Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Harm de Blij's Power of Place Review

Full Disclosure Note: I received a review copy.

The world sure does seem flat. The Olympics, international travel, and the global capitalism make the world seem like one interconnected place. However, the village of Fan Shen and eight hundred fifty million or so Chinese are a world apart from People's Republic of China's globalization. Elsewhere in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, remote Pygmies live their short lives in the same village where they were born. Meanwhile in Oaxaca, a Guatemalan illegal immigrant seeking a better life is brutally beaten by Mexican border.

Harm de Blij starts off Power of Place saying the world is flat, if one is a global traveller and views the Earth from their seat on a jet plane. However, most people live, work, and die near at one place, the locals, while the third group, mobiles, seek somesort of better life though the world has barriers which interfere with their journey.

The point of Power of Place is that the place where one is born greatly influences one's life. Place has huge sway over culture, language, religion, risks to disasters, and odds of diseases that all impact one's life.
An especially interesting part is in the religion chapter where de Blij talks how the environment influences religion and therefore culture. It seems environmental determinism can be redeemed (partly). The chapter on language also talks about how the environment allowed for greater mobility and solidified language groups better in the higher latitudes.

When it comes to globalization de Blij sees push back on both sides. Some in the third world resent outsiders trying to reform their system whether the system works or not. Meanwhile the first world hates competition of lesser countries industries while mobiles seek to move into the first world while keeping elements of their old culture.

The Good: Too often globalization has only been written about by economists. While these authors have created great works like Command Heights or the World is Flat, place seems lost. De Blij shows how the world is connecting while still having terrain.
The Bad: Really minor points. De Blij, being the multilingual geographer he is, sees a little too much negativity in the loss of languages. While fewer languages will not prevent conflicts it certainly make things easier for multitudes of peoples. Also, some may argue that de Blij stretches too much to be a rebuttal to Freidman et al.
All in All: A great book! Those wishing to know more should read it and see the world for the complexity that it is.

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