Internet Geographer


Posts tagged production
“Perish or Globalize:” Network Integration and the Reproduction and Replacement of Weaving Traditions in the Thai Silk Industry

The practice of handmade silk weaving has disappeared from much of the world, but continues to be practiced by thousands of people in Northeastern Thailand. However, as the Thai economy becomes increasingly embedded into global flows and networks of commodities, capital and culture, there are worries that silk weaving as a practice will either cease to be reproduced or will have to radically change in order to service the global market. This paper, based on in-depth interviews and surveys with sellers of silk, examines this dilemma faced by the industry. It finds that the means through which economic information is codified and transmitted over space and the tastes of non-local markets are ultimately resulting in changes to production practices throughout the country. Despite the fact that the internet is enabling trade and thereby allowing production practices to continue, fears are being realized about traditional practices being replaced as producers become ever more integrated into global networks.

You can access the paper here:

Graham, M. 2011. “Perish or Globalize:” Network Integration and the Reproduction and Replacement of Weaving Traditions in the Thai Silk Industry ACME: Journal of Critical Geographies10(3) 458-482.

I just had to refer to this paper in a chapter I’m writing, so decided to post it here (I’ve never blogged it, and my website contained a dead link to it). 

If you like the topic, here is some related work that I did:

Graham, M. 2013. Thai Silk dot Com: Authenticity, Altruism, Modernity and Markets in the Thai Silk Industry. Globalisations 10(2) 211-230.

Graham, M. 2011. Disintermediation, Altered Chains and Altered Geographies: The Internet in the Thai Silk Industry. Electronic Journal of Information Systems in Developing Countries. 45(5), 1-25

Graham, M. 2010. Justifying Virtual Presence in the Thai Silk Industry: Links Between Data and Discourse. Information Technologies and International Development. 6(4), 57-70.

Graham, M. 2011. Time Machines and Virtual Portals: The Spatialities of the Digital Divide. Progress in Development Studies. 11 (3). 211-227.

Graham, M. 2011. Cultural Brokers, the Internet, and Value Chains. In The Cultural Wealth of Nations. eds. Wherry, F. and N. Bandelj. Standford: Stanford University Press. 222-239 (email for a copy).

A New Kind of Globalisation? User-Generated Content and Transparent Production Chains

The Guardian has just published my article titled: “A New Kind of Globalisation? User-Generated Content and Transparent Production Chains.” The article discusses the possibilities for user-generated content and the Internet of Things to reshape how commodities are both produced and consumed.

The article is based on the following academic paper due to be published early next year:

Graham, M. and H. Haarstad. 2011. The Globalization of Transparency: Ethical Consumption in a Web 2.0 World. Information Technologies and International Development

Feel free to email me if you’d like a pre-publication copy.

See also:

The Wikichains project

Ethical Consumption and Production through Web 2.0: A Call for Participation

I have just finished writing a Call for Participation that will be published in the Autumn 2009 Development Geographies Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers newsletter. The purpose behind the short piece is to encourage geographers to contribute their expertise about any node on any commodity chain to the wikichains project. We already have a small amount of content in English, Spanish and French, and so it would be nice to only have more English-language content, but also content in any of the eight languages supported by the site. A section of the CFP is posted below:

There are isolated cases in which the media have brought issues such as child labor and poor environmental management to much of the world’s attention. For instance, TNCs like Nike, Mattel, and Shell have been forced to alter their production practices in Vietnam, Sumatra, and the Niger Delta due to sustained media pressure. But what forms would economic development take if information about many more sites of production was made easily available through the Internet and Web 2.0 frameworks? It is conceivable that both the production and consumption of commodities would become fundamentally altered. As such, a wiki website ( has been set up with the aim of encouraging a different type of globalization: a globalization of knowledge that will harness the power of the Internet and cloud collaboration in order to allow consumers to learn more about the commodities that they buy. By doing so, it is further hoped that altered consumer behavior will translate into improved economic, social, and environmental production practices in the Global South.

The basic framework of the website has now been implemented using the Mediawiki software (the web-based software also used by Wikipedia). Wikichains thus allows anyone with an Internet connection to create, alter, and challenge information about any commodity chain. Furthermore, the website currently supports eight languages (Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish), with the possibility to add more in the future. Some basic representations of chains have already been created (e.g. coffee, silk, and illegal drugs); however, we need are in need of much more content in order to bring about the critical mass necessary to get people from around the world to upload information about the nodes on chains that they are familiar with. Thus this contribution to the 2009 DGSG newsletter invites all geographers with an interest in the goal of this project to not only upload information about any node on any commodity chain that they are familiar with, but also to share the site with friends and colleagues that may also have an interest in contributing.

Web Squared and the Internet of Things

Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle recently wrote a provoking white paper for the forthcoming Web 2.0 summit in San Francisco. They expand on the idea of Web Squared being a successor to Web 2.0.

Web Squared is about the Internet becoming smarter as an exponentially increasing amount of content is being created and uploaded. O'Reilly and Battelle state that the Internet is:

…no longer a collection of static pages of HTML that describe something in the world. Increasingly, the Web is the world – everything and everyone in the world casts an “information shadow,” an aura of data which, when captured and processed intelligently, offers extraordinary opportunity and mind bending implications. Web Squared is our way of exploring this phenomenon and giving it a name.
The main idea here being that the Web can learn inferentially with a large enough body of data. The Web is thus beginning to understand things that we do not have to explicitly explain to it.

The exponential growth in the amount of uploaded data, and the ability of intelligent systems to learn is especially important within the context of the “Internet of Things.” The Internet of Things refers to the networking of everyday objects and things (e.g. coke cans, razor blades, toasters etc.). Much existing content in the Internet of Things has been created through coded RFid tags and IP addresses linked into an electronic product code (EPC) network.

A movement is underway to add any imaginable physical object into the Internet of Things. In Japan, for example, many cows have IP addresses embedded onto RFID chips implanted into their skin, enabling farmers to track each animal through the entire production and distribution process. In the words of journalist Sean Dodson, we are facing a future “where pretty much everything is online,” or according to O'Reilly and Battelle, “the web is now the world.”

Moving back to O'Reilly and Battelle’s white paper, one of the most interesting parts of the essay is the argument that while it initially makes sense to assume that for the Internet of Things to work, every object needs to have a unique identifier (through a combination of cheap RFID and IP addresses), what Web 2.0/Web Squared tells us is that it is not necessary to physically tag every single physical thing.

…we’ll get to the Internet of Things via a hodgepodge of sensor data contributing, bottom-up, to machine-learning applications that gradually make more and more sense of the data that is handed to them. A bottle of wine on your supermarket shelf (or any other object) needn’t have an RFID tag to join the “Internet of Things,” it simply needs you to take a picture of its label. Your mobile phone, image recognition, search, and the sentient web will do the rest. We don’t have to wait until each item in the supermarket has a unique machine-readable ID. Instead, we can make do with bar codes, tags on photos, and other “hacks” that are simply ways of brute-forcing identity out of reality.
So, Web Squared will help to bring about a true Internet of Things: a world where very little can exist outside the network. Myriad frightening surveillance and privacy issues are imaginable, but these have been discussed extensively elsewhere. Putting these issues to the side for the moment, I also see one important (potential) positive outcome of the Internet of Things: an issue that myself and my co-author (Havard Haarstad) will discuss in our paper at the 2009 Royal Geographical Society meeting.

If all things become networked, then all steps in the prodiction, distribution, and transformation of all things become potentially visible. This, in turn, implies a new form of globalisation: we have already experienced a globalisation of things, but we could potentially witness a globalisation of information about things. Poor production practices (e.g. environmental harm, child labour, racial/gender/sexual discrimination) can no longer be hidden behind the veils of distance. Consumers of things would be able to base their purchasing decisions on a combination of their personal policital, cultural, religious, and ethical positionalities and a relatively accurate base of information. Purchasing decisions, of course, quickly influence production practices. If consumers no longer have any interest in buying Nike shoes produced in Indonesian sweatshops (no matter how inexpensive they are), Nike will ultimately stop producing shoes in Indonesian sweatshops. I firmly believe that many of the harmful and poor production practices taking place in the world today only exist because they are essentially hidden from most of us. We rely on highly controlled information (advertising, product packaging etc.) instead of open and networked information.

This vision of the Internet of Things naturally relies on an abscence of controls on flows of information. It is all to easy to imagine an Internet of Things in which information is controlled, restricted, and censored by companies and governments that have no interest in a new form of globalisation being brought into being.

As stated above, these issues will all be discussed in more detail in a forthcoming paper, which I will upload here as soon as it is publication-ready.