Economic Insurgency – paper for the Future Cities 2011 conference

Graham Symon and I have had an abstract accepted for a paper we will present at the Future Cities 2011 conference, being held in London on 15th & 16th December this year.  The paper builds on an idea that came from some work  on localism we were doing earlier in the year for the Economic Development Resource Centre, in which we suggested that an economic insurgency was one potential outcome of a radical localism in economic development.  The full abstract is below:

How low can it go?  The devolution of economic development and the possibility of economic insurgency

This presentation provides a critique of the UK Government’s policies and plans for devolving economic development processes from the regional to the local and neighbourhood levels.  Drawing on economic development theory and experiences from Europe, Latin America, the United States and Japan, radical approaches to economic development are reviewed that suggest possibilities for innovative approaches to the problems of economic development in the cities of the UK.

International examples show that alternative models are available for growing the economies of our cities and towns that have the character of a challenging, bottom-up insurgency – a stark contrast to the conservative models of growth being offered by the new Local Enterprise Partnerships and Government departments[1].  In an economic insurgency, traditional, hierarchical institutions and frameworks come under attack from below as new economies take shape and start to re-shape places from within.  

Following the financial crisis of 2008, Western governments have struggled to develop consistently successful responses to stimulating sustainable growth in post-crash economies[2].  In the UK, the Government’s ‘local growth’ white paper appeared to promote a return to pre-crash methods of top-down economic development with an increased role for the private sector, despite the rhetorical references to a ‘new localism’[3] and economic ideas of subsidiarity and sustainability.[4] However, despite these contradictions, recent Government espousals have the potential to create an environment in which more radical approaches to economic development are becoming possible.  This presentation argues that an economic insurgency is a necessary next step in local economic development in the UK.


[1] Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (2010) Local Growth,London: HMSO

[2] Florida, R. (2010) The Great Reset: how new ways of living and working drive post-crash prosperity, New York: Harper Collins

[3] Bentley, G., Bailley, D. & Shutt, J. (2010) From RDAs to LEPs: A New Localism? Case Examples of West Midlands and Yorkshire in Local Economy, Vol. 25, No.7, pp. 535-537

[4] Schumacher, E.F. (1973/1993) Small is beautiful: a study of economics as if people mattered,London: Vintage

3 comments

  1. This is the first occasion that I’ve seen or heard a different approach to regeneration being mooted. Your perspective takes account of the social and technological changes that are evident across the world and characterised by movements or causes like Anonymous and Zeitgeist.

    I commend you for your foresight!

    Keep up the good work.

  2. I’d like to hear more about economic insurgency… ground-up alternative models? Examples of what I call JFDI urbanism maybe?

    I think localism offers opportunities for invention and innovation and for people-centred economic development – but the challenge is to enable this to happen without a growing inequality between those who grasp the opportunity and those who for whatever reason are not able to.

  3. @mike – thanks for the positive feedback. Yes, as this work develops, I’d like to see it draw on models of organisation and self-organisation from those kinds of groups – it will be challenging to do this and to keep focused on the ‘realities’ of place-based interventions. I think there is a really big challange in the new localism, to redifine local alongside / outside of the imposition of local boundaries my local authorities and government.

    @julian – thanks for the comment and yes, I think there are clear links to your JDFI persppective. I agre on inequality, but I think the question is not ‘could this promote inequality’, as we havent yet been given a set of tools that doesn’t carry this risk, but ‘what inequalities could this promote and how can we manage them’. I hope that as this resaerch develops we’ll grapple with this question – if we don’t then we’ll struggle to develop any practical tools for economic insurgency at all.

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