Geographies of Global Inequality


Victoria A. Lawson                                                                             Fall, 2009

Office: Smith 303-D                                                                           Office hours:

tel: 543-5196                                                                                       By Appt.






Geographies of Inequality


One of the most pressing challenges facing us at the beginning of the 21st century is the world’s ability to address the increasing global inequalities.  Extremes of wealth and poverty across the globe (in the global South and the North) underlie conditions of health and illness, educational opportunity and illiteracy, land ownership and forced migrations, employment protections or unregulated ‘flexible’ work.  The World Bank’s 2000 report states that: “…2.8 Billion people – almost half the world’s population – live on less than $2/day” and that: “… the average income in the richest 20 countries is 37 times the average income in the poorest 20 – a gap that has doubled in the last 20 years”.  The Human Development Report (1999) notes that: “The fifth of the world’s people living in high income countries has 86% of the world gross domestic product; 82% of export markets; 74% of world telephone lines; the bottom fifth in the poorest countries has about 1% of each”.  According to the Multinational Monitor in 2003 (7/1/2003), “[T]he richest 10 percent of the world's population's income is roughly 117 times higher than the poorest 10 percent, according to calculations performed by economists at the Economics Policy Institute (data from the International Monetary Fund).  This is a huge jump from the ratio in 1980, when the income of the richest 10 percent was about 79 times higher than the poorest 10 percent”.  Paul Krugman (2002) notes that in the United States the 13,000 richest families have as much income as the 20 million poorest.  This course examines the paradox of expanding and deepening levels of inequality after fifty years of ‘development’ in the post-war era.


Purpose and Scope


This course examines histories of economic development and geographies of inequality in contemporary times.  I discuss these issues and their human impacts from the perspective of historical and contemporary changes in the international political and economic system.  Understanding global to local interactions of economic, political and social forces and actions provides a set of tools for understanding the nature of socio-economic changes across the globe, as well as in North America.  The course begins by reexamining some of the defining themes in debates over development: 'overpopulation', migration/immigration dynamics, and the causes of inequality and poverty.  We discuss the historical legacies of colonialism in Africa, Latin America and Asia, linking these to current debates about 'development' -- such as protectionism and free trade as strategies for economic development.  The course culminates with a discussion of the human dimensions of structural political and economic processes.  We discuss working in the global economy and grassroots networks of political action.


Learning goals:


I have two learning goals for this course.  The first is that students learn a political-economy analysis of development.  The second is to focus critical attention on the ways in which Southern places and peoples are represented and understood in the United States.



Course Readings:


A World of Difference. Encountering and Contesting Development.  E. Sheppard, P. Porter, D. Faust and R. Nagar.  2009.  London: Guildford Press.


Readings packet available at Rams Copy and Print and on reserve at Odegaard Undergraduate Library.



Course Requirements:


1) Students are expected to attend all lectures and to complete all assigned readings.


2) There will be one midterm exam worth 25% of your final course grade.


3) There will be four in-class exercises during the quarter that combine to be worth 25% of your final course grade.  IMPORTANT: We will drop your lowest exercise score at the end of the quarter.  There WILL NOT be the opportunity to make up if you miss section.


4) There will be three credit/no credit assignments worth 10% of your grade.  These assignments will be integral to your final research project.  They are designed to help you work through the ideas of the class as they relate to your final research assignment. 


5)  Final graded research assignment worth 20% of your grade.  You will spend a great deal of time in section engaging with relevant ideas from readings and lectures for your final project. 


6) There will be a final examination worth 20% of your course grade.



Grading Policy:


If you feel that an error in grading, please bring this to your TA’s attention in the following way:


  1. Carefully read the comments.
  2. Wait at least 24 hours and re-read the comments.
  3. Write a clear and specific statement (typed), highlighting specific illustrations of why you believe you were graded unfairly. This should be a compelling argument that both fairly assesses your exam/paper, and objectively compares your exam/paper to the expected response.
  4. Bring the exam/paper and your written concerns to your TA’s office hours to discuss.
  5. If warranted, your TA will re-read the exam/paper and return it to you during the next section. Your TA may also choose to have the other course TA evaluate your exam/paper.
  6. If all of these steps have been followed and you are still unable to resolve your concerns, your TA can jointly present your exam/paper to me. Please note that I will not read your exam/paper grade complaint unless you have spoken to your TA first.
  7. The statute of limitations on grade complaints is 1 week after the return of the exam/paper.


Plagiarism & Academic Misconduct:


Plagiarism is a serious offense that can lead to significant consequences.  Please see the definition of plagiarism below from the University of Washington website on plagiarism and academic misconduct: 

You are guilty of cheating whenever you present as your own work something that you did not do. You are also guilty of cheating if you help someone else to cheat.


Important Dates:


Wednesday, Nov 11th, Veteran’s Day - no class


November 26th and 27th Thanksgiving Day – no class


Friday December 11th, last day of class


Wednesday, December 16th: Final Examination @ 8:30-10:20am


Internet Sites Useful to this Course can be found on my homepage at





I.              MAJOR THEMES


Weeks 1 and 2: Sept. 30th – Oct 9th


Introduction: Global patterns of inequality; development as idea and practice; political-economy approach to development


Myths of underdevelopment: representations of Asian, Latin American and African people and places – represented as “poor, violent, corrupt, backward, overpopulated and bloated states”


Bringing the learning home: understanding the United States in contemporary times


Readings: Sheppard, Introduction and chapter 2 (pages 3-51); Reading Packet articles ‘Hopeless Africa’, ‘What Hopeless Continent’ and ‘Nickel and Dimed.






Week 3: Oct. 12th - 16th   


Population: are too many people the issue? Examine debates over ‘overpopulation’ and ‘overconsumption’


Readings: Sheppard, Chapter 6 (pages 117-147); Reading Packet articles ‘There is no Global Population Problem’ (Hardin); ‘Worldwide Development or Population Explosion?’ (Piel); ‘What’s your consumption factor?’ (Diamond) (Affluenza Video)


Week 4: Oct. 19th – 23rd     


Migration/Immigration and Urbanization: forces behind mobility and impacts of migration and debates over immigration in the U.S. (Fast Track to Poverty video)


Readings: Sheppard, Chapter 19 (pages 465-478); Reading Packet articles 'Why Migration’; ‘Latinos in the Age of National Security’; ‘Immigrants and the Homeland Security State’ and ‘Barricading the Border”.





Week 5: Oct 26th  – 30th  


Pre-colonial urbanization: Sub-saharan Africa example of urbanization and indigenous

knowledges lost


Colonial Imprint and Impacts: the Berlin Conference, trading economies and global cities


Readings: Sheppard, Chapters 13 and 14 (pages 319-376); Reading Packet articles ‘Constructing the Dark Continent’, and ‘All the Way to Timbuktu’ (On Orientalism video).


Week 6: Nov 2nd  – Nov 6th      


Invention of economic development: Bretton Woods and the post-war order; World Bank, International Monetary Fund -- development for whom?


Readings: Sheppard, Chapter 15 (pages 377-382) and chapter 22 (pages 539-550); Reading Packet articles ‘The First Fifty Years’ and ‘Fifty Years is Enough’





Week 7: Nov 9th – 13th   


Debt and a New World Order: Urban/industrialization, debt, crisis, and the International Monetary Fund


Readings: Sheppard, Chapter 17 (pages 431-440) and chapter 23 and Appendix (pages 559-593); Reading Packet articles SAPRIN News Release and letter to World Bank’, ‘No Prescription Needed’ and ‘The Debt Crisis and Jubilee’ and ‘Jubilee 2000 USA’



Weeks 8 and 9: Nov 16th – Nov 27th    


Structural Adjustment and US Welfare Reform


Readings: Reading Packet articles ‘Odious Debt’, ‘Structural Adjustment: Making Debt Deadly’, ‘Jubilee 2000 USA articles’, ‘The Other Davos’, and ‘Vulnerable Women and Neoliberal Globalization’





Week 10: Nov 30th – Dec 4th     


Making a living in transnational corporations or on the streets: gender, ‘flexible’ workers, and informal economies



Readings: Sheppard, Chapter 19 (pages 485-499), chapter 17 (pages 418-431); Reading Packet articles ‘Women Behind the Labels’ and ‘Women Street Vendors: the road to recognition’ (Waging a Living video)





Week 11: Dec 7th – Dec 11th   


Politics and civil society:  global networks, transnational alliances, CONAIE and Ecuador coup, anti-globalization movement, fair trade movement (Santiago’s story on fair trade coffee - video; This is what democracy looks like or WSF videos).


Readings: Sheppard, Chapter 24 (pages 594-608); Reading Packet articlesAdelante! – articles on Brazil and Ecuador'.


Geography 230                     Section Schedule                              FALL 2009


Friday Section




TA Duties/Section Plan


Oct 2nd




Hand out Syllabus, Map Prep #1.  Introductions.


Oct 9th



Map Quiz: Africa

Quiz #1

Hand out/discuss Assignment #1.


Oct 16th

 Assignment #1 DUE



Pass Back Quiz #1.

Hand out Map Prep#2.

In-class activity for Assignment #1.


Oct 23rd



Map Quiz: South Asia

Quiz #2.

Pass back Ass #1.



Oct 30th




Pass Back Quiz #2.

Hand out and discuss Assignment #2.

Midterm Review


Nov 6th

Assignment #2 DUE



In-class Activity Assignment #2.


Nov 13th




Hand out Map Prep#3.

Pass back Ass #2.

Discuss midterm.


Nov 20th



Map Quiz:  Southeast Asia

Quiz #3.

Hand out and discuss Assignment #3.


Nov 27th




Thanksgiving Holiday – no section

WEEK 10:

Dec 4th

Assignment #3 DUE



Pass back Quiz#3.

Hand out Map Prep #4.

In-class activity for Assignment #3.

Work on final project

WEEK 11:

Dec 11th



Map Quiz: Latin America

Quiz #4.

Pass back Ass. #3.

Final Review