- Delivering Development: Lessons from Globalization’s Shoreline
Edward R. Carr, a geography professor who is also currently a climate change advisor to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has been studying the same Ghanaian villages for the past fourteen years. He brings the understanding of an ethnographic researcher—as reflected in his attention to detail and interaction with the locals as they go about their everyday lives—to the examination of a topic that needs attention from someone with his scholarly credentials. The result is a book that is steeped in local knowledge but that also contributes to the understanding and practice of development on a broader scale.
Using examples from two villages with which the author is quite familiar, the book both illustrates and draws lessons from the conditions in “globalization’s shoreline.” According to Carr, this term refers not to “a boundary between land and sea but the point of connection between people living in communities at the edge of global trade and politics, and the economic, political, and environmental decisions living in other places.”11 These are people who are intermittently affected by global markets and politics—much like the ebb and flow of a tide. But goods and information do not only flow from the wealthiest countries to those who live on globalization’s shoreline, for local people’s decisions concerning the use of environmental resources can impact the whole world. Unfortunately, those who are tasked with “doing something” about development often overlook the fact that they should learn lessons from those whose lives they try to “develop” and bring into the globalized world.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part is descriptive and ethnographic. We learn about how one gets to the villages of Ponkrum and Dominase, in Ghana’s central region; about the livelihood of the residents of the villages; that neither has running water or electricity; and that most of the villagers are farmers. The most instructive section, however, is a chapter in which the reader is reminded that what development discourses often present as a natural state of affairs is, in fact, a result of globalization. The standard assumption of development—implicit in the word itself—is of an evolutionary [End Page 185] journey from the state of nature to the current state of the richest countries in the world.22 Carr shows, through archeological evidence, that this simply is not the case. Both of these villages entered the global economic system in the late nineteenth century, notably through the rise of cash crops and the development of transportation infrastructure.
Their example demonstrates what is true all over the world: villages and communities on globalization’s shoreline have often, at some point, been fairly integrated into the global economy, and they have often understood this relationship. In Ponkrum and Dominase, people understood the cash crop economy and the importance of transportation infrastructure. With the rise in logging activities and the construction of roads that led to the villages, villagers were able to earn non-farm-related income deriving from activities related to the new developments. Income from agricultural activities also increased as the transportation network opened up the possibilities of marketing more crops with less transactional cost.
Things changed just after the middle of the twentieth century, when global demand for Ghana’s timber fell, contributing to the degradation of transportation infrastructure. This in turn led to the decline of non-farm-related commercial activities; people returned to farming food crops. This shift magnified the impact of declining annual rainfall figures. Throughout ebbing and flowing economic tides, residents made decisions regarding whether or not to stay in the villages. While their decisions illuminate the power structures and the politics of social and gender control in the villages, they also confound what economic theories would predict and what development experts would expect. Carr writes, “Sixty years of trying to make a people—their motivations, and their actions—fit into our beliefs about how people should behave has gotten us nowhere, and it...