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international division of labour


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The allocation of various parts of the production process to different places in the world. ‘The world economy is organized through horizontal and vertical linkages of an international division of labour, in which the modes of integration and geographical scopes vary over time’ (Appelbaum et al. in G. Gereffi and M. Korzeniewicz, eds 1994). Grinberg (2007) Glob. Pov. Re. Grp observes that whilst some countries have tended to concentrate within their boundaries the great bulk of the skilled labour force and therefore of the most complex labour processes (the USA, western Europe, and Japan), others have been mainly transformed into sources of a relatively cheap and disciplined, though less skilful, labour force (mainly East and South-East Asia). A third group of countries have been turned into reservoirs of consolidated surplus population relative to the needs of the accumulation process (for instance, most of Sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Asia, Northern Africa, and Latin America) and, in some cases, have eventually become new sources of cheap and disciplined labour (parts of South Asia, Vietnam, and the Caribbean Basin). See Hardy (2007) Eur-Asia Studs 59, 5 on the new international division of labour and Poland.

International divisions of labour involve transfers of reproductive labour beyond territorial boundaries. Thus, Filipina workers take on the household tasks of middle-class women abroad, while they themselves may hire poorer workers to do their housework in the Philippines (Boyle (2002) PHG26, 4). Service offshoring is an extension of outsourcing as firms apply an international division of labour to service tasks (Bryson (2007) Geografiska B 89). ‘To many Marxist scholars, the rise of East Asia as a global factory can often be “read off” as an empirical proof of the working of…spatial fixes, particularly in relation to the rise of the new international division of labour’ (Cheung (2007) Econ. Geog. 83, 4).

Subjects: Earth Sciences and Geography.


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