Globalization in Nicholas County, KY

Ann Kingsolver’s ethnography displays how globalization has impacted the United States and certain American citizens, particularly farmers in Nicholas County, Kentucky.  The analysis of Nicholas Countians’ role in the greater economic community displays that globalization is becoming more and more ubiquitous, even in small communities.

Globalization and the effects on local culture, economy, and politics are major topics in Tobacco Town Futures.  In chapter three, Kingsolver focuses on development plans, and she explains that Nicholas County is an edge community.  In “human communities,” she writes, “living on the edge can mean either being marginalized or strategically participating in a number of overlapping environments, identities, and conversations” (Kingsolver 59).  This idea of an edge community connects to the semi-periphery states characterized by the sociologist, historical social scientist, and world-systems analyst Immanuel Wallerstein.

Wallerstein’s argument puts forth three types of states: the core, periphery, and the semi-periphery.  The core benefits from the capitalist system and dominates the other two states.  The periphery is a state which is marginalized; it cannot develop, and the core strives to keep it that way.  The semi-periphery states have broken away from the periphery and participate in the core’s endeavors because there are more benefits than drawbacks (Wallerstein 1267).

Nicholas Countians, then, are most like the people of a semi-periphery state.  Development as Wallerstein defines it “is basically the ability of some countries to erect productive enterprises…considered to be highly profitable” (Wallerstein 1267).  The endeavor is to continue growing tobacco, to continue producing their most profitable enterprise.  Although some farmers have tried growing other crops, like peppers, they have been successful neither agriculturally nor financially; they are forced to return to their tradition of growing tobacco to sell to the large multinational companies.

Wallerstein also argues that development was defined by the “Global North” (Kingsolver 59) as “a set of concrete actions effectuated by [the North] to exploit and draw profit from the resources” (Wallerstein 1263) of the South.  Nicholas Countians, as an edge community, have experienced this ‘development.’  They have been marginalized (or left out) of development planning, feeling a lack of control as factory jobs have come and gone, “tethered to the larger process of the deindustrialization of first the northern U.S. and then the Global North” (Kingsolver 59).  They are bound to the core, but their laborious efforts can never make them part of the core because “development has to do with the investment of capital and who controls that process” (Kingsolver 60).  The citizens of Nicholas County do not control the capital; they simply grow the raw materials for the powerful corporations.

Although Wallerstein’s argument is not a positive one, there are benefits to being a semi-periphery state.  “Nicholas Countians have also…strategically used the position of being at the very outer edges of both the Bluegrass and Appalachian regions in crafting development plans and livelihood options” (Kingsolver 59).  Although they benefit less than the core, they reap more benefits than the periphery.  They have a small voice, but nevertheless a voice, for their demands and grievances.  Nicholas Countians, then, have both developed and been developed into a semi-periphery region.  Thus, local decisions affect globalization, and this global development impacts the local, as well.

This connection to Wallerstein’s argument shows how globalization is prevalent even in the most seemingly isolated communities.  While many people perceive that globalization affects only a small percentage of American citizens, as this correlation shows: globalization not only impacts the multinational corporations headquartered in the USA or the middle and upper class citizens, it also affects working class people on a day-to-day basis.


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