Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Declarations of Independents: On Local Knowledge and Localist Knowledge

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Declarations of Independents: On Local Knowledge and Localist Knowledge

Article excerpt

Abstract

Localist movements support increased local ownership of regional economies and oppose the colonization of local economies by corporate firms, franchises, and agribusiness. Events organized by a "buy local" and "anti-big-box" organization in upstate New York provide the point of departure for an exploration of the meanings of the terms "local" and "independent." Drawing on the discussion of "knowledge practices" in this journal, the relationships among local knowledge, mainstream economic development knowledge, and the "localist knowledge" of social science research are explored. Strategic combinations of local knowledge and localist knowledge can provide a powerful basis for mobilizing political and consumer support for localist movements. Localist movements in the United States are situated in the broader currents of antiglobalization movements, new political coalitions, and neoliberalism. [Keywords: social movements, local knowledge, science, economic development, urban, globalization, neoliberalism]

It is Sunday morning, a time when the deindustrialized city of Schenectady, New York generally looks like a ghost town, but people are walking up and down Jay Street, a downtown pedestrian mall with locally-owned retail shops and restaurants that are open and busy. At one end of the street is the farmers' market, which has just moved outdoors for the 2009 summer season. At the other end of the street is Proctor's, a nonprofit organization that inhabits a grand theater that dates back to the city's wealthier past as the home of General Electric and Alco, two companies that gave Schenectady the nickname of the city "that lights and hauls the world." Proctor's houses the farmer's market during the winter, but on this day it is sponsoring a "Buy Local Bash," which includes about thirty tables that feature the wares of locally-owned, independent businesses, a credit union, a small bank, and some nonprofit organizations. Local musicians play on the stage and feature a variety of genres, including classical guitar and rock. Joe Condon, a local radio host, holds drawings every hour, when the winner receives a free gift basket and other products from local businesses. At the same time, he reminds people of the value of small businesses and the need to support them, especially during a severe recession.

Many organizations helped sponsor the "Buy Local Bash," including the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation, but the primary sponsor was Capital District Local First (CDLF), a business association that promotes the message of shifting consumption toward locally-owned, independent businesses as part of a broader transition to more sustainable and fair regional economies. In turn, CDLF is one of the roughly onehundred independent business associations that have sprung up across the United States since the 1990s in support of locally-owned, independent businesses. It is affiliated with the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), a national organization that supports the project of building "local living economies," that is, economies based on locallyowned, independent businesses that include as part of their mission the goal of improving environmental sustainability, economic fairness, and local quality of life. BALLE integrates the diverse local networks by providing research reports, an annual conference, monthly round-up teleconferences, advice, summaries of best practices, and peer-to-peer networking among the national affiliate organizations.

The "Buy Local Bash" is therefore part of a broader reform movement oriented toward support of the locally-owned, independent business sector. In various articulations, localism-understood here as movements in favor of increased local ownership, such as independent businesses, local farms, local media, and community finance, but also in opposition to bigbox retail development and other projects associated with sprawl and environmental degradation-has become increasingly prominent in the United States. …

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