Buoyancy on the Bayou: Shrimpers Face the Rising Tide of Globalization by Jill Ann Harrison explores the effect of globalization on local worlds. In a series of interviews and insights into the life of Louisiana shrimp farmers, she explores how the introduction of low-cost shrimp, farm-grown in Thailand and China, hampers the traditional shrimp farming industry of Louisiana Gulf of Mexico. The book offers social and economic analysis of the situation, as well as some cultural insights.
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The book is a result of expanding on author’s previous research work. Harrison, being born and raised in Ohio, experienced the effect of globalization herself at a young age, when her family was impacted by the US steel market failure of the 1980s. So, naturally, after joining AmeriCorps and having been exposed to the similar situation in Louisiana, she quickly became interested in the topic, especially after witnessing the effects of both natural and industrial hazards on local shrimp farmers. However, despite mentioning both briefly, the author then focuses on the more encompassing effect of globalization and result of dealing with cheap imports for local business.
The book opens with a rather vivid introduction, describing author’s trip to Louisiana and her experience as a member of AmeriCorps program. She then details her gradual witnessing and understanding of the decline of the shrimp industry, which is one of the key businesses on the bayou. Being able to have an insight into the issue (the family she works with as a member of AmeriCorps is affected by the decline as well), she starts her research on the matter, which eventually transcends into a book. However, the book quickly abandons the cheerful and light-hearted tone of the preface and shifts towards the less optimistic picture.
The book primarily focuses on economic context, thoroughly analyzing the aftermath of local agents’ exposure to outside cheap markets. However, it also studies the impact of globalization on society, which adds to its cultural significance. As the book is a result of author’s study in the field, it also offers significant insight into the cultural background and dynamics of the region, highlighting an occasional event or a character. This adds a personal vibe to the book, offering not only a bird-eye view but giving an occasional perspective of Louisiana residents. This also allows us to characterize Harrison’s work as guided by constructivist research paradigm, or one that takes into account multiple points of view (in our case – watches the situation through eyes of shrimpers) and then merges their interpretation into a conclusive picture.
Harrison takes a somewhat fresh approach to the topic. As she puts it, “Local actors’ choices, I show, highlight the importance of understanding globalization as a process of complex interactions between global forces and local actors rather than as a monolithic force that destroys everything in its path.” (Harrison 143). That sets the book apart from a similar cohort of works, written in line with the recent trend of depicting globalization as a malevolent force. That does not mean, however, that the author takes sides. It just adds to the overall objectivity of the research. She further comments on this trend, “Most theories of neoliberal globalization and restructuring focus primarily on the global forces that disrupt, dislocate, and destroy local worlds, neglecting or downplaying the agency of local actors. As a result, local actors and cultures are often viewed as passive victims of globalization’s tide” (Harrison 143). While having all the reasons to be bitter about the adverse effects of globalization for local actors, she instead chooses to be objective in her research.
Such approach, combined with the chosen paradigm of constructivism, allows the author to analyze the behavior of the residents and their reaction to effects of globalization, rather than the phenomena itself. To do so, she bases her research on Albert Hirschman’s theory of exit, voice and loyalty. Harrison, however, expands the theory to fit it into the reality of the late 2000s. Hirschman initially proposes three outcomes for workers who face the worsening of work conditions: exit, or leaving their job altogether in search of a better variant; voice, or an attempt to amend the situation by negotiating with authorities; and loyalty, when workers just passively stay loyal to the company in hope of changes to the positive in the future. After applying this scheme in her research, Harrison discovers that some of her subjects, whom she defines “persisters,” do not fit in. Specifically, “contrary to what Hirschman’s model predicts, they are not optimistic about the prospect that their industry will recover” (Harrison 38). These deviations from the classic theory are the key point of author’s research. She looks to the aforementioned types in detail throughout chapters 2 and 3 (appropriately named “The Struggle to Stay Afloat” and “Jumping Ship for Higher Ground”) and concludes that they are determined by both the changed global situation (Hirschman’s theory was conceived in the 1970s, when the influence of globalization was relatively low) and shrimpers’ cultural background. Most of the resisters Harrison interacted with either had strong family or hereditary bonds to shrimper’s profession (Harrison 95). She also looks in detail at “exiters” to highlight the non-economic effects of exit, such as social and emotional aftermath (Harrison 93), and speculates on why voicing the complaint has far inferior effect (Harrison 37). However, the effect of globalization does not end here, Harrison argues. It also contributes to the emergence of the new form of agency. She terms it an innovator and proceeds with describing how such shrimpers adapt to the new working environment (Harrison 40). This form is described in detail in chapter four. Harrison comes to a conclusion that this type of activity is made possible, at least in part, thanks to globalization. Innovators use its strong points, as the availability of the Internet and the increasing affordability of the high-tech equipment, to their benefit. This counterintuitive technique of exploiting strengths of the very phenomenon that hampers one’s activities for one’s benefit is compared to judo by the author (Harrison 142).
In all, Buoyancy on the Bayou: Shrimpers Face the Rising Tide of Globalization is a solid research and a good read. Its main focus is the social aspect of the question, backed with cultural insights, although the author thoroughly covers the economic side, supplying the reader with valuable data. Most importantly, the book is entertaining and easy to read, blending research data with life stories of real people and maintaining a somewhat humorous tone without compromising seriousness of the topic. Such choice of scope can be viewed by some as a downside, because the author arguably does not provide a broader view of the problem, focusing instead on the subjective behavior of shrimp farmers. Besides, this leads us to the assumption that the conclusions Harrison draws are not entirely objective, as she neither uses significant statistical data nor takes into account other similar communities. However, Harrison specifically mentions in the book her determination to review the effect of globalization in conjunction with choices made by local actors (143). This gives her work an additional value of a new angle to the much-debated issue. It should also be noted, that while much is said already about globalization’s multiple negative effects on society, very little effort is made to view the problem from the opposite side, in this case – to show the decisions made by local communities in response to the changing environment. While not unique, Harrison’s work should be viewed as a much-needed comment on the phenomenon.
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Her work also offers valuable insights into possible new directions of expanding the classic theory of exit, voice and loyalty. While introducing the fourth model of behavior (the innovator) and altering one of the initial three (the persister instead of loyal worker), she also adds that this scheme could possibly be either expanded or reviewed to better fit the changing conditions of the world. Such revision could possibly enhance our understanding of social processes and should not be ignored.
To sum up, the book is both beneficial in terms of data and angles presented in it and enjoyable to read. The combination of these qualities makes Buoyancy on the Bayou a worthy choice for sociology students as well as other people looking for an introduction to the topic of globalization.
Harrison, Jill Ann. Buoyancy on the Bayou: Shrimpers Face the Rising Tide of Globalization, Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2013. Print.