John M. Bryden 2010 Local Development, ch 23 in “The Human Economy, A Citizen’s Guide”, Edited by K. Hart. J.L. Laville and A.D. Cattani, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 2010
Publication Type: book
Length: pp 248-260
Abstract: The paper discusses the emergence of local development in two largely unrelated ways – opposition to growing state power and improvements to public management – with the latter dominating since the 1980s. A plethora of similar sounding concepts are used interchangeably but are not the same. The paper focuses on “self-reliant” development which represents an “alternative” path (“radical practice”), is grounded in different values (including an ethic that stresses harmonious and enduring relations between people and their physical environment, and a strong preference for non-hierarchical forms of social organization, such as small group and network structures) and contains a notion of a “human scale” (emphasizing local democratic, participatory and co-operative structures). The paper contrasts localism (localization) with globalism (globalization). It notes that the latter has led to a growing mobility of assets, especially capital, and consequently makes local communities exploit their less mobile assets, such as “place” related public goods. It presents a critique of the local development concepts and approaches and argues against the criticisms founded on the premise that local development lacks a strong theoretical basis. Instead, it comments favourably on starting not with theory, but by examining case studies of local and community development and then seeking to develop theory on the basis of practice, and finds that such an “inductive approach” recognizes the complex diversity of the real world. It notes that governments with a neo-liberal agendas have espoused local development and decentralization as part of “new public management”and claims that, for some, decentralization has gone hand-in-hand with, and even acted as a cloak for re-centralization, whilst for others, it is a way of saving central budgets by passing down responsibilities”. For yet others it has been an attempt to “capture” the radical agendas of self-reliance and local empowerment. All these present elements of an outline of what an agenda for “alternative” local development might look like when state-sponsored neo-liberalism is replaced by a post-liberal agenda. The paper goes on to offer a series of propositions on local development in a post-liberal world which, according to the author, combine a post-liberal approach of “radical practice” with “new public management”.
Review and comments: The paper’s starting point is that local development emanates from two approaches, which it treats as incompatible: opposition to the state and new public management. It notes and decries the dominance of the latter, which makes local development part of the neo-liberal agenda. Still it concludes with a new post-liberal synthesis of the contradictory approaches which retains elements of new public management whilst making “radical practice” the dominant one (economize in the use of critical resources, including water, nutrients, energy and space; encourage community ownership; etc). The paper offers a well informed, clear and robust outline of the main strands of thought regarding local development. However, it assumes axiomatically an incompatibility between the two fundamental perspectives of local development (“this political project is contradictory in both ideology and practice”), although it includes an abundance of evidence of their coexistence since the 1980s. Thus, the final “synthesis” it offers, although it places the managerial approach in a subordinate role, it will probably come as a surprise to those convinced of the contradictory nature of two approaches. Those who take a more pragmatic view will probably see it as a confirmation that whatever the motives behind it, local development contains values and methods from both approaches.