Community Futures & Localism

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Community futures and localism

The healthy social life is found
when in the mirror of each human soul
the whole community finds its reflection,
and when in the community
the virtue of each one is living
- Rudolf Steiner (1961)

Today much time and energy gets spent by corporations and Government agencies in strategic planning and futuring exercises. Too often communities are left out or at best used as fodder in this process. Seldom is it that we find the concept of what we call 'localism' (or community spirit/togetherness) respected and encouraged. Rather 'corporations' tend to dominate discussion, planning and resourcing. Historically though communities provide a sense of belonging. 

This article is dedicated to those of us trying to reclaim a coherent future with our children and draws from the localist view heritage 'from the local level up' using the motto: 
perceive newly, think globally, act locally and respond personally

A dilemma for communities

How is it that, even with the 'triumph' of capitalism, as we approach the 21st century all around us there is manifest disintegration evidenced in demographic, environmental and social stress? Overall it seems we need to reconnect with one another and Gaia in a spiritual way and then to develop a consistent and interlinked social, political and economic strategies. Maybe as a key step we need Community* Futures that draw from a new type of Localist Economics. One that continues to value the market yet blends it with appropriate scale (Ghandism) and equity (Marxism) � I call this melding Mutual Aid Anarchism.

Nor should we forget the interlinking between 'profit' and ' prophet' ie. between everyday and spiritual ways of understanding. This is the interlinking of the mundane and the spiritual. Here spirituality is seen as constituting the very life substance of humanity rather than some escapist 'pie in the sky'. Indeed in my opinion all spiritual paths of substance have an economic 'localism' perspective, for example Buddhist economics, Islamic finance, Steiner and The Three Fold Path (inc. economics - ethical finance and biodynamic farming) and Ananda Marga and PROUT (see Sarkar (1988). 

Localism - a postmodern assurance
of cultural diversity?

In a cultural/ sociological context 'community' needs to be seen as 'localism'. In many parts of our world today, small communities and cultures continue to struggle for the right to assert their identity. Local identity then may be seen as an act of resistance may be seen as historically produced and strategically re negotiated by those who claim it.

This raises issues of authority and authenticity, not only for those who claim local identity for themselves e.g. indigenous peoples, and also for those who seek to research such identity for other audiences. Indeed at least three quarters of the world�s communities are not textual so that communities offer almost a last resource of cultural diversity. We argue maintaining such cultural/community diversity is as important as genetic diversity. Ultimately community understood in the sociological sense of localism lives as a challenge to those who seek to replace local diversity with 'globalised homogeneity'.

'Localism,' maybe defined, after Nadel-Klein is: 
the representation of group identity as defined primarily by a sense of commitment to a particular place and to a set of cultural practices that are self-consciously articulated, and to some degree separated and directed away from, the surrounding socio-economic world. (adapted)

Embedded in this definition of localism are the following key philosophical elements:

1. The local community seeks through resistance to the dominant culture e.g. against 'globalism', to generate its own indigenous sense of meaning and relationship through 'specialness of place, people and flora and fauna'.

2. In turn this quest for local meaning raises the issues of learning and knowledge in its local manifestations and its relationship to the local conversation i.e. local voices as ways of talking and knowing.

3. The development and expression of this process will need to engage orality and literacy often this includes expression through mythology within a context of localism e.g. environmental sustainability (eg. indigenous wisdom, permaculture and bioregionalism), local festivals, celebrations and traditions. 

4. The embededness in localism of the recognition of the importance of socio-economic struggle for identity. This is where the role of alternative economics comes in i.e. 'small is beautiful' really starts to bite.

5. The philosophical validity, in post-modern terms, of valuing 'the local' yet as 'other'.

The result of conventional development processes is a kind of cannibalism, which represents in the minds of many popular writers at least, the drowning out or consumption of local voices in a cacophony of blaring television sets, humming fax machines and the flickering screens of the world wide web. All tuned to the same station. To accept this view uncritically would be to take at face value Anthony Cohen's statement that 'locality is 'other' and is an anathema to the logic of the modern political economy'. 

What is emerging in this paper is that localism points to the need for another way of organising democratic civil society, possibly a localist, federalist, even communitarian one. One that can move beyond the end of the Nation State meta-narrative in ways that celebrate the peripheral. One that transcends the present unsustainable corporatist system and seeks to combine aspects of Gandhism, Marxism, and market efficiency in a process of engaging a sustainable future through continual action-oriented learning through community participation. 

Localism an effective challenge to Globalism

So when localism is combined with a community responsive approach to 'community' an effective alternative to globalism can emerge. Localism is the stuff of recent movies such as Brave Heart, Rob Roy even Star Wars has shades of a cosmic localism. Just as globalism has its dark side so to does localism such as in the ethnic localist violence in what was the USSR. Clearly localism has to have a globalist ethic/spirituality - simultaneous love of place as part of Gaia i.e. local/global.

Often indigenous struggles for land rights are conceived in localist terms, for instance a birth link to place i.e.. the sacredness/ spirit of place. In this paper Localism means a combination of specialness of place and self-reliant, self-organising yet globally responsive social initiatives in the area of economics, education, health, art and science within the context of a spiritual awareness.

Localism and learning

Communities can be seen as a form of organisation (as indeed can corporations and Government Departments). With New Physics and the learning organisation we have the emergence of the 'New Learning Community' which actively seeks to use Chaos theory in community organisation. Indeed corporations are now being centred around the idea of a 'caring and sharing' community ethic. Such an approach requires the ability to embrace diversity and creative disagreement i.e.. harmonise diversity rather than centralise uniformity. 

According to Senge this includes developing:
1 Vision and ultimately a shared vision, 
2 Personal mastery, demonstrated commitment to the vision
3 Metaphor for the community i.e.. our community is like a phoenix etc.
4 Ability to develop and nurture a shared metaphor/model to help 'make meaning' for this and other communities
5 Use of an open systems approach which while respecting global influences strongly asserts the importance of the local.

Localism as warning

Like all things there is a downside to localism that at the same time nevertheless reinforces its importance � ethnic violence. Over the past generation we have witnessed millions killed from local ethnic violence. And all while the world governance body i.e.. the United Nations looks on.

In my opinion the United Nations is largely discredited nowadays - taking all the major killing fields of the 90's (Africa, Europe, Asia) - the UN actually by its ineptitude has facilitated the deaths of as many people as were killed by Hitler in his gas chambers (in excess of 10 million). Even today Hitler would claim he never actually gave the order to kill the Jews. I believe we are actually close to the point with the UN where we achieve the direct opposite of what we set out to do 50 years ago when the UN was set up in the middle of last century. This is not to say the majority of the people in the UN are not well meaning however the runs on the board are going in the opposite direction to the rhetoric. 

NGO's need an alternative to the UN - and the NGO's recognise this. 

For me the debate is between a mutual aid anarchism and some form of central world government i.e. an alternative to the United Nations. Both of these views have echoes within Baba's work - possibly the latter the strongest. My personal political preferences are mutual aid anarchism - I simply don't trust the rich making judgments on which of the poor shall die. However this view has its limits as does a world government idea.

We could remember that to be relevant at all any such governance initiative we MUST be able to respond positively to the refugee living in a cave in East Timor whose partner has just been killed near the UN compound - just after the UN withdrew. When he says the UN has betrayed him - we all have.


In this sense provision for day to day needs becomes crucial as a melding force in bringing communities together. Whether this be a barter exchange, use of a local currency or a tomato from ones garden such exchanges help ensure the communities coherence and thus future. In a nutshell we call this Community Futures (CF). CF can be used to generate positive futures for communities through empowering a belief that alternatives to increasing internationalisation are inevitable. 

CF can do this through activities in the formal and informal economies, designed to set up local finance, start new businesses, keep existing ones going. Further CEF can help people find existing jobs, attract jobs, hold community celebrations, convert a couple of good ideas into practical projects, conduct study clubs to learn from experience. In all the above a link must be provided to the specialness of place, people and price - prerequisites for environmental sustainability. 

'the thrill of implementing inventions, 
experimenting new social arrangements, 
designing our futures as well as inventing them 
in solidarity with each other' 
Conrad Hopman 1997


All of this may impact no more than 20% of a community�s economic future, and as Rwanda, Boznia and East Timor have shown effective global governance is vital. In communities facing decline or loss of jobs overseas however, localism can help them learn to make the difference between sink or swim. Certainly in my experience it is that as the formal economy becomes more and more internationalised the criticality of 'localism' local/regional/community responses to its own futures, the role of Community Futures becomes crucial to our children's children's future. 


* For this paper 'community' may be seen as demographic entities of up to several thousand people who are committed to bottom-up democratic decision making processes which engage the 'whole person'. As such 'localism' generally implies geographic contiguity i.e.. specializes of place, people and price, however communities possibly can exist in 'cyberia' and around a 'political cause' or 'common interest'. 

About the author

Paul Wildman is a fellow in Futures Studies at The International Management Centre (IMC) Brisbane and lecturers in the areas of Organisational and Community Development and Futures Studies. He has spent the past 15 years working with communities in Australia and overseas in developing their own Community Futures visions and action plans. This has involved publishing a booklet and video series detailing 'how to' do the sorts of issues listed above. 

PO 74 Nundah
Brisbane 2480


Korten, D. (1995). When Corporations Rule the World. US: Berrett-Koehler Publishers and Kumarian Press.
MacLeod, G. (1991). Cheticamp - economic co-operation in the town of Cheticamp in Nova Scotia, Canada. Sydney, Tompkins Institute University College of Cape Breton. Video
Nadel-Klein, J. (1991). Reweaving the Fringe: Localism, Tradition, and Representation in British Ethnography. American Ethnologist. V18. Aug 1991. pp 500-517.
Sarkar, P. R. (1988). PROUT in a Nutshell: Part 13. Calcutta: A'ca'rya Piiyu's'nanda Avadhu'ta from Orient Press. 
Senge, P. (Ed.). (1993). The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: World Business Academy.
Wildman, P. (1993). It's Your Community, It's Your Economy: understanding the nuts and bolts of your community economy. Brisbane: Prosperity Press.
Wildman, P. (1996). Action Learning and Community Economic Development. In T. Carr (Ed.), Creative Applications of Action Learning and Action Research (pp. 102-117). Brisbane: ALARPM 

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