On Localism

Many thanks to everyone who came out yesterday and to all of the participants on the panel. Our next panel is on politics and will take place April 13. Steve Graham will be our special guest, with our focus the topic of his next book… Cities Under Siege. Video of today's panel will be up by the end of the day, or so I hope.

To me, the most interesting point raised by the panel was a distinction between localism and conventional ideas about local place. For many people today, localism is a counterpoint to globalization. "Locally-sourced" produce, local food (particularly slow food), and local crafts undo the sameness that globalization relentlessly imposes everywhere.

Localism is a reaction to the loss of place which, if we follow Marc Augé's definition from his book Non-Place, is a space with significance, a space in which meaning accrues out of historical activity. Think of a market in a town square to which the same people go daily to sell or buy produce. Over the years relationships build: children grow up, adults grow old, days gone by are remembered. For Augé, non-place, that is spaces of transit that we pass through, disconnected from others, is rapidly obliterating place.I've argued elsewhere that in the two decades since he wrote his book, Augé's non-place is itself disappearing: instead we live in an oversaturated world, and non-places become not spaces of disconnect but rather spaces in which we connect with others.

But localism isn't a return to place. For many of us, the necessities of a highly-specialized job market (how many architecture historians studying contemporary telecommunications do you know?) force us to move around too often to develop a lasting connection with a place. Localism is a simulation of the local. We make connections, we became regulars, we have intense but fleeting relationships with others, generally based around consumption (either with the staff at our favorite local restaurant or with the friends we go there with), but for most of us it's temporary. Soon we're on our way again. The ties break, or at best, are held together by the Net. Perhaps this accounts for localism's wistfulness. Place is tragic: a great hope shattered by the Fall. Localism is comic: a temporary reconciliation that everyone knows is momentary, a bit of light laughter that helps us forget the inevitable. 

Comments

But if localism is a reaction

But if localism is a reaction against globalism, then it follows that there would be a degree of sameness in the local products, as well. Has anyone looked at Etsy recently? Several years ago there was a wide swath of what could be considered novel handmade items but now everything just looks the same. In this sense the local is globalised, also.

What about the homogenization of the human mind, in that we all are thinking the same things and coming to the same conclusions? I’m over-generalizing here but if so many Americans are provided with the same set of circumstances then of course their reactions would be similar. It seems so much of the discussion on localism is rooted in a particular set of class circumstances – namely, the disenfranchised middle class. Does a Mexican or Somali immigrant working in a slaughterhouse in Dodge City, Kansas give a hoot about locally grown produce? I highly doubt it. When viewed in this light, you are right: this is a comic turn. Let’s see how much we love localism when our capacity to physically move about is curtailed by unaffordable fuel costs and [some of us] are faced with the prospect of eternal anchorage to place.

absolutely

Oh I absolutely think that localism is homogenous and yes, for now, it largely is the province of the middle class and up. I don't think that the devotion to localism is going to change anytime soon, but you're also right about mobility. It's already on the decline says the New York Times.     

So much of the discussion of

So much of the discussion of Place was focused on the role of museums and, by association, on an exploration of the meaning and value of authenticity. When the museum emerged in the 19th century as an instrument of the State to establish national identity, create progressive subjects, enforce a certain behavior, etc it had a coherent an unified patronage that was tied to national interests. As society becomes more atomized with micro-constituencies forming around every conceivable permutation of culture how can ponderously slow and capital-intensive architecture ever hope to give meaningful shape to and symbolic value to this experience? In the US at least museums are for the most part private and generally reflect the interests and identities of private entities. These are multiple and ever changing. I think it was noted at some point that other mediums have far greater potential to serve the micro. There is no longer a "general public" . Perhaps there never was. Any architecture that will respond to this new condition of the Networked Public needs to be able to literally transform on a dime, customize its image to each occupant and foster a general sense of connectedness through other multiple modes of engagement. A chameleon? Woody Allen's Zelig also comes to mind.

Just saw this release on Gehry's design for the Eisenhower Memorial on the Mall in DC. What the hell were they thinking! http://www.eisenhowermemorial.org/

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[...] super-wealthy as owning an estate is. At home, the "creative class" practices localism religiously, probably out enjoying home-smoked bacon cupcakes and carbon-neutral triple-pulled [...]