programs rework inequality (e.g., Mutersbaugh, 2003; Tovar et al., 2005; Klooster, 2006).

Bassett’s (2008, 2010) empirical research on cotton commodity chains linking West African agriculture to global markets provides further evidence that poverty and consumption are linked across space and scale (Moseley and Gray, 2008). Bassett explores how patterns of inequality across space and scale are shaped by the linkage of West African cotton farmers’ incomes to market liberalization; relationships between producers, workers, and consumers; and interactions between ecological and social systems. He found that African cotton growers are relatively marginalized in negotiations over prices for seed cotton, fertilizers, and pesticides vis-à-vis ginning and marketing companies, as well as in dealings with cotton trading companies that set prices based on world markets. These negotiations with national cotton companies and the World Trade Organization are central to the setting of global cotton prices and so shape how and where returns to the crop are distributed among growers, ginners, and traders. Bassett’s research also traces the relationship between currency values and farmers’ incomes. For example, cotton trades globally in U.S. dollars, and yet currencies in Burkina Faso and Mali are pegged to the Euro. The recent devaluation of the dollar relative to the Euro thus reduced cotton farmers’ returns on their internationally traded crops. In addition, Bassett’s work reveals that U.S. cotton subsidies result in overproduction by U.S. producers, who generate 40 percent of global cotton production—thereby suppressing global cotton prices. As a result, farmers in West Africa, who do not have access to similar subsidies, face lower prices on international markets, resulting in lowered incomes (see also Friedberg, 2004, for a commodity chain analysis of French bean crops, and Gwynne, 2002, for a study of fruit exports from Chile).

Geographical research aimed at integrating economic, environmental, and social variables across place and scale can shed additional light on the impacts of market liberalization on inequality within states, at the local scale and across the globe. In particular, much could be gained from comparative case studies employing rigorous experimental frameworks that include common questions and metrics to facilitate aggregation and meta-analysis.


An understanding of the causes and consequences of inequality requires consideration of geographical patterns and networks—whether economic, political, or environmental. Spatial analyses that take explicit account of place-to-place variations and scalar differences can be of particular value in the effort to elucidate the complex interactions between globalization and inequality.

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