad.

With good advising, students match language, Area Studies and Study Abroad. For example, a Global Studies student studying Spanish will take Latin American Studies classes, and study and work in Chile. We encourage students, while abroad, to pursue the intersections of the global and local, of “how global facts take local form” (Appadurai, 18).

The program – the Global Studies curriculum with the localizing experiences of language instruction, area studies, and study abroad – is in its infancy. Still to be determined: What are the educational – and life – outcomes of this particular balance of global and local in study of globalization?


Appadurai, Arjun (1996). Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pieterse, Jan Nederveen (2004). Globalization and Culture: Global Melange. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Jack Lule is the Joseph B. McFadden Distinguished Professor of Journalism and Director, Globalization and Social Change Initiative at Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, USA

[1] Versions of this essay were presented to the Global Studies Conference, Chicago, Illinois, May 2008, and the Global Studies Association North America Annual Conference, New York, New York, June 2008.

Tourism, Sex, and Beirut

June 26, 2009

Ghada Masri
Beirut - Aerial View

Rebuilding a city is an enormous undertaking for any society.  In the case of Beirut, rebuilding is a constant state of affairs.  The Lebanese civil war (1975-1990), and most recently, the Israeli attack and siege of the city in summer 2006, is cause to reflect on this cycle of destruction and reconstruction.  My work in Beirut focuses on the physical reconstruction and design of the city.  Yet, when questioned about these processes, my informants regularly alluded to the increasing sex-tourism in downtown Beirut.  This brief article relates some of my findings regarding sex-tourism in Beirut as expressed to me by locals, tour guides, tourists, and some who worked within the industry.

Beirut serves the pleasures of its tourists.  It is the chameleon city, catering to any desire. As many locals and visitors liked to say, ‘anything you want can be found in abundance in Beirut.’

Two types of nightclubs operate in Beirut—nightclubs and super-nightclubs.  The financial exchange for sexual favors may or may not occur in the nightclub setting.  Super-nightclubs contain nudity and strip shows, and hold the expectation that sexual favors will occur at the right price.  Those women who become good dancers are no longer expected to perform sexual acts, but may do so for a considerable price.  The young women contracted as dancers are often unaware of the true nature of the work they are expected to perform.  When they do arrive in Beirut, the hiring contractor (the ‘pimp’) illegally confiscates their passports and forces them into sex work through the super-nightclub circuit and through special hire.  Women who refuse are violently raped and beaten.

Lebanese law permits prostitution, but requires that brothels be licensed.  In an attempt to limit legal prostitution, the government has restricted the granting of new licenses.  Thus, many brothels and prostitutes practice illegally. In 1998, then President Amil Lahoud passed a law forbidding brothels where women had rooms and beds for sex work.  However, to bypass this law, the official status of these establishments changed to “nightclubs,” where women were picked up and taken to other locations, permitting the shadow operation of the sex industry.  The official law permits the government to claim a restrictive stance on prostitution, yet reap the benefits of increased tourist revenue from those seeking sexual adventure.

Beyond the projection of Beirut as a playground, the sexual consumption of female bodies becomes a tourist attraction.  Additionally, the consumed bodies are not merely marked as female, but certain bodies are sold as commodities of higher or lesser value based on national origin.  This is reflective of the global order and hierarchy between nations. Near the top of this value pyramid are women from Belarus, Ukraine, and Romania who take approximately US $1000 per night (most of this going to her pimp).  Women positioned with lower value are Ethiopian who cost US $25 per nightly entertainment, followed by Filipino women and finally, Sri Lankan women, who take 10,000 LL (US $6.50).  The lower valued women also tend to operate independent of the night clubs and tend to cater to local Lebanese men.

A more recent addition to the sex industry is an increase in participation from Iraqi women.  Those who have lost their husbands to the United States bombardment of Iraq, find their way to Beirut, via Damascus, into the sex-work industry.  For most, this is their only means of survival, especially if they have no other training or skills in which to support themselves.  If they are young, their pimp will sell them as virgins, which fetch the highest price in the sex market (US $1000 +).  Moreover, the pimp usually contracts with a medical doctor who performs hymen reconstruction surgery on the young women so that they may be resold as virgins.

A common perception by many local Beirutis is that behind the wealth displayed by the Khaleej, is moral ‘filth’ in their beliefs and practices.  Rami, a young man who is subcontracted to paint the newly erected facades of the buildings in downtown, holds an additional job as a driver for one of the super-nightclub pimps.  He explains his perception of downtown Beirut and its connection to sexual consumption.

“Half the people downtown don’t buy anything.  It’s nice, but there are nicer and cheaper places.  It’s [downtown] not for us; it’s not for the Lebanese—not for the wages of two days work for one night here.  It’s made for tourists, mostly al-khaligiya [Arabs from the Gulf] … the Saudi tourist goes two places, downtown with family and supernights with prostitutes … Saudis are filthy, I wouldn’t work painting their homes.  When you work for them, they own you.  The Khalij are dirty and if you sit with them, you get disgusted watching them eat—even though they have money, they stink.  Once I went to pick up some women from a Saudi after they had stayed with him.  They had bruises all over them.  Many Khalij like rough sex … mostly they beat the women.”

Rami’s attitudes were shared by many other Beirutis.  The city’s downtown is seen as not belonging to them, but rather for tourists, specifically those from the Gulf States in search of sexual adventure.  The location of sexual adventure in BCD is witnessed by many Lebanese as a place that permeates with moral corruption that presents a danger to Lebanese society as a whole.  Linda, the wife of a lieutenant in the Lebanese Army said she does not visit the central district at night during the summer tourist season, especially not with her young fifteen year old daughter.  She explains that, “The Khaleej come every summer and destroy our city.  They have money, but they are still dirty and uncivilized.  They are a bad influence on our society and young women.”  Although needed for economic growth by the state and the tourism industry, sex tourism is perceived to make Lebanese culture vulnerable to uncivilized Khaleeji morality.  This contradiction is further compounded by yet another, namely the tension between conflicting notions of morality and civility, as Lebanese struggle to define themselves as modern and western.

Based on the manner in which sex tourism is discussed, the presumption is that only Khaleejis are engaged in sex tourism.  The belief that European men would not come all the way to Beirut for sex with European women and the assumption that Lebanese women do not engage in ‘that sort of behavior,’ serves as an organizing principle to understand the emphasis on Khaleeji sex tourists.  This basis permits the construction of the Khaleej as a dirty moral danger to Lebanese culture.

Lebanese women are also involved in sex work, however, they only prostitute with foreign men for fear that in providing sexual services to Lebanese men, their families and local communities may find out.  This is a key strategy used to manage reputation, a most valued social capital that influences all aspects of one’s life.  A woman’s reputation alone is not only at stake, but the reputation of her kin which can have devastating effects on clan networks and economic access.

The myths of modernity and rebirth drape the image and reputation of Beirut as a place of desire where the fantasy of consumption, designer goods, and commoditized bodies are possible.  Beirut’s cosmopolitan spirit, taken to excess, as many things are in Beirut, encompasses its tourist consumption of sexualized and nationalized female bodies.  Beirut’s cosmopolitanism is turned into an “international buffet” where women of the world, whose bodies are nationally marked (i.e. Ukrainian, Ethiopian, Syrian, and Iraq), are presented on a sampling platter to the highest bidder—giving new meaning to ‘national cuisine.’

Through the prevalent myths of Beirut’s resurrection, contradictions emerge between western modernity and moral corruption on one hand and Khaleeji (eastern) morality and sexual desire on the other.  In one sense, they are both viewed as corrupting by different segments of the population.  Middle and upper class communities, desiring their own pleasures and economic benefits from westernization and Lebanon’s inclusion in the global economic system, mimic western styles and mannerisms and look upon the Khaleeji tourists as animal-like—made wild by their sexual urges.  The presence of Khaleeji tourists during the summer months offends the sensibilities of many self-defined ‘cosmopolitans’ residing in the city.  Khaleeji men walking with their two or three wives and their children in tow through downtown Beirut (the heart of the city and the nation) fills many Lebanese with concern and threatens the perception of Beirut as a modern, cosmopolitan, city with a characteristic ‘Lebanese culture’ and identity.

Globalization, the Global Trope, and Poor Black Communities: The Recent American Experience

May 15, 2009

David Wilson
Department of Geography
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Today, in the shadows of shiny gentrified blocks and gleaming downtown skyscrapers, many poor African American neighborhoods in America continue to suffer. Globalization continues to afflict these already punished terrains in ways that are now well chronicled. Most conspicuously, globalization engulfs these terrains and eradicates decent paying jobs and lowers pay rates. Hyper-frenetic, globally coordinated businesses and corporations, increasingly dominating urban economies, potently order and re-order locations of jobs, investment, and physical infrastructure (notably plant and store locations). In a process described by David Harvey (2000, 2005), capital’s continuous search for profitability takes the form of a restless and relentless re-making of the spaces of production. In its wake, these communities experience intensified poverty, underemployment, and unemployment.

But the impact of globalization on these communities has another dimension. Less recognized is that globalization, as a kind of cultivated imagining that is aggressively spoken, is widely put in the service of neoliberal urban politics (via diverse kinds of communicating) that deepens the production of these disadvantaged communities. Here, what globalization is thought to be by people is seized and wielded like a cudgel to punish and discipline planning measures, social welfare programs, and urban policy. Planning, political expediency, and opportunistic pronouncements of a new ominous reality meld into one potent political force. In the process, the public often comes to casually accept an “entrepreneurializing” of cities that afflicts these racialized communities. Let me provide specifics about this profoundly influential but only dimly recognized process (see also Wilson, 2007).

These poor African American communities today continue to suffer with a strengthened functional logic assigned to them: to warehouse “contaminants” in the new competitive, global reality. These communities across Chicago, Cleveland, New York, Los Angeles, and the like have, for decades, warehoused the racial poor as the real-estate sectors in these cities have used planning and policy to keep key housing markets healthy and profitable. But in the latest twist on this, ghetto maintenance has increasingly involved wielding the recent fear and obsession within a supposed new era: globalization. This elaborate rhetoric, now served up heavily in newspapers, planning documents, and politician oratory, has been a key trigger to mobilize and put into play crucial ghetto-afflicting forces (targeting of government resources to cultivate a robust entrepreneurial city, retrenching the local welfare state, rhetorically attacking these populations and spaces). This rhetoric, which I term “the global trope,” typically extends neoliberal principles and designs into common thought and city planning measures (particularly the notion of the private-market as best determinant of social and land-use outcomes). The global trope, in this frame, is served up as a frank and blunt package of truths about city realities and needs that can no longer be suppressed. In assertion, its pleas correspond to core truths; deft interpreters read and respond to clear truths as a policy prescriptive, progressive human intervention onto a turbulent and fragile city.

The rhetoric of the global trope has thus been a perceptual apparatus with profound material effects. It has served up a digestible reality that, following Robin Wagner-Pacifici (1994), guides construction of programs and policies by making certain actions thinkable and rational and others not. Imposed webs of meanings, like symbolic cages, build bars around senses of reality that place gazes within discrete and confining visions. One reality is ultimately advanced while alternatives are purged. Here is Mikhael Bakhtin’s (1981) implicit dialogue with other points of view, the simultaneity of asserting one vision and annihilating others. This strategic affirmation and rebuke, forwarding what exists and what does not, continues to make this rhetorical formation a fundamental instrument of power. As this apparatus has resisted and beaten back competitive visions of city and societal realities, even as it is contested and struggled against, it grows stronger in many U.S. cities.

At this rhetoric’s core, a supposed new hyper-competitive reality (“globalization”) makes these cities easily discardable as places of investment, production, and business. These once robust economic landscapes, in the rhetoric, have recently become porous and leaky landscapes which could economically hemorrhage. In this new era of competitive globalization, cities are portrayed as beset by a kind of accumulation disorder and uncertainty that now haunts them. The city, as a place of becoming, is a threatened but historically resilient locale that once again must act ingenuously to survive. The offered signs of this new ominousness – municipal fiscal depletion, an aging physical infrastructure, the “reality” of decayed residential, commercial, and production spaces dotting the city – are deployed as disciplining indicators of what the future can bring. Through this rhetoric, a proposed shock treatment of re-regulation and privatization is grounded and rationalized.

In a second part of the rhetoric, city survival supposedly depends upon following two imperatives: strengthening the city as a taut entrepreneurial space and meticulously containing poor black communities and their populations. In the first imperative, the assertion is forceful: Now cities must push to build attractive consumptive complexes, upper-income aesthetic residential spaces, efficient labor pools, and healthy business climates. This post-1990 rhetoric has been at the heart of what Kevin Cox (1993) earlier identified as the supplanting of a “politics of redistribution” by a “politics of resource attraction.” Entertainment, culture, sports, and leisure now become civic business. To fail to commodify these, borrowing from Milwaukee Mayor J. Norquist (1998), is to miss the reality of the new stepped-up inter-city competition. An intensified fragmenting and balkanizing of city space by class and race is not merely normalized, it becomes celebrated as utilitarian and in the service of city survivability.

In the second imperative, the assertion is sometimes explicit but often implicit: that poor black neighborhoods and populations need to be systematically isolated and managed as tainted and civic-damaging outcasts. These are cast as not merely culturally problematic but things to be feared, reviled, and cordoned off. At work is William Wimsatt’s (1998) notion of the mobilized fear economy, a general trepidation that now expands to more deeply include black ghettos. As Wimsatt notes, since 1980 we have increasingly had government by fear, foreign policy by fear, and landscapes of fear, all of which are expediently peddled by all scales of media. Now, we also have a heightened fear of the sinister black-ghetto in these cities that is manifested in a discursive fright about crime, black men, black youth, streets, and ghettos. A spiral of fear, peddled through rich images, now sells black bodies and spaces as potential violators of the collectivity’s socio-moral and economic integrity.

The global trope is in this sense two-pronged. It offers the complementary “truths” of what circumstances these cities now face and also what they must do to survive. These two supportive formations seamlessly connect to form a coherent and resilient rhetoric which is aggressively spoken in all U.S. cities. This whole, borrowing from Wendy Hollway (1984), offers purportedly progressive positions for subjects to adopt that legitimates potentially contentious actions (e.g. requiring poor people to work at sub-minimum wages, cutting food stamps to the needy, using public funds to subsidize gentrification). Yet use of such discourse by growth elites is anything but surprising. These formations, following Norman Fairclaugh (1992), are the modern alternative to flagrant violence and oppression. The now established rule in complex societies, to Fairclaugh, is to make and manage rather than to nakedly repress. To Fairclaugh, politics today is increasingly practiced in the domain of producing knowledge, i.e, defining what is normal, non-normal, ethical, and rational.

The end result, I suggest, has been the production of a more impoverished African American poor community as the now stepped-up zone of human discard in “the global era.” These communities, simply put, have become one-dimensional apparatuses for the naked isolating and warehousing of the black poor which help drive downtown transformation and gentrification. In the process, dominant, widely chronicled changes in these ghettos (deepened deprivation, more health fatalities, more poverty) reflect this newest rhetorical-planning process put into play in our cities. The facilitating rhetoric, the global trope, proves functional by communicating the need to re-entrepreneurialize city form and life. At the moment, even with the ascendancy of Obama and with possibilities for progressive change, this rhetoric and its afflicting continue unabated.


Bakhtin, Mikhael (1981) The Dialogic Imagination. Austin: University of Texas.

Cox, Kevin (1993) “The Local and the Global in the New Urban Politics: A Critical Review,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 11: 433–448.

Fairclaugh, Norman (1992) Discourse and Social Change. New York: Polity

Harvey, David, 2000. Spaces of Hope. Berkeley: University of California.

Harvey, David, 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. New York: Oxford.

Hollway, Wendy (1984) “Gender difference and the production of subjectivity.” In J. Henriques, W. Hollway et al. Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation, and Subjectivity. New York: Metheun.

Norquist, John (1998) The Wealth of Cities. New York: Addison Wesley Longman.

Wilson, David. 2007. Cities and Race: America’s New Black Ghetto. London: Routledge.

Wimsatt, William (1998) “The Fear Economy,” Adbusters Magazine, #21, Spring 10–12.

Globalization, Poverty Reduction, and Economic Rights

March 9, 2009

Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann
Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights; Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada


Many students of global studies are interested in global human rights, especially economic rights, and they often oppose globalization because they believe that it has caused an increase in world poverty, especially as industrialization and capitalism spread.[1] Yet most studies show significant decreases in poverty over the period of industrialization, capitalism and globalization. The global poverty rate is estimated to have fallen from over 90 per cent of the world’s population in 1820 to 51.3 per cent in 1992. During approximately the same period, average life expectancy more than doubled, from 26 years in 1820 to 60 years by 2002.

Contemporary studies of poverty usually define it as the percentage of households living below a certain income; this is called the poverty line. World poverty lines are usually measured at somewhere between $1.00 and $3.00 per person per day. To compare poverty rates across countries, household incomes are typically converted to a common currency using purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rates. PPP is calculated by comparing the costs of equivalent “baskets” of goods such as housing, food and clothing in various countries. For example, in2007 China’s gross national income per capita in $US was estimated at $2, 360, but its per capita PPP was 5,370.

World Bank calculations show that using a poverty line of $US 1.25 per day, between 1981 and 2005 the percent of the world’s population living in poverty decreased from to 51.8 to 25.2. Using a poverty rate of $2.50 per day, the decrease was from 74.6 per cent of the world’s population to 56.6 per cent. Nevertheless, even if one uses the most optimistic figures, 322 million people lived below the WB $1 per day poverty line in 2000; 600 million lived below $2 per day and 1.2 billion below $3 per day. Using $2.50 per day as a benchmark, the majority of the world’s population, 56.6 per cent, was still poor in 2005.

The rate of poverty varies quite drastically by region, however. In some regions absolute poverty has been declining since 1980, whereas in other regions it has increased slightly. The table below shows world poverty figures by per cent of population per region in 1981, 1990, 1999 and 2005 at the $1.25 and $2.50 per day levels, although these figures do not take account of food and fuel prices hikes since 2005 or of the 2008-9 financial crisis.

World Poverty Figures by Region, 1981-2005: Per Cent Living Below Poverty Line[2]

Region $1.25/day $2.50/day
  1981 1990 1999 2005 1981 1990 1999 2005
East Asia & Pacific 77.7 54.7 35.5 16.8 95.4 87.3 71.7 50.7
Of which China 84.0 60.2 35.6 15.9 99.4 91.6 71.7 49.5
Eastern Europe & Central Asia 1.7 2.0 5.1 3.7 15.2 12.0 21.4 12.9
Latin America & Caribbean 11.5 9.8 10.8 8.4 29.2 26.0 28.0 22.1
Middle East & North Africa 7.9 4.3 4.2 3.6 39.0 31.2 30.8 28.4
South Asia 59.4 51.7 44.1 40.3 92.6 90.3 86.7 84.4
India 59.8 51.3 44.8 41.6 92.5 90.2 87.6 85.7
Sub-Saharan Africa 53.7 57.9 58.2 51.2 81.0 82.5 83.8 80.5
Total 51.8 41.6 33.7 25.2 74.6 70.4 65.9 56.6

Source: Chen and Ravallion 2008, Table 7, pp. 33-34.

The greatest reduction in poverty from 1981 to 2005 was in East Asia and the Pacific, including China. Poverty also fell in South Asia as a region, in India, and in the Latin American and Caribbean region. In contrast, the poverty rate in Eastern Europe and Central Asia rose in the 1990s but began to decline again in the 2000s. In Sub-Saharan Africa the poverty rate increased between 1981 and 1999, but began to drop in the 2000s. These regional figures show that globalization is not uniformly “global” in its impact; national histories, internal political forces, and current public policies must be considered when trying to determine the consequences of globalization for a particular region or country.

The question is, then, what causes either increases or reduction in poverty? What will be the likely effect of globalization in the future and what factors other than globalization will contribute to that effect? It is tempting for global studies students who oppose globalization to attribute all deterioration in economic rights to globalization and all improvements to resistance to it. Yet countries that did not participate in globalization generally did worse than countries that did participate. Combined with the proper public policy measures, globalization improves the economic human rights of many hundreds of millions of people.


[1] This entry is abstracted from chapter 2 of Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann, The Second Great Transformation: Human Rights Leapfrogging in the Era of Globalization.

[2] Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion, “The Developing World is Poorer than We Thought, But No Less Successful in the Fight Against Poverty,” Washington, D.C.: World Bank, 2008.

Do Rights Belong in the Classroom?

February 17, 2009

Robin Kirk
Director of the Duke Human Rights Center, Duke University


The history of what is studied in universities is long and abundant in controversy. In his old age, Plato once complained that his star student, Aristotle, was “kick[ing] me, as foals do their mothers when they are born” by refuting his teachings.

In more recent times, we’ve seen battles erupt over area, gender and ethnic studies. Some lament a perceived eclipse in traditional disciplines like history and philosophy. Others argue for an expanded and shifting menu that includes new subcategories that reflect the emerging regions or issues of the moment.

One newcomer that hasn’t generated much talk is human rights. I teach a course (full disclosure here) at Duke University that begins with Homer’s account of how Achilles desecrated Hector’s body during the Trojan War and the nearly 1,200-page letter indigenous Peruvian writer Guamán Poma de Ayala wrote to Spain’s King Phillip III. The letter contains 398 line drawings, many depicting the killings and acts of torture by conquistadores that Poma de Ayala asked the king to halt.

I believe that the study of human rights should go well beyond the category of the law and should incorporate questions about how human societies struggle over questions of what is moral and who is human.

But the entrance of human rights into the university classroom is relatively recent. The first American university to create a human rights program was New York’s Columbia University. Founded in 1977, the Center for the Study of Human Rights sought, according to its own mission statement, “[t]o integrate Human Rights into the intellectual and programmatic life of the University.”

One area that Columbia has focused on is the training of young people from around the world. Individuals from Latin America and poor US communities can apply for a four-month residency to study advocacy, networking, and academic human rights courses.

Another way human rights has entered the university is through law and public policy schools. A number of law schools have human rights clinics where students can take part in hands-on litigation. Notre Dame now offers a J.S.D. (the equivalent of a doctorate) in International Human Rights Law along with the more common LL.M. in International Human Rights Law.

One of the more interesting areas is the emergence of undergraduate human rights concentrations and programs. In 2003, Bard College began offering a B.A. in human rights. Students take courses across disciplines like history, literature, anthropology, economics and film and media. They can also work with local human rights groups, such as those working with migrants.

The degree doesn’t assume human rights are beyond criticism. According to the program web site, students are encouraged to treat human rights as an intellectual question and challenge orthodoxies even as they may contemplate a human rights career.

At Duke, we are developing a human rights certificate that students can earn along with their more traditional degrees. In keeping with Duke’s emphasis on community service, students will be required to work in a human rights group, dealing with issues like the death penalty, immigration or extraordinary rendition (many of the CIA flights originate just two hours southeast of campus). In the summer of 2009, Duke will bring 10 students to Northern Ireland to work with groups trying to bridge the persistent sectarian divide that was at the root of the Troubles.

Are students getting human rights jobs with these degrees? In fact, the whole notion of human rights as a career is a new one dating from as recently as the 1990s. When I graduated with a BA from the University of Chicago in 1983, my goal was to become a writer and foreign correspondent. Without the cash for journalism school, I opted for the tried and true route of heading to troubled countries (Peru and Colombia) and freelance writing. Years later, I realized that I didn’t want to just cover political violence, but work to protect the brave men and women who risked their lives for human rights.

I got myself hired by Human Rights Watch not because I had a degree, but because I cared passionately about my countries and knew the “ground truth.” Trained as a journalist – one of the few professions that continues to value chutzpah more than a degree – I was able to get in, write, then figure out how to get people, including American policymakers, to care.

But things have changed. Increasingly, the ranks of human rights groups are filled with lawyers, Ph.D.s and people who spent their youth in multiple Masters programs (not hopping trucks or searching out guerrillas and paramilitaries, like me). In some ways, this is laudable; sixty years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified, human rights can be a career that absorbs specialists in refugees, the environment, public health as well as the law.

Realistically, however, few student will manage to – or even want to – work in human rights. But a human rights education will help make them into informed global citizens. They will have a passing knowledge not only of the darker side of human nature, but also of the successful movements that have moved us all away from evils like slavery, torture and discrimination. In my view, the study of human rights – like the study of history or literature – is a rich way to learn how to be an adult in a complex world.

And it wouldn’t hurt if a few of our students came away inspired to right the wrongs that still confront us.

Hidden Markets: Global Patterns in the Privatization of Education?

January 13, 2009

Patricia Burch
Professor, Educational Policy Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Both in the U.S. and abroad, there exists a political movement in support of education reforms based on the logic of the market that assumes that business strategies can and should transfer to education. The rise of the private provision of public education services reflects such marketplace values as outsourcing, limited government regulation, competition and choice. It also incorporates elements of government contracting and vouchers. [1]

As I argue in Hidden Markets, The New Education Privatization, these developments deserve close attention by those who want schooling that is equitable, responsible and effective. [2] The book focuses on the manifestation of the phenomenon in K-12 education in the United States although the trends are global and overlap with pre-school education and higher education. As noted below, several of the largest firms in the industry are multi-national; companies are marketing product lines sold in the U.S. to governments in the former Soviet Bloc, Australia, and South Africa, and the United Kingdom. Further, U.S. based companies are outsourcing aspects of the work (for example, technical support and computer programming) to overseas subcontractors in the interest of reducing labor costs, such as the costs of tutors. Companies also are attempting to leverage economies of scale by selling the same product (e.g. test scoring systems) to different governments and marketing them as local products.

In the United States, the Bush administration has used Federal education policy and the No Child Left Behind Act as part of its broader agenda to increase the role of the private sector in the provision of public services. Some of the largest of the firms garnering revenue under NCLB, such as Edison, Kumon, and Pearson have multi-national headquarters; they receive both public and private financing from governments and private investors throughout the world. The reach of global companies into local markets is facilitated by technological developments in particular the rise of the Internet which allows firms to make fast in-roads into communities while managing systems and products (e.g., technical support for test scoring, on-line tutoring) from a centralized location.

In the United States and throughout parts of the world, the emerging education market includes the introduction of new categories of schools that are publicly funded while garnering private profits–which for the multi-national companies can be reinvested internationally, e.g., to expand product development in other regions of the world. It includes private contracts for test creation, test analysis and test reporting that are directly connected to schools’ ratings and their “right to operate”. For example, in the United States, there is a growing business in management intervention contracts for districts not making test score targets. Several of the consulting firms active in this market also sell their educational consulting services to the governments of other nations with high stakes testing policies. In the United States, Canada, Eastern Europe and South Africa, private companies also are increasingly active in markets aimed at remedial instruction for students with special needs and/or for whom public school systems historically have failed including students identified as requiring after school or summer school instruction, students suspended from school, and students identified as poor performers on the basis of test scores.

There are three main themes emerging from my project that have relevance internationally. First, while current forms of government contracting in education are justified as local needs, they derive from broader institutional arrangements including economic and ideological power plays and crises. [3] In the United States, schools and local authorities face a barrage of external pressures to do something about the achievement gap, including pressures to use education to ‘magically make’ the US globally competitive. In a policy context defined increasingly by the marketplace, doing something about the achievement gap becomes purchasing something from the private sector. These purchases (in the form of government contracts) typically occur in the absence of any clear evidence of product effectiveness. The contract sends the signal that the local government is serious about education as a policy priority. For the short term, it buffers the local government from scrutiny and intervention by higher authorities.

Second, both in the United States and abroad, education policy is helping to author the changes by under writing the risks for firms. For example, policies such as NCLB act directly on the market and relationships between public schools and private firms by generating demand. Policy also underwrites the changes through statutes and rules that limit financial risks to private firms. For example, the supplemental educational services provisions under NCLB mandate after school programming in schools not making test score targets. The law makes funds available to private firms paired with weak oversight of their activities. The firms operating in the tutoring market report revenue in the millions, yet closer analysis of their financial statements reveal shaky financial performance–high costs, low rates of return, increasing debt. In the United States, government protection of these firms reflects a broader dynamic (spurred by the current global market crises) whereby governments are perceived as playing a legitimate role in the financing, protection (and if the analogy to the banking and auto industries holds) and costly bailout of private industry.

Third, we tend to equate the public sector with large bureaucracy and the private sector with more efficient, flexible and network-oriented forms of organization. In fact, the providers now “trading” in the new education market place are situated squarely in the same institutional environment as schools. In broad strokes, this institutional frame reflects embedded routines and rituals for the organization of schooling.

This institutional template for schooling can have a conservative influence on schools and keep reform ideas from becoming or achieving anything new. In this context, rather than breaking the mold, private firms in the education market can end up reproducing the worst practices of public schooling, offering low-income students “more of the same” and at significant cost.

In closing, it is important to recognize that private firms have a role to play in public education; they long have acted as suppliers to education and will continue to do so. However, as I argue in the book, much more attention is needed to these developments. The governance of public education is not just another education market. The distinction between public policy and private markets in education as in other sectors is very important and it is worth defending.


[1] Ball, S. (2007). Education Plc. Understanding private sector participation in public sector education. London: Routledge.

[2] Burch, P. (2009). Hidden Markets: The New Education Privatization. New York: Routledge.

[3] On this point, see also, M.W. Apple (2006). Educating the Right Way: Markets, Standards, God and Inequality. New York: Routledge.