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QMUL People – Dr Gale Raj-Reichert

10 April 2017

Gale Raj-Reichert is Lecturer in Economic Geography in the School of Geography at QMUL. In this interview she discusses her role within the School, her research interests around labour governance in global production networks in developing countries and a new undergraduate field trip to Malaysia that she is coordinating.

You recently joined QMUL. How do you find working here so far and where were you before?

I have known about the great research at and reputation of the School of Geography at QMUL for a while. I was very excited to join the School as a Lecturer in Economic Geography after completing my PhD and a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Manchester Global Development Institute. There is a very relaxed and helpful atmosphere at my new department. I think what stands out the most is the wonderfully rich diversity of students at the School of Geography. It is a lively department and I am very much enjoying being a part of it!

Could you tell us about your research interests? Is there anything in particular you're working on at the moment? Do you have any big plans for the coming year?

My research interests are on labour governance in the electronics industry global production network. My research involves understanding how firms, governments, workers, and civil society organisations affect working conditions in outsourced factories in developing countries. My case studies are focused on Malaysia and China where there have been poor working conditions such as excessive working hours, low pay, chemical poisonings, and forced labour. At the moment, I am writing a book Improving labour conditions in the electronics industry: an exploration of governance in a global production network (Oxford University Press) that is a monograph of my postdoctoral research. My big plans for the coming years is to begin researching on the role socially responsible public procurement, for example by large public buyers such as universities and hospitals, can have in improving labour conditions and governance in developing countries. This research interest is inspired by the work of Electronics Watch, an NGO where I am an Advisory Board Member, who works with public sector buyers to demand for proper working conditions in their contracts with electronic brands and their global supply chain.

You are co-ordinating a brand-new undergraduate field trip to Malaysia which will run for the first time in the next academic year. What will this trip involve? What can students expect to learn?


Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia is destination to human geographers on a brand new third-year field trip from 2018.

I am very excited to begin a brand-new course that will take a group of final-year students to Malaysia to learn about and experience issues concerning economic growth, industrialisation, and labour conditions. After a semester long course on these topics in the classroom, students will begin their trip with a visit to the main location of industrialisation success in Malaysia which is the state of Penang. The economic growth of this state is based on its electronics industry and the large influx of foreign multinational corporations which opened large factories there. This context will be the background for understanding industrialisation processes tied to participation in global production networks and its impact on local and foreign workers, labour conditions, and labour governance. Next, the students will travel to Kuala Lumpur, the capital city, to understand the role of politics, namely the government, trade unions, and civil society organisations, and culture in the struggles and challenges of ensuring economic growth leads to positive outcomes for all people. In both locations, students will conduct their own research projects based on specific research questions related to these wider issues. In the end, students will have gained a unique experience and set of skills by conducting field research in an emerging economy, analysing the information obtained, and presenting the analysis in an academic report. It promises to be a great experience!

Why is teaching economic geography so important today?

In this present era of contested globalisation, the study of economic geography is even more important. The uneven outcomes of economic activity have clear geographical or spatial and scalar effects. For example, the ‘winners’ or those that tend to benefit more from international trade or global production networks are generally Western regions of the world, such as North America or Western Europe; while most developing countries in the global South struggle to reach meaningful levels of economic development. Within these regional scales, when one looks nationally and locally, the picture is even more complex. One finds that the degree of inequality in ‘rich’ countries such as the United States is at a similar level to developing countries such as South Africa and Brazil. Spatially, one finds differences in economic opportunities and development outcomes between urban and rural areas in both developed and developing countries. Looking even more closely at specific actors, multinational corporations not only prosper relatively more from globalisation they also have more power in determining the economic and social outcomes of people’s lives – for example through the types of jobs they create near or far through outsourcing. Understanding these complexities is important for understanding current debates on whether globalisation is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for people. For these reasons and perhaps even more in the midst of ‘Brexit’, a Trump presidency in the United States, and the rise of emerging economies such as China, I find teaching economic geography to be critical for understanding processes that lead to uneven economic outcomes throughout the world.

You have taken on the important role of managing masters admissions in the School of Geography this year. How are you finding this?

I was pleasantly surprised to see how many applications we receive! Given the different masters programmes we have, there is a great variety of applications and applicants with various nationalities, and educational and professional backgrounds. It is very interesting reading personal statements and learning about what motivates someone to study Geography. It is also a great reminder of how rich Geography is. Doing a masters programme can be quite a formative part of someone’s life (like it was for me) and for that reason I take this role to be quite an important one.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Spending time with my two children (a five year old son and eight year old daughter), playing the piano, and working in the garden. These are three things that really provide a true break from work.

 

 

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