Geographic Investigation

Two lessons show how economic globalization is affecting inequality around the world. Lesson 1 provides evidence of the growing divide between those who have access to technology and those who do not. Lesson 2 examines the inequality of prices paid to farmers, especially trading in an international market.

The role of geography in economics can provide insights to the link between globalization and inequality at different geographic scales. A geographer may ask questions such as "How are poverty and wealth distributed across space?" or "What patterns of inequality are found at subnational scales in the USA?" that can be investigated with unique approaches or analysis with the Geographic Advantage. In particular, the patterns and processes that are linked to inequality, regional gains and losses from economic globalization can be better understood through:

Technology plays an important role in the 21st century, from individual to international levels. Think of the Arab Spring. Protests and demonstrations were captured live on citizens' phones which were shared on social media and went viral. This example shows how access to fast internet connectivity engages people in the globalization process.

But what happens to those who do not have access? Is it possible to look for collaboration to reduce inequality?

Lesson 1: Digital Divide Lesson 2: Food and Farming


Lesson 1: Digital Divide

Digital Divide

Activity 1: Analyze the “Digital Divide”

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) - such as spreadsheets for calculation, graphic and multimedia programs for presentations, databases for research, and networks for communicating with others -  are the driving forces in 21st century economic development. The ability to use these tools is increasingly essential in the workplace, the community, and in peoples’ personal lives. This activity will introduce you to the concept of the digital divide and to show how vast regions, countries, and people are excluded.

A. Mapping the Digital World

1. Click on Mapping the global spread of internet to view the access and distribution of internet use.

2. Turn on the label function by selecting "on" in the top right corner.

3. Scroll over the map to see the number of actual internet users and country name. 

Map interpretation questions

On the lower left area of the map, you can click the "play" button to see the rate of internet use change with time. As you explore these maps, consider the following questions:

1. What do the colors represent?

2. In which continent(s) would you have the greatest Internet access? The least?

3. Which country has the greatest number of Internet users on each of the following continents?

  • Africa
  • Europe
  • North America
  • South America

4.  Speculate about the factors that might account for the spatial distribution of internet usage reflected on this map. (i.e., What might be the reason that you see high internet usage in some places? little or no internet usage in some places?)

B. The Global Digital Divide

Click on the Global digital divide map to view a global perspective of technology use.

Map interpretation questions

As you explore this map, consider the following questions:

1. What do the different colors on this map represent?

2. How is the actual data displayed on this map different from the data displayed on the previous map?

3. How are these two datasets related to each other?

4. How is the representation (symbolization) of the data different on these two maps?

5. How are the spatial patterns of ICT access reflected on these two maps similar? Different?

C. Digital Inclusion Risk

Yet another way to explore the digital divide is through the concept of Digital Inclusion Risk Index (DIRI). The Global map of digital inclusion risk shows, on a scale of 0-10, a nation's risk of reduced ICT access. Click on Global map of digital inclusion risk for mapped data.

In the DIRI, each country is assigned a score that reflects such factors as access to computers, internet and broadband access, mobile telephony and fixed line telephony. The score also incorporates mobile technologies which are a key driver of ICT access in developing countries. These scores have been calibrated to reflect the risk of reduced ICT access: extreme (0-2.5); high (2.5-5); medium (5-7.5); and low (7.5-10). The higher a country’s score, the better its opportunity levels (and the lower its risk).

1. Click on the image above to see the digital inclusion risk map.

As you explore this map, consider the following questions:

1. What color indicates the greatest risk of reduced ICT access?

2. Which countries in Asia have the lowest risk of reduced ICT access?

3. Compare the DIRI of The United States, Sweden, and Japan.

Lesson summary

Access to information technologies and internet connectivity is unequally distributed. The digital divide further disadvantages cities and countries that have little access to technologies, education opportunities, and Internet connectivity. This gap translates to poor engagement with globalized trends and processes as well as lack of information. The digital divide is one of many inequalities in economic globalization. In this module, students identified patterns of digital divide with three sets of data by interpreting maps and the DIRI. Lesson 2 looks at global coffee prices and consumption.

Go to Lesson 2: Fair Trade

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Lesson 2: Fair Trade = Trading Fairly

Fair Trade

Lesson 1 shows that we are connected digitally, yet, we are also connected "physically". Consider the list of goods below. How many have you consumed this week?

  • Bananas
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Honey
  • Rice
  • Tea

Not all these products are grown in your home country. They are grown elsewhere and imported for your consumption. However, the price farmers earn may not be a "fair" price for their work. Activity 1 looks at one example of a commodity, coffee, comparing who consumes it and who produces it.

Activity 1: Inequality of Coffee Production and Consumption

Coffee is indigenous to Ethiopia, but today, farmers from around the world rely on it to make a living. Using a pair of maps that highlight top coffee production and consumption nations, compare who the producers and consumers of coffee are.

Coffee Production by Nation
© Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan)

Coffee Consumption by Nation
Source: © Copyright SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan)

As you compare the maps, consider these questions:

  • How many of the coffee production countries have a proportion of their population living on $2.00 a day, as illustrated in the introduction?
  • Generalize the profile of countries that consume versus countries that produce coffee (i.e. where are these countries located, refer to the introductory map to find how many of these countries have populations living on $2.00/day)

Activity 2: Trading Fairly

The distribution of resources and wealth are not equal globally. For example, producers of coffee or other crops (e.g., bananas, cotton) do not receive a fair price for their efforts in this global market. Farmers work hard, dedicate long hours, but receive little money. If farmers cannot pay for the costs of farming (e.g., fertilizer) due to the low price they receive, they must go into debt. 

Cotton is a natural fiber used in clothing, bed sheets, and a variety of other daily goods. Take a look at the tag on your shirt, socks, pants or jacket. It's likely you are wearing cotton! Despite its global importance, African cotton growers are marginalized. They have little negotiating power with cotton traders and purchasing companies. With their low pay, they must buy cotton seeds, fertilizers, and put in long hours. Another obstacle is that African growers are competing with countries that offer subsidy to their cotton farmers. For example, the U.S. government offers financial support to cotton growers, who over produce cotton and increase the global supply, thus pushing the price of cotton on the world market.

To learn more about the cotton trade, read it here.

Student Response: Trading cotton fairly?

Lesson summary

This lesson makes the link between a global economy and inequalities that result. Although farmers can sell their products farther, their negotiating powers are marginalized by big companies interested in making a profit. Trading internationally also means that farmers whose government offers no support are competing on uneven grounds with farmers who do receive financial subsidy in competing countries. Students compared maps of coffee consumption and production to learn about the sellers and buyers of an international coffee trade. Inequalities in resources, whether produce or natural resources like water, may affect peace and stability. This topic is explored further in the next module titled Geopolitical Shifts.

Go to Lesson 1: Digital Divide

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An international economic organization that controls facilities and assets in more than one country other than its original home country

A large urban site recognized as a center of economic and political power exerted over a large number of cities and towns which are globally connected

All the uses of digital technology that allow storage, retrieval, manipulation, transmission, and reception of digital data by individual, organizations, and communities

Inequality due to a lack of opportunity and access to ICT tools

A series of civilian protests and demonstrations that began in December 2010 in the Middle East. As a result, leaders in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen, have stepped down from their governing role. 

The importance of spatial variability

Geographers know and understand the importance of spatial variability and the place-dependence of processes. Eight of the modules include this geographic advantage as a focus in the geographic investigation.

Processes operating at multiple and interlocking geographic scales

Analysis of an issue or problem at different scales may assist geographers in understanding the connections and patterns. For example, interesting shifts in the location of US population may reveal new information when viewed at census tract, community, county, state, or regional scales. Five of the modules include this geographic advantage as a focus in the geographic investigation.

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