The Specific Effects of Globalization Throughout Fugitive Denim
Globalization, which is best defined as the expansion of cultural, political, economical and ideological relationships regarding worldwide social exchange and interdependencies, is the underlying motif in Rachel Louise Snyder’s novel, Fugitive Denim (Conley 531). In this work, Snyder uses a theoretical pair of denim jeans to explore the workings of the global market, from the harvesting of the cotton used in making jeans to the fashion design behind the pants seen in stores around the world.
Being the beneficiary of inexpensive goods, capitalist nations like the United States and much of the European Union neglect to realize their low-cost end products come about as a result of outsourcing to underdeveloped nations. While this outsourcing benefits the “overdeveloped” nations, it is often at the expense of the underdeveloped nations. In this process, Snyder explores a variety of interrelated social issues, specifically the relationships between inequality, corporations and gender and separately the issues of exploitation, capitalism and consumption.
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Throughout Fugitive Denim, inequality is discussed as a broad concept that can be used to describe the global inequality, social structure and gender issues within a nation. On the worldwide scale, “there is no question that global inequality has been steadily rising over the last few centuries” (Conley 253). Geography is one aspect that played a role in industrializing nations and although it is not specifically addressed in the novel, geography can be seen as a reason for inequality. The particular climate of a region determined what crops could or could not be grown, which is a major factor in defining an industry.
Azerbaijan is able to grow cotton, but the related industry only ever expanded enough to support harvesting cotton leaving out the other aspects involved with the production that crop. After talking with an Azeri cotton farmer, Snyder describes part of the market, The World Bank wanted Azerbaijan to sell only raw cotton and would subsidize this, but Vasif feels if the World Bank really wanted to help the country, it would give subsidies to start small factories to wave fabric or make finished garments.
Ready-made fabric sells for nearly double cotton’s price on the world market (Snyder 63). Like most aspects of globalization, the different entities that make up a single nation are all interwoven. In this case, the geography defines the industry that ultimately designs the economy. The same subsidies that Vasif was describing in the quote above are a reason for major economic inequality globally. The following quote is just one specific example of how ineffective subsidies can be.
In 2004, the US Government spent $264 million on cotton subsidies, and every single dollar was, according to the World Trade Organization, illegal. The vast majority of those subsidies, which were created to keep the family farm in business, went to agribusiness or corporate farms—80 percent. Tandy Ogburn of North Carolina, whom I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting, received $5. 00. Tandy’s neighbor, Ronald Olive, received $17. 00 (Snyder 64). The system of subsidized loans was created in the 1930’s and was designed to help support small farms and keep them functioning.
However because subsidies are granted from capitalist nations that essentially run the World Trade Organization, they are the ones in control of what money goes where; Vasif was quoted saying, ‘The more finished a product the more it demands from the global market’ (Snyder 64). Because consumption-centered nations, like the United States, want to ensure a high profit margin they try to keep merchandise sale costs low. On the quest to produce such low priced goods however more developed countries outsource the production process to nations that are less developed and therefore willing to do the hard work with minimal monetary return.
In Cambodia, Snyder describes the underpaid grueling schedule of a worker, “They worked six days a week and in the beginning, in 2004, overtime was daily. They worked from 7 am to 7 or 8 or 9 pm back then, Monday through Friday, and 7 am to 5 or 6 pm on Saturdays. ” Outsourcing, apart from being harsh on the workers, also creates a large divide in the social stratification within the region. Marx would classify most of the regions discussed in the book as being divided between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, those who own the means of production and the labor force.
Although the proletariat and bourgeoisie generally describe capitalized societies, these underdeveloped nations have a great number of poor working class citizens with a large gap between the few and wealthy citizens. Further continuing the social stratification could be the role of gender in most of the societies. Gender roles are more clearly defined and divided then those of more developed societies.
In Azerbaijan “traditional” gender roles seem to be defined more by biological unctionalist practices where the women stay home to bear children and tend to the home as the men are off serving more as “bread-winners” for the family. Mehman, an Azeri cotton classer, describes a childhood memory of his mother telling him to clean his room, only to have his grandmother come in to yell at his mother saying, ‘This is a woman’s domain… not the man’s. You will clean his room’ (Snyder 44). From this one situation Mehman learned his place in society and began to understand the divide between the roles of males and female.
Women aren’t as domestic as when his grandmother was alive and they are allowed to work in Azerbaijan however women still have very specific roles. When Snyder was talking with Ganira, a field worker in Azerbaijan, she learned more about the role of women in society and came to understand, “Picking cotton is women’s work in Azerbaijan, as it is in many parts of the world” (Snyder 71). Because this is a general cultural practice in Azerbaijan it is not viewed as an inequality in their society but compared to more progressive societies it is almost as if all women in Azerbaijan have reached the “glass ceiling”.
Throughout Fugitive Denim, however it was a common theme to see men being in charge of the major corporations and women being the workers under their reign. Regardless of sex though, work conditions in under developed nations around the world are sub bar. Most workers in factories worldwide are subject to long hour work days with little return; capitalist’s are exploiting the cheap labor of such nations to produce their own high profit margins. As described before, some workers spend between 12 and 20 hours a day at their job in less then health sanitary facilities.
Snyder describes a factory in Azerbaijan where, “The ginning room is so tortuously loud that we cannot hear ourselves even if we scream” (Snyder 63). She then went on to describe how getting sick and dying from other conditions was not uncommon, “An occupational hazard known as byssinosis, or brown lung disease, is often associated with the cotton textile work. Caused by inhaling cotton dust- which contains pesticides, fungi, bacteria and soil… gins probably employed any number of candidates of byssinosis” (Snyder 63).
Chemicals and pesticides, which are a whole separate issue discussed largely in Fugitive Denim, can also be detrimental to those working with the products. Because no real sanitary precautions are taken for those in the industry, those forced to work with the chemicals could also be victims of the exploitation, “Ten percent of fatalities in the agricultural sectors of developing countries come from pesticide poisoning” (Snyder 73).
Chemicals that were developed as toxic nerve agents for World War I are approved for use, “The average pair of jeans carries three quarters of a pound of chemicals” (Snyder 73). Capitalist nations however care more about getting a cheaper product then the safety of the individuals creating their products. Because these developed nations have the ability to outsource for production, the underdeveloped global economy is often trying to provide products at the lowest cost possible to appease the capitalist economies.
This usually meant going through a variety of industries in order to get the cheapest product, Sometimes thread had to be purchased from a mill in the States, then sent to Turkey for weaving, or the cotton had to come from Turkey and be milled in Turkey, but the finishing had to take place in the States… ‘Made in Peru’ might have cotton from Texas, weaving from North Carolina, cutting and sewing from Lima, washing and finishing from Mexico City, and distribution from Los Angeles (Snyder 21) Needless to say, companies would go to great lengths in order to achieve the lowest price.
When Snyder visited Italy to learn about the textile technicians, or essentially the creators of the fades, washes, and textures of denim, the head designer Pascal talked a lot about the consumer market that he designed for. For him, Italy had always been viewed as a fashion capital responsible for the producing of one-of-a kind more high-end goods.
With the search to find low cost manufacturing however, Italy’s textile industry was not looking at an upswing in profit, News that Arnani, Gucci, and Prada were moving their manufacturing to Asia had shaken the industry in Italy, Pascal said. The country’s high-end designer manufacturing has undergone such a profound change in recent years that it seems traumatized, enmeshed in a cultural state of disbelief at what is certainly its inevitable end (Snyder 94) Pascal described Americans and Britons as “clamoring for cheap Chinese-sourced goods” (Snyder 95).
In the epilogue of Fugitive Denim Snyder talks about how it wasn’t that she hated companies like Wal-mart, she in fact believed we needed such corporations; what she believes, however, is that the individuals that can afford to buy one expensive quality pair of jeans, should buy that pair as opposed to buying five pairs of cheap mass produced jeans. Snyder said, “What concerns me more about the low-cost mega-chains is how they incite our overconsumption” (Snyder 314).
Just as inequality, corporations and gender all became intertwined, exploitation, capitalism and consumption similarly express an entangled relationship that Snyder captures throughout Fugitive Denim as it reveals some of the inner workings of globalization. Rachel Louise Snyder is not a sociologist, so reading this novel that has sociological implications throughout it was interesting to me.
I understand her main focus was to capture more of the atrocities of globalization, however, I personally was hoping Fugitive Denim had more of a focus on the individuals. While the content of this novel was shocking, I found myself disappointed in the way Snyder went about introducing relationships and how she tied in individuals. Because individuals were tied to specific issues and in specific regions I thought it made each person seem isolated and almost separate from the social.
Because the topics of this book revolve around cultural, political and economic issues I was expecting there would be more of a discussion of the “social” throughout the work. I liked how Snyder gave a face to each of the issues in a way but it was hard to relate them to large scale. Through Mehman’s struggle of traditional values in a modern society I was able to get more of an understanding of his culture but it was still difficult to apply to a large scale social settings.
Similarly, with field pickers of Azerbaijan and the worker in Cambodia, I was able to get a sense of community but all the while I was wondering how their working relationship fit into their world outside the fields and mills. In one sense I felt that they formed almost like a Gemeinschaft community, but because much of both nations were underdeveloped and poor I wondered if, like slaves in the history of global capitalization, much of the surrounding area felt unified by a single idea or if they merely felt like the proletariat and were too divided to ever rebel against the bourgeoisie.
While this book has offered me perspective on the full-scale globalization, and I feel that I have a greater understanding of the details about it, I cant help but only have one main response feeling after this book and that is the feeling of guilt. When the amount we consume is put in perspective of how much others consume and how much physical labor goes into the process I only feel bad about what I have.
Although, in all honesty, fter Fugitive Denim pointed out how truly difficult it was to come by organic products and that products that would be produced fairly and safely for all parties involved would be extremely expensive, I doubt there is much that I would change in what I purchase, except maybe the amount. I definitely liked this book as an overall work, however, I wish the sociological implications had been slightly more developed or at least more focused on the social aspects as opposed to the political implications behind globalization.