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Localisation As Radical Praxis And The New Politics
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Peter North and David Featherstone
The Movements of Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
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Table of Contents
The Movements of Movements
MOMBOP Advance Pre-Final Movement Edition, 2016
Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
Proem :
Shailja Patel What Moves Us
Introduction :
Jai Sen The Movements of Movements : An
Introduction and an Exploration
1.1 David McNally From the Mountains of Chiapas to the Streets
of Seattle : This is What Democracy Looks Like
1.2 Fouad Kalouche and Eric Mielants Antisystemic Movements
and Transformations of the World-System, 19681989
1.3 André C Drainville Beyond
: Anti-Capitalist
Dialectic of Presence
1.4 Tariq Ali Storming Heaven : Where Has The Rage Gone ?
1.5 Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel - Being Indigenous :
Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism
1.6 Andrea Smith Indigenous Feminism and the Heteropatriachal
1.7 Xochitl Leyva Solano Geopolitics of Knowledge and the Neo-
Zapatista Social Movement Networks
The Movements of Movements :
Struggles for Other Worlds
2.1 Anand Teltumbde Anti-Imperialism, Dalits, and the
Annihilation of Caste
2.2 Jeff Corntassel Rethinking Self-Determination : Lessons from
the Indigenous-Rights Discourse
2.3 Xochitl Leyva Solano and Christopher Gunderson - The Tapestry
of Neo-Zapatismo : Origins and Development
2.4 Roma and Ashok Choudhary - Ecological Justice and Forest
Right Movements in India : State and Militancy - New
2.5 Emilie Hayes Open Space in Movement : Reading Three
Waves of Feminism
2.6 Virginia Vargas International Feminisms : New Syntheses,
New Directions
2.7 Lee Cormie Re-Creating the World : Communities of Faith in
the Struggles for Other Possible Worlds
2.8 François Houtart Mahmoud Mohamed Taha : Islamic Witness
in the Contemporary World
2.9 James Toth Local Islam Gone Global : The Roots of Religious
Militancy in Egypt and its Transnational Transformation
2.10 Roel Meijer Fighting for Another World : Yusuf Al-‘Uyairi’s
Conceptualisation of Praxis and the Permanent Salafi Revolution
2.11 Peter Waterman The Networked Internationalism of Labour’s
2.12 Cho Hee-YeonFrom Anti-Imperialist to Anti-Empire : The
Crystallisation of the Anti-Globalisation Movement in South
2.13 Emir Sader The Weakest Link ? Neoliberalism in Latin America
2.14 Daniel Bensaïd The Return of Strategy
2.15 Peter North and David Featherstone Localisation as Radical
Praxis and the New Politics of Climate Change
2.16 Guillermo Delgado-P Refounding Bolivia : Exploring the
Possibility and Paradox of a Social Movements State
2.17 Alex Khasnabish - Forward Dreaming : Zapatismo and the
Radical Imagination
Laurence Cox ‘Learning to be Loyal to Each Other’ :
Conversations, Alliances, and Arguments in the Movements of
Compiled, comprehensive Bibliography for The Movements of
Movements, Part 1 : What Makes Us Move ?
Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
Proem :
Shailja Patel Offerings
Introduction :
Jai Sen On Rethinking Our Dance : Some
Thoughts, Some Moves
Interrogating Movement, Problematising
3.1 Rodrigo Nunes Nothing Is What Democracy Looks Like :
Openness, Horizontality, and The Movement of Movements
3.2 The Free Association Worlds in Motion : Movements,
Problematics, and the Creation of New Worlds
3.3 Jai Sen Break Free ! Engaging Critically with the Concept and
Reality of Civil Society (Part 1)
3.4 Anila Daulatzai - Believing in Exclusion : The Problem of
Secularism in Progressive Politics
3.5 Josephine Ho Is Global Governance Bad for East Asian Queers
3.6 Jeffrey S Juris and Geoffrey Pleyers Incorporating Youth or
Transforming Politics ? Alter-Activism as an Emerging Mode of
Praxis among Young Global Justice Activists
3.7 Tomás Mac Sheoin and Nicola Yeates The Anti-Globalisation
Movement : Coalition and Division
3.8 Stephanie Ross The Strategic Implications of Anti-Statism in
the Global Justice Movement
3.9 Michael Löwy Negativity and Utopia in the Alterglobalisation
3.10 Rodrigo Nunes The Global Moment : Seattle, Ten Years On
3.11 Ezequiel Adamovsky Autonomous Politics and its Problems :
Thinking the Passage from Social to Political
3.12 John Brown Childs Boundary as Bridge
3.13 Chris Carlsson Effective Politics or Feeling Effective ?
3.14 Massimo De Angelis PR like PRocess ! Strategy from the
Bottom Up
3.15 Matt Meyer and Oussenia Alidou The Power of Words :
Reclaiming and Re-Imagining ‘Revolution’ and ‘Nonviolence’
3.16 Jai Sen Break Free ! Engaging Critically with the Concept and
Reality of Civil Society (Part 2)
Reflections on Possible Futures
4.1 Michal Osterweil “Becoming-Woman ?” : Between Theory,
Practice, and Potentiality
4.2 John Holloway The Asymmetry of Revolution
4.3 David Graeber The Shock of Victory
4.4 Kolya Abramsky Gathering Our Dignified Rage : Building New
Autonomous Global Relations of Production, Livelihood, and
4.5 Muto Ichiyo Towards the Autonomy of the People of the
World : Need for a New Movement of Movements to Animate
People’s Alliance Processes
4.6 Samir Amin Towards a Fifth International ?
4.7 Rodrigo Nunes The Lessons of 2011 : Three Theses on
4.8 François Houtart – ‘We Still Exist’
Lee Cormie - Another World Is Inevitable… But Which Other
World ?
Complied, comprehensive Bibliography for The Movements of
Movements, Part 2 : Rethinking Our Dance
MOMBOP Advance Pre-Final Movement Edition
made freely available for Discussion and Debate on a Not-for-Re-Publication / Distribution basis !
Localisation As Radical Praxis And The New Politics Of Climate Change
Peter North and David Featherstone
Looking For Alternatives
The movement for global justice that emerged through and after the Seattle protest of 1999 has
largely been characterised as a movement
neoliberal economic
globalisation, rather than
specific aspects of global justice. First characterised as a “swarm”,
what has been called a
‘movement’ could better be described as a series of overlapping networks or spaces where groups
with different agendas converged
at high-profile demonstrations at WTO, G8, or EC / FTAA
ministerial meetings.
The wider transnational global justice movement was made up of connections
between different struggles in the global South such as the Zapatistas in Mexico, the Argentinian
(pickets), and the Brazilian
Movemiento Sem Terra
(‘landless workers’ movement’)
supported by protesters in the global North, who saw themselves as citizens benefitting from an
unequal global division of labour. Hardt and Negri claimed these groups for the ‘multitude’, part of a
wider conception of the proletariat that includes all those who have to work to meet their needs.
John Holloway celebrated their resistance, their refusal to submit to an exploitative system, their
shout ‘No !’.
The protesters seemed clear about what they opposed : Neoliberal globalisation in
general, and proposed deals on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), the Multilateral
Agreement on Investment (MAI), the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the Free Trade Area of the
Americas (FTAA), and the European Union in particular. Over time, an imperialist war in Iraq, and
attempts to restrict civil liberties under the guise of the so-called war on terror moved up the agenda.
The problem was clear but what was the alternative ? Protesters in the global South did
have more concrete arguments for livelihoods based on solidarity and common ownership but, for the
North, apart from the inspiration of Southern struggles and proposals for reform of global trade
governance, proposals for alternatives to neoliberal globalisation seemed underdeveloped. The
problem was encapsulated by a banner on the Mayday 2002 protests against the City of London’s
financial district : “Let’s overthrow capitalism and replace it with something really nice”. Witty,
understated, perhaps typically British, and later exposed as a prank by the producers of a TV spoof,
but it hit a nerve. What would Northern protesters do differently ?
Then climate change and ‘peak oil’ became public issues. The contemporaneous publication
during 2007 of the IPCC’S Fourth Report,
the Stern Review,
and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth,
and at the same time, observable extreme weather events ranging from Katrina and South Asian
cyclones to European flooding, droughts in Sudan, Southern Africa, and Australia, and forest fires in
Greece and California, all suggested that the planet was warming,
perhaps dangerously so.
prices rose from US$ 10 per barrel in 1997 to US$ 147 in mid-2008,
with speculation about future
rises to US$ 200 or even US$ 500; while the drive to replace fossil fuels with biofuels led to global
food price inflation and widespread food riots. Northern-based neoliberal globalised capitalism was
not only globally unjust, as the protestors saw it; it was destroying the very ecosystems on which life
While the global justice movement had always contested the unequal social and
environmental relations produced by globalisation, observable extreme weather and a new
understanding that we were close to, or at the moment of, ‘peak oil’ when demand begins to
outstrip supply, leading to much higher prices (for the rich) and shortages (for the poor) made it
clear that growth-based globalised capitalism had, at last, come up against the natural limits that had
been erroneously forecast in the past.
While the price of oil dropped back to below US$ 50 in 2009,
the underlying problem of a lack of new discoveries of oil to keep up with exploding demand from
newly industrialising countries in the global South remained. Worse, the volatile price of oil meant
that research into renewable alternatives to oil was cut drastically, retarding the likelihood of a
technological fix. If carbon-based global capitalism does not have a future, then democratic
economies that are just and egalitarian but carbon-based and focused uncritically on ‘growth’ do not
either. Again, however, climate change activists were stronger on what they opposed than on recipes
for alternatives. They were, as inscribed on their banners, “armed only… with peer-reviewed
Peer-reviewed science tells us that climate change is a non-negotiable reality and that we
should stop our planet-killing ways. It is a different matter, however, to open up a set of political
questions about how this situation is negotiated and how alternative futures are shaped.
Some would argue that the best approach is to focus on injustice and solvable present day
problems malaria, AIDS leaving prescriptions for a better world to future generations, once the
battle for justice is won.
But we don’t think that is good enough, especially given the immediacy of
the need to avoid catastrophic climate change. Here, we argue that progressive, subaltern-generated
responses to climate change and resource constraints might already be beginning to provide an
answer to the question, “How would you do it differently ?”. We examine here the concept and
practice of localisation, which rejects the movement of goods and capital as dictated by
contemporary globalisation. Localisation was developed and put forward by some antiglobalisers as a
to neoliberal globalisation rather than as a proposal for alternative, subaltern, and more
liberated forms of globalisation, and has formed a minority strand within the wider movement.
accept that a comprehensive, progressive programme to avoid dangerous climate change would need
to focus more widely than only on localisation, and in particular on developing alternatives to
unsustainable capitalism such as how to heat homes and power economic activities, grow food, etc.
We also do not assume that emissions will automatically be reduced by producing more locally; it
may, after all, be better to produce food in the open air in Southern countries than in a heated
greenhouse in the North.
We therefore focus on localisation here because it seems an obvious way
both to reduce emissions and also to promote social justice, since international trade is a major
source of avoidable emissions.
We first examine what advocates of localisation mean by ‘the local’. Are they isolationists ?
What connections do they promote ? How can proponents of localism counter criticisms that this
effectively means ‘pulling up the ladder’, the rich North cutting the South off from the possibility of
developing prosperity ? And, along with this, would the South be better off if it concentrated on
meeting more of its own needs, rather than fuelling unsustainable consumption in the North ?
Second, we examine how localisation can be combined with international solidarity with
globalisation from below through subaltern connection and networking to build a better world.
ask : How might these subaltern internationalisms contribute to the development of livelihoods that
are enjoyable, vibrant, and, wholesome, and do not entail the emission of unsustainable levels of
carbon ? How can the counter-globalisation movement engage with the struggles
the unequal
environmental relations that are generated through neoliberal globalisation ?
We write this essay as colleagues, friends, academics, and activists from different parts of the
counter globalisation and climate change movements, bringing together our different emphases in
what we hope is a constructive engagement.
Localisation, Global Justice, and Climate Change
Proponents of neoliberal globalisation argue that :
1. Goods should be produced in the cheapest possible place regardless of environmental or
labour standards, or of externalised carbon emissions;
2. There should be an unfettered right to invest, to commodify, and to own, but no similar right
to livelihood, to citizenship, or to a healthy ecosystem; and that -
3. Goods and services, finance, and the means of production should be free to move around the
globe, but people should not have the same rights.
Against this, some have advanced localisation.
Localisation means economic decisions
should not focus exclusively on profit maximisation and economic efficiency but on meeting needs as
locally as possible. In contrast to neoliberal globalisers, who call for the deregulation of economic
decision-making, localisers call for the re-regulation and re-embedding of economics into local
communities. Economic assets should be locally or communally owned and controlled through local
economic institutions like worker-owned and run community development trusts, local money
systems, local banks, cooperatives, communal gardens and restaurants, and communal land
Major parts of the economy and ecosystems should be held in common, off limits to
monetisation, privatisation, and commodification.
Localisation “does not mean walling off the outside world” in a nationalist autarkic project.
Rather, it stands against an integrated world economy based on a global division of labour without
the regulation of labour and environmental standards. Taking a position against unsustainable and
unequal neoliberal globalisation, localists argue that decisions about where to locate any given
economic activity should not be based on cost alone, subsidised by cheap fuel and with CO
emissions externalised. They argue for focussing on producing as much as locally as possible, with
international trade only as a last resort for goods and services that really cannot be produced more
locally (for example, tea or citrus in the UK). It is an argument for economic subsidiarity.
do not argue against connections out of the locality
per se
: Rather, they argue against a reification
of connection as always inevitable and always good.
Localisation has also been advocated by the ecological and environmental elements of the
overlapping networks that make up the global justice movement for many reasons. Cavanagh and
Mander argue that localisation is inherently a subversive project vis-à-vis neoliberal globalisation since
it entails fewer opportunities for multinationals to generate super profits for elites.
would be a simpler economic system, with fewer opportunities for ‘middle men’ to add value or pass
goods or services or money on, taking their cut en route. Before the recent revival of neoliberal
globalisation, they argue, much of the planet’s economic activity was off limits to globalisation, such
as the peasant subsistence economy in the South, or where many basic services remained
nationalised in the South and under local government control in the North for example, municipal
electricity, gas, and water.
Their argument is that much of social and economic life should be off-
limits to globalisation. The radical project then becomes the defence of the global commons un-
monetised and collectively used for use value and not exchange value from commodification.
Localists object to the loss of local control associated with neoliberal globalisation and to decisions
about local economies being made by distant elites uncommitted to or ignorant of the places they
affect through their decisions.
The second reason why localisation is a key part of the more explicitly anti-global elements of
the wider global justice movement is that it connects to arguments that the development and social
justice potential of trade is over stated. While some communities in the global south have
undoubtedly benefitted from connection, the benefits cannot be assumed. The argument is that
neoliberal conceptions of ‘free’ trade is a sham designed to keep the South poor and Northern elites
rich through the destruction of (mainly manufacturing) livelihoods in the North as a result of
competition with goods and services produced in places with lower labour or environmental standards
in the South, while in the South, rural livelihoods are destroyed by the dumping of subsidised EU or
US agricultural produce.
Echoing an older critique developed by dependency theorists like Raúl Prebisch and André
Gunder Frank, contemporary localisers like Martin Khor, Vandana Shiva, Maria Mies, and Helena
Norberg-Hodge argue that elites in the North are not genuinely committed to advancing the position
of the global south through trade, but keep the South in a position of dependency whereby they have
to export often niche or low value primary products on unfair terms, and where terms of trade can
change rapidly to the detriment of Southern producers. States in the global south that have broken
out of this dependent relationship have done so with a judicious mix of state intervention and
appropriate forms of protection for their nascent industries, removing it only when these industries
can stand on their own two feet.
Beyond this however, and in contrast to those committed to ‘fair’ rather than ‘free’ trade,
localisers argue that trade from South to North, even on better, fairer terms, is not the solution. They
argue that, for generations, village-level self-sufficiency has generated fulfilling livelihoods for millions
through unmonetised, often communal economies, throughout much of the South.
They claim that
localisation in the South would mean greater living standards by meeting basic needs, leading, in the
long run, to more diverse livelihood opportunities rather than economic and ecological monocultures
created by focussing on exports. Southern countries are prevented from charting an independent
course by the need to attract hard currencies to repay debt, and can be destabilised by the periodic
crises to which capitalism is prone and which open capital markets amplify. Localisation aims at
“celebrating and aiming for diversity of production, diversity of economic activity, and retaining
control over capital, rather than letting it flow around the world”.
South-North trade may also
generate unsustainable emissions. Even if South-North trade did involve fewer emissions than
producing the same goods in the North, localisers would question its utility do Northern consumers
really need year-round flowers or fruit ? Might not the South be better off meeting its own more
pressing needs ?
Localisers argue that local diversity and local distinctiveness are good in and of themselves.
Globalisation is the ‘McDonaldisation’ of society and economy,
the domination of the global brand.
Drawing on conceptions of what is thought to be good about the natural world, localisers argue for
societies and economies that are diverse, interdependent, and resilient. A variety of local economies
mirrors nature's diversity, facilitating experimentation and the development of more effective
practices and models. Localised economies connected to each other combine diversity with
interdependence, without uniformity. Localisers claim that diverse localised economies across space
have ‘trips’ that mean that problems in one place are not necessarily transmitted everywhere,
meaning they are more resilient to external shocks. Places reliant on economic monocultures are
vulnerable to price fluctuations and changes in demand. In diverse and connected but more localised
economies, if demand for a product produced in one place breaks down, then that place also has
many other ways of making a living that it can fall back on. The argument is then that localised
economies north and south would provide a wider range of livelihoods than would a network of local
monocultures integrated into one big global network based on the division of labour.
Localisation also bridges the politics of globalisation and climate change. Avoiding dangerous’
climate change requires deep cuts in carbon emissions quickly of 80-95 percent by 2050.
requires a fundamental restructuring of currently unsustainable capitalist economic practices.
Localisers argue against regions and countries exchanging similar produce that could just as easily be
produced for local consumption without the associated carbon emissions.
For the past forty-odd
years, the global economy has gone through a process of time-space compression, based on near-
instantaneous global telecommunications, externalised CO
emissions, and cheap petroleum, which
has enabled a “spatial fix”, whereby capitalist firms relocate from parts of the world characterised by
low rather than high production costs, precisely because transport costs are either low or (in the case
of telecommunications) close to zero, and CO
emissions are externalised.
The need to reduce
emissions and energy usage means that we in fact need to undertake a time-space re-extension,
where transport costs again become significant in terms of both finance and emissions. Currently very
cheap goods produced through globalised production networks will become, and remain, more
expensive. The currently near will become further away, again.
For radical localisers, this process of re-extension will go very deep, as the price of global
connections makes international trade unsustainable. Ted Trainer, radical localist and champion of a
post-materialist, small-scale technology society, consequently argues for a society constructed from
many highly self-sufficient small settlements and localised economies, inhabited by people living
lifestyles characterised by significantly reduced personal consumption as compared with those
currently practiced widely in the North and by Southern elites.
The higher price of fuel, and the
need to reduce emissions, would mean that people would have to decide to travel less. Cities would
be ‘villageised’ so people could meet more of their needs from their neighbourhood without
commuting or trucking goods and services around urban areas, while avoidable long distance travel
would be cut down drastically. The vast majority of goods and services needed would be produced
locally in decentralised small workshops and through community businesses that people could walk or
cycle to. Small businesses would multiply, becoming the norm, and staying small. Crumbling transport
infrastructures would be given over to community-owned farms growing food, grazing livestock, or
for fish farms. There will still be some importing and exporting of goods, but it would be insignificant.
What he calls “the simpler way” is unavoidable if we are to avert dangerous climate change.
Trainer’s rather autarkic vision is one extreme of the localising perspective. Few localisers
argue for either hairshirts or for the complete disconnection of places with each other, and they are
generally not, therefore, ‘isolationists’.
The response of the autarkic nationalist Myanmar military
government to the devastation of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 graphically demonstrated the limits of
autarkic localisation. When localisation is contrasted with actually existing autarky, its scope becomes
Localisation is thus not set at any specific scale, but it is “a relative term. It means different
things to different people and depends on context”.
Hines, and Woodin and Lucas, all see
localisation as a sensible and pragmatic alternative to a globalisation that needlessly moves goods
and services in ecologically damaging ways.
The economy needs to be pragmatically reorganised so
things are done as locally as possible, and this will provide diversity, generate jobs, livelihoods, and
small businesses,
reduce needless carbon emissions. Once things are produced as locally as
possible, we will be able to make decisions about what kinds of international connections are
reconcilable with avoiding dangerous climate change. Localists often claim that their proposals are
little more than sensible, pragmatic, and technical reforms necessary to avoid climate apocalypse that
an unspecified ‘we’ can all agree on. We contend, however, that localisation is a deeply political and
contestable programme, and we now turn to this.
Critiques Of Localisation
Critiques of localisation, especially those from the left, focus on four issues. First, they argue that
localists conflate the ‘local’ with progress and sustainability. For Andre Gorz :
…[C]ommunal autarky always has an impoverishing effect : the more self sufficient and numerically
limited a community is, the smaller the range of activities and choices it can offer to its members. If it
has no opening to an area of exogenous activity, knowledge and production, the community becomes a
prison… only constantly renewed possibilities for discovery, insight, experimentation and communication
can prevent communal life from becoming impoverished and eventually suffocating.
Radical social ecologist Murray Bookchin agrees :
No community can hope to achieve economic autarky, nor should it try to do so.… Divested of the
cultural cross fertilisation that is often a product of economic intercourse, the municipality tends to
shrink into itself and disappear into its own civic privatism…. Small is not necessarily beautiful.
Localities are differentiated by class, gender, and a range of other local oppressions, and the
left has generally preferred international links with other subalterns to alliances with local elites. On
the other hand, recognising that localisation should not be confused with autarky, Bookchin also
argues :
We cannot ignore the fact that relatively self-sustaining communities in which crafts, agriculture, and
industries serve definable networks of confederally organised communities enrich the opportunities and
stimuli to which individuals a re exposed and make for more rounded personalities with a rich sense of
selfhood and competence (than those produced in globalised sweatshops, for example).
Cavanagh and Manders agree the local
be small scale and oppressive, but argue that it need not
Even the radical localiser Trainer argues for an international exchange of ideas and culture,
particularly through information technologies. Opportunities for cyber and teleworking would remain,
once global carbon emissions have been brought down as much as possible by localisation and other
“powerdown” processes.
Secondly, ecosocialists like Kovel
and Wall
have little time for what they call a naïve neo-
Smithian valorisation of small, local economies, arguing that capitalism and markets are intertwined,
and that markets have an inbuilt tendency towards growth and monopoly the classic Marxist
position. A Smithian localised economy would soon grow into a conventional capitalist market : Firms
would either grow out of the locality or die, since capitalism requires businesses to compete with
each other. Unless
capitalists agreed not to grow their businesses, steady-state capitalism is an
oxymoron. Cavanagh and Manders agree that local businesses
be exploitative
but this cannot
be assumed. The work of Gibson-Graham is useful here. It points out that arguing that all businesses
are inevitably capitalist or growth-orientated is like assuming all women are maternal or child
Some businesses do focus on growth, but there is a great diversity in economic forms.
This allows a focus on how alternative economic practices such as worker-owned enterprises and co-
operatives can make a significant contribution to climate change politics. We can do more to explore
the contribution to climate change politics of worker-owned enterprises and co-operatives, working in
solidarity economies rather than capitalist economies.
A third problem for the left is identifying the localising agent. DeFilippis argues that “since
localities are not agents […] they cannot own anything. Instead, forms of local ownership are created
by collective ownership or ownership by institutions that are place bound or place dependent”.
Localisation should be better thought of as community control of economic resources like credit
unions, communal housing, and local money networks. Through localisation, local collective control
would be put on local investment and disinvestment, and therefore facilitate control of the production
in ways that local residents, rather than actors far away, want. This production, he argues, can be
DeFillipis also understands that many community-based organisations that
localisers put faith in often do not have an oppositional politics.
They see themselves as promoting
social inclusion, or as practical non-political alternatives, and are often dependent on grants and
loans, disconnected from a wider social change movement. Localisers may claim them, but they do
not necessarily see themselves as part of an oppositional network. They may even defend their
claims to be common-sense, non-political organisations, to win grants and respectability in the eyes
of elites.
The question then arises as to
will localise an economy, especially if much of the
productive wealth is held by private sector elites. Harman, for example, argues that what George
…. generally excellent book Heat (2006)… does not show is how to create the agency, the active mass
force, that can compel the governments of the world's most polluting states to implement such
measures. He puts forward a generally excellent political programme for a political force that does not
We agree that the question of agency is key to climate change politics, but argue that it is an
issue with which the global justice movement has in fact long engaged and from which advocates of
localisation can learn. Many climate change activists engaging in direct action
capitalist practices draw much of their strategy and tactics from this experience.
The Transition Towns movement in the global North is an interesting case study of agency.
It looks to build local movements, arguing for and prefiguring post-carbon economies.
It is an
agent, and has inspired quite an impressive level of mobilisation in towns and cities across in the
English-speaking global North quite quickly. So the issue here is less the lack of an agent than the
ability of subaltern groups to move beyond the politics of prefiguration and challenge local and global
systems of domination. On the one hand, critics from the global justice movement argue that it is
informed by an extremely optimistic conceptualisation of the possibility of transforming currently
unsustainable economic practices through local, citizen-based action, without explicitly challenging
global power relations.
On the other hand, Transition Towns groups educate their members about
climate change and peak oil, and develop alternatives that, they argue, will enable their communities
to be resilient when global capitalism becomes unsustainable. In John Holloway’s terms, Transition
Towns focus on developing their members’ sense of agency, their power ‘to’ act, rather than
spending time challenging forms of elite power that, they suspect, have a limited future.
movements engaging in direct action and in prefiguration perhaps we are beginning to see nascent
social actors meeting Harman’s concerns.
The fourth critique is from geographers on the left, who argue that localisation is a worthy
but ultimately limited ‘militant particularism’, unable to contribute to wider, ‘universal’ questions of
It is not good enough to say that the global (‘them’, people we don’t know, far away)
is ‘bad’, while the local (‘us’, people we know, nearby) is ‘good’. The emancipatory project is built on
connection with others, localisation on disconnection. Harman, for example, points to the connection
between Mexico’s Tortilla March and Northern consumption : “Filling SUV fuel tanks in California was
causing hunger in Mexico”.
Localisation suggests that local elites are given preference over
subalterns elsewhere. It could, therefore, be seen as a dangerous practice, against left conceptions
built on the unity of the vast majority against a small oppressing, only perhaps local, minority.
Overall, we argue that these objections from the left are problematic as they conceptualise
‘local’ and ‘global’ political strategies as separate, even defined against each other : In this view,
localisation always leads to xenophobia, and internationalism to connection and solidarity. We would
argue for more
accounts, which understand that the ‘local’ and the ‘global’ are co-
constituted through particular places and sites. Arguing for local food production in Mexico
understands that pressures against it are created globally, but that is not the same as arguing that
because food chains are often global, it is foolish, reactionary, or misplaced to support rioting
subaltern groups in Mexico in their call for more control of the means of life. Attempts to argue for
local or global strategies are false and destructive of political possibilities.
What does this
mean for international solidarity ?
Climate Change and the Maintenance of North-South Solidarities
The global justice movement has brought into contestation the unequal relations of power produced
through neoliberal globalisation. This has been a productive and important process, which, despite
the many criticisms levelled at these movements and their political strategies, remains one of their
most significant achievements. Debates around climate change alone, however, have frequently
isolated processes like carbon emission and global warming from the wider, unequal social and
environmental relations upon which neoliberal globalisation depends. This section explores the
relations of localising practices to transnational elements of the diverse global justice movement.
First, it explores how the global justice movement has shown how globalising processes that create
dangerous climate change are produced in and through local places, where they can also be
challenged. Second, it explores how localising experiments and practices are related to alternative
ways of producing globalisations that do not entail unsustainable emissions of carbon. Lastly, it
explores the tensions and possibilities produced through these political interventions.
The global justice movement has demonstrated that it is possible to localise and contextualise
the power relations that comprise neoliberal globalisation. This has important implications for
transnational organising in relation to climate change. The left has long argued that environmentalism
ignores contested power relations. We contend, however, that the way that the geographies of power
are being contested through activist politics is itself producing a more antagonistic politics of climate
change. They are producing political interventions that have usefully been described as
‘environmentalisms of the poor’.
Further, they are also generating alliances and constructions of
environmental problems that contest assumptions that environmentalisms, and hence the politics of
climate change, are a middle class privilege only relevant to the North.
Movements such as the transnational boycott of Esso
and the condemnation of George
Bush’s politics around the Kyoto Protocol
are useful examples. They illuminate how
environmentalisms have engaged with struggles against the unequal social and environmental
relations created through neoliberal practices. These cuts into the contested geographies of power
associated with climate change have forged distinctive alternatives to unjust and wasteful social and
environmental relations.
The South has also provided rich histories of alternatives to export growth-led development,
going back to Gandhi’s objection to the then hegemonic British-championed conception of free trade :
Free trade for a country which has become industrial, whose population can and does live in cities,
whose people do not mind preying on other nations and, therefore, sustain the biggest navy to protect
their unnatural commerce, may be economically sound (though, as the reader perceives, I question it’s
morality). Free trade for India has proved her curse and held her in bondage.
Contemporary Gandhian alternatives have been championed by major movement intellectuals such as
Vandana Shiva, Walden Bello, and Martin Khor,
and by particular movements such as the Karnataka
State Farmer’s Union (KRRS), which organises small and middle farmers at a village levels.
are similarities with the Movimento Sem Terra (MST), the Brazilian movement of the landless, which
has sought to produce alternatives to neoliberal forms of agriculture.
Argentina’s alternative
currency networks challenged the hold of the global finance system on that country after the crisis of
while its recovered factories continued to produce for local markets, once their owners
declared them unprofitable.
In Honduras, COMAL is a network of forty-six small co-operative
producers and 30,000 consumers providing for basic needs locally, in opposition to the planned
These alternatives produce forms of radical localisation that are not atavistic or bounded, but
linked to internationalist struggles against neoliberal globalisation.
The strategies of the MST are a good example of how localising strategies can be generated
in combination with internationalist political strategies and identities. While the MST initially adopted
intensive methods of agriculture on the land gained through their occupations, it has begun to
experiment with alternative forms of agriculture and produced the first organic seeds in Latin
Its allies in the North, such as the Confédération Paysanne, have backed alternative
proposals for rural development based around ‘solidaristic agriculture’ related to radical non-
agricultural actors in rural communities.
For João Pedro Stédile, a central figure in the MST leadership, an important context for the
MST’s experiments with alternative forms of agriculture has been a shift in terms of its ‘enemy’, no
longer ‘the old
’ (‘landowners’) but global agribusiness, which, over the last ten years,
has progressively penetrated “firms and economic units working in agriculture”.
Consequently, it has
sought to provide existing alternatives to the exploitative modes of agriculture associated with global
Rocha noted, in 2002, that MST co-operatives remain enmeshed in global agribusiness
networks in various ways, some rearing chickens for Sadia, a Brazilian food company that exports
frozen poultry to Europe.
MST’s subsequent actions, however, have opened up different possibilities
and shaped more diverse forms of agriculture.
João Rockett, a self-educated agronomist who helped the MST produce organic seeds, has
argued that rejecting ‘chemical farming’ can produce social and environmental benefits :
For instance, we're cultivating three varieties of wheat one that's good for noodles, another
for bread and another for biscuits. The other day a settler came back with an old variety of
wheat that produces excellent straw for hats. Imagine a multinational company letting you
grow wheat for that ! But people love it. It fosters their sense of community.
This agenda for alternative agriculture is not defined by isolationist localisation : It is local
internationalist. Thus, Stédile notes how the MST is looking for support from Venezuela’s Bank for
Economic and Social Development for recovering ‘creole seeds’, which are adapted to local
conditions, rather than the uniform transgenic varieties promoted through transnational
MST has also been prominent in the international peasant movement, Via Campesina.
To see localisation strategies as isolated from different struggles and political projects is problematic;
it is necessary to consider how these can be co-constituted through the struggles and political
projects that make up subaltern forms of globalisation.
Connections between movements do not, however, necessarily produce smooth, consensual
alliances. Even when acting in solidarity, different movements have different ways of connecting
localisation and global practices. This is evident in the alliance formed between the MST and
Confédération Paysanne in opposition to transgenic seeds. José Bové of Confédération Paysanne and
Stédile of the MST offered markedly different ways of negotiating these geographies of power. Stédile
disagreed with Bové’s position of fighting the European Union’s farm subsidies on the grounds of their
distorting international trade to the detriment of developing countries”.
He argued that “the
problem is not the subsidies in Europe… but the lack of subsidies in Brazil and elsewhere”, and he
condemned “the transformation of food products into a simple tool for business and profits”.
There remain important questions, then, in relation to the ways in which these strategies of
localisation are seen as part of a transnational politics of solidarity and connection, or are related to
more bounded ways of seeing local or national politics. But, it is significant that political projects in
support of localisation can produce alternative, sustainable forms of globalisation rather than
opposing globalisation per se.
Bové argues for a valued locally-specific geography, that of his
Roquefort-producing region. How Bové differentiates his politics from other opposition to
globalisation, however, is instructive. He argues of “chauvinist” opponents of globalisation that “their
idea of sovereignty relates to the nation-state, and theirs is a selfish, frightened and irrational
response”. As an alternative, he argues for a “concept of sovereignty” which “enables people to think
for themselves, without any imposed model for agriculture or society, and to live in solidarity with
each other”. Further, he argues specifically against a fetishisation of the national or local. He argues
that the globalisation of trade must be counteracted on a world scale rather than on a narrow-minded
nation-state basis : “Nationalists worry about the mixing of races, whereas we welcome fair trade,
cultural exchange and solidarity; we stand for a dignified and free life under real democracy”.
This essay has outlined how new concerns about resource constraints and climate change enable
those fighting for global justice to begin to flesh out what an egalitarian and low carbon alternative to
neoliberal globalisation might look like. Localisation initially developed as a counter to the capacity of
transnational corporations to destroy places through relocating jobs and finance to cheaper, less
regulated places in the global South. Climate change suggests that the global justice movement still
needs to understand the ecocidal, as well as exploitative and socially regressive, nature of neoliberal
global capitalism. Thus, what originally developed as an argument against globalisation now becomes
more powerful given the reality of climate change and peak oil, as the neoliberal utopia of the
globally integrated economy built on cheap fuel and externalised emissions becomes untenable.
Resource constraints and the ability of the ecosystem to absorb the emissions of industrialisation
change the nature of the debate.
Dominant constructions of climate change politics continue to marginalise concerns of equity
and justice. Left critiques of localisation, as we have documented, have often seen localising practices
as antithetical to internationalist strategies and as isolated from questions of global justice and equity.
We have argued that this is a redundant and politically destructive critique. We have demonstrated
through the discussion of movements like MST that localising strategies can co-exist with
internationalist strategies and perspectives and be reworked and strengthened through relations with
such strategies. One of our convictions and hopes is that connections between the global justice and
climate change movements can shape a politics where a move towards more localisation need not be
xenophobic - and where localising strategies can be part of producing more equitable and sustainable
forms of globalisation. It is possible to combine political action in the local places where globalisation
is produced, and reproduced, with sustainable forms of transnational connection.
Peter North is Reader in Alternative Economies in the Department of Geography and Planning at the
University of Liverpool. He has a long-standing interest in social movements, utopias, and alternative
economic experiments counterpoised to neoliberal globalisation. He is the author of two books, as
well as a number of book chapters and journal articles, on alternative currency movements as a
challenge to globalisation; his book Money and Liberation : The micropolitics of alternative currency
movements (2007)
focuses on radical financial experiments in the UK, New Zealand, Hungary, and
Argentina, in historical perspective. His current research and activism focuses on climate change and
peak oil, and he is a founder member of Transition South Liverpool, working locally on climate
David Featherstone is Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Glasgow. He is the
author of Resistance, Space and Political Identities : The Making of Counter-Global Networks (Wiley-
Blackwell, 2008) and Solidarity : Hidden Histories and Geographies of Internationalism (Zed Books,
2012). His key theoretical and political concerns are with how solidarities and geographies of
connection between different place-based struggles can produce more equal and plural forms of
globalisation and internationalism. He has been involved in various campaigns and political
movements, including This Land is Ours and the successful mobilisations against Elsevier's links to the
arms’ trade.
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Dave has strong interests in the formation of transnational solidarity networks in both the past and present,
and has been involved in various campaigns over land rights. Pete has been involved with peace and socialist
groups since the 1980s, attended the Florence ESF, and has more recently worked within the green movement.
Dave is broadly more sympathetic to perspectives focussing on subaltern globalisations and international
solidarities, while for Pete, climate change and resource constraints mean we need to take localisation more
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Scott Cato 2006.
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Chang 2003, 2007
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See :
Contra the assertion of Desai and Said 2001.
New Economics Foundation, quoted by Woodin and Lucas 2004, p 69.
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Gorz, quoted by Frankel 1984, p 59.
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See de Sousa Santos 2006c.
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Ibid, p 35.
Ibid, p 148.
Harman 2007.
For example, see: or
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Trapese 2008.
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Featherstone 2008; Massey 2005.
Martinez-Alier 2002.
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Demeritt 2006.
Gandhi 1936, quoted by Lang and Hines 1993, p 28.
Bello 2002; Feffer 2002; Shiva 2005.
There is not the space here to engage with the important critiques of Gandhian politics for being hierarchical
and marginalising significant forms of subaltern political practice, see Chatterjee, 1984, Guha, 1997. For some of
the tensions of the KRRS’s politics and their ambiguous relations to the uneven power relations of the villages
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Dinerstein 2007.
See :
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Herman and Kuper 2003, pp 106-107.
Stédile 2007, p 198.
MST 2001.
Rocha 2002.
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Stédile 2007, p 214.
Osava 2001.
Osava 2001; see also Stédile 2004, p 434.
See Massey 2005.
Bové and Dufour 2001, p 159; see also Massey 2005, pp 169-172.