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Drawing a map of the global village

THE SHAPE OF THE WORLD, Open University 12-part geography series. BBC2, Saturdays, 11.25am, until September. Repeated Mondays, 7.35am.

We are undergoing a cultural levelling process, what has been described as "Coca-Cola-isation", in which communications technology, transport and the power of multi-national companies have contributed to a world in which human geography is shaped by global rather than local forces.

How this "globalisation" came about, its costs and benefits are fundamental aspects of human geography, sociology, environmental studies and political studies, and The Shape of the World, gives an excellent perspective om this process.

By taking the viewers all over the world, it shows how people from Glasgow to Borneo share similar circumstances, needs and problems.

"Alaska: The Final Frontier?", broadcast tomorrow, gives a historical perspective on how native Alaskans lost their communities, cultural identities and control over their lands through Russian and then American colonisation, and then reveals how they are re-discovering their culture and reasserting their indigenous rights.

But this is by no means a romantic look at indigenous peoples, and the programme shows clearly how enmeshed modern culture is in their lives.

Young people in particular find themselves being pulled in two contradictory directions the local and the global. Learning the native language, re-writing history to include native stories, and re-establishing traditional philosophies are important, but even the son of one of the most committed native language teachers admits in the series that the lure of global cultures such as Nintendo and modern music makes things extremely hard to resist.

One increasingly important factor in the globalisation process reveals itself throughout the series tourism. As the world's largest industry, tourism is increasingly important in local and national economies.

"Global Tourism" (screened last month) clearly revealed the gross commercialisation of native Hawaiian culture, a seemingly unstoppable process that is happening even in the remotest corners of the world such as Borneo.

In the programme on Alaska, we see how the region has been promoted for tourists as a "wilderness", negating the reality of its native history. Also the programme shows how native Alaskans are using tourism to protect their ancient sites and pursue environmental education.

Issues of cultural identity are relevant to us all, and "Who Belongs to Glasgow?" (July 15) reveals some of the conflicts that have occurred as a result of Glasgow's changing economy over the past century, and how its recent tourism promotion programme has re-created its international identity a marketing image that is far from the reality of many Glaswegians' lives. Globalisation, it becomes clear, affects not just the indigenous people of remote countries, but everyone.

Programmes still to be shown in the series will cover population transition in Italy, urbanisation and water conflicts in the United States, migration, cultural identity in Glasgow, music in Mali, Europe's changing position in the global economy, and China's global importance.

For the teacher looking at how to increase understanding of this rapidly-changing world, and show the inter-connectedness of cultural, economic and environmental issues in development, this series will deftly help pupils make the links.

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