Start Geo Dictionary | Overview | Topics | Groups | Categories | Bookmark this page.
geology dictionary - geography encyclopedia  
Full text search :        
   A   B   C   D   E   F   G   H   I   J   K   L   M   N   O   P   Q   R   S   T   U   V   W   X   Y   Z   #   




  In lay terms, a place or region of sub-national spatial scale. Despite, or perhaps because of, considerable debate about the concept, there is no consensus concerning its technical meaning within human geography. The origins of the debate lie in attempts in the 1980s to explain the restructuring of economies and their spatial structures. At a time of significant transformations in the human geography of the UK, Urry (1981) and Massey (1984) argued that an understanding of spatial variations in social, political and economic change was particularly important (see also Massey, 1991).

The UK Government\'s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) translated this concern into substantive research programmes: the \'Changing Urban and Regional System\' initiative (CURS), the \'Social Change and Economic Life\' initiative (SCELI), and the \'Economic Restructuring, Social Change and the Locality\' programme. At the centre of each was a series of studies of the impact of restructuring on particular places or regions. A key concern of these \'locality studies\' was to collect detailed empirical evidence to assist the identification of the nature, causes and consequences of spatial differentiation in processes of change.

As well as substantive results (Dickens, 1988; Cooke, 1989a; Bagguley et al., 1990; Beynon et al., 1994), this research effort raised a series of methodological and theoretical issues which became bound up with wider debates:

The delimitation of localities for research. Despite extensive deliberations on the nature of localities, many studies have in practice used (statistically defined) local labour market areas. By contrast, Massey (1991) argues that \'localities are not simply spatial areas you can easily draw a line around\' but should be \'defined in terms of the sets of social relations or processes in question\'. Savage et al. (1987) claim to have adopted this sort of approach in defining the localities for the Economic Restructuring, Social Change and the Locality programme.

The relationship between locality research and critical realism. Many writers have explicitly or implicitly linked locality research to the epistemology of realism (e.g. Urry, 1987; Duncan, 1989). From this perspective: (i) localities are the concrete outcome of the contingent combination in particular places of a number of causal processes; (ii) localities may become causally powerful social objects in their own right, with effects on wider processes (e.g. by influencing state policy or the locational decisions of firms); and (iii) locality studies are exercises in intensive research which seek to unravel these processes and hence to identify through abstraction the necessary relations which define social structures (Sayer, 1984). Sayer himself, however, has objected to the ways in which some protagonists in the debate have mistakenly conflated the distinctions of realist philosophy (Sayer, 1991).

The theoretical status of the concept of locality. According to Cooke (1989b, p. 12), \'locality is a concept attaching to a process characteristic of modernity, namely the extension, following political struggle, of civil, political and social rights of citizenship to individuals\'. Since there are considerable differences between apparently similarly constituted localities, Cooke argues that this link with citizenship forms a basis for local \'pro-activity\', with localities \'actively involved in their own transformation\' (Cooke, 1989c, p. 296).

Despite the stress on citizenship, this formulation leaves unclear the relationship between human agency and the pro-activity of localities. Cooke asserts that \'localities are not simply places or even communities: they are the sum of social energy and agency resulting from the clustering of diverse individuals, groups and social interests in space\' (Cooke, 1989c, p. 296). However, the heterogeneous character of this clustering casts doubt on the possibility of grounding pro-activity in a notion of universal citizenship, and in practice Cooke reduces pro-activity to the policies of the local state.

Duncan, Savage and their co-workers regard the idea that localities are pro-active, causally powerful objects as a worrying return to spatial fetishism. They argue that while social processes vary spatially, and are sometimes constituted at the local scale, unique \'locality effects\' (such as local political cultures) are extremely unusual (Savage et al., 1987, p. 32). This scepticism leads them to abandon the concept in favour of an existing vocabulary of spatial variation: \'most of the time, instead of writing about “locality” researchers should more simply talk about “case study areas”, “towns”, “labour market areas”, or just “areas”, “places” and “spatial variations”\' (Duncan and Savage, 1989, p. 192).

Cox and Mair (1991) retain the concept of locality, and like Cooke they argue that localities can have an impact on wider processes. Where they differ is in teasing out in detail the mechanisms through which this operates.

Although they have involved much dissent, these debates have largely been conducted among those engaged in locality studies or otherwise connected with the ESRC programmes. In addition, several writers who have not been directly involved in the empirical research projects have criticized this form of research from a variety of perspectives.

Smith (1987) argued that the \'empirical turn\' embodied in the locality studies of the late 1980s ran the risk of neglecting key theoretical and political issues. For Smith, the localities approach seemed to be generating vast amounts of detailed descriptive information on local areas without the necessary conceptual tools to provide explanation and generalization. He also suggested that the significance of the local scale was being assumed, rather than demonstrated theoretically. Although not all critics of the locality idea would endorse Smith\'s apparent equation of theory with generalization, his reminder about the importance of conceptualization was timely, and subsequent developments paid much more attention to the theoretical status of the locality concept.

Through a study of Poplar in the 1920s, Rose (1989) argues that the theoretical contributions of locality studies have been compromised by their stress on the sphere of waged labour. The radical politics of 1920s Poplar, she suggests, were largely constituted outside the workplace in the home and the community. Jackson (1991) develops this line of argument through his \'cultural critique of locality studies\'. He suggests that, notwithstanding frequent references to local cultures and regional traditions, most studies have failed adequately to theorize cultural relations.

By the early 1990s, with the ending of the formal research programmes, the locality concept appeared much less frequently in the research literature. In reflecting on what had by then become known as the \'locality debate\', several authors have argued that, with hindsight, the vehemence and occasional acrimony of the discussions appear rather out of proportion to the conceptual developments generated. One effect seems to have been to encourage others to avoid using the term \'locality\' in favour of other formulations that may be less contentious and \'loaded\'. Two developments during the 1990s may be noted:

A much stronger emphasis on relational and networked concepts of locality and on the links between localities and other spatial scales. Insisting that a focus on localities need not be parochial, Massey (1993) argues that localities should not be seen as coherent entities with tightly drawn boundaries around them, but as \'nets of social relations\' (p. 148) and that \'localities [ … ] are always provisional, always in the process of being made, always contested\' (p. 149). The idea of localities as constituted through networks of social relations is developed even more explicitly by Murdoch and Marsden (1995) who draw on actor-network theory to suggest that \'localities should be seen as constituted by various networks operating a different scales (p. 368), and that \'localities can now be examined as implicated in sets of cross-cutting networks of relations. They have no single pre-given identity but are tied into wider (i.e. non-local) processes in a multitude of differing ways\' (p. 370).

The translation of many of the issues highlighted by the localities debate into new conceptual frameworks. For example, the upsurge of interest in globalization during the 1990s has involved a recasting of the issue of local specificity in terms of global-local relations, while the further development of cultural geography has seen increasingly sophisticated treatments of the relationships between politics, place and Identity (May, 1996). (JP)

References Bagguley, P., Mark-Lawson, J., Shapiro, D., Urry, J., Walby, S. and Warde, A. 1990: Restructuring: place, class and gender. London: Sage. Beynon, H., Hudson, R. and Sadler, D. 1994: A place called Teesside: a locality in a global economy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Cooke, P., ed., 1989a: Localities: the changing face of urban Britain. London: Unwin Hyman; Cooke, P. 1989b: Locality, economic restructuring and world development. In P. Cooke, ed., Localities: the changing face of urban Britain. London: Unwin Hyman, 1-44. Cooke, P. 1989c: The local question — revival or survival? In P. Cooke, ed., Localities: the changing face of urban Britain. London: Unwin Hyman, 296-306. Cox, K. and Mair, A. 1991: From localised social structures to localities as agents. Environment and Planning A 23: 197-213. Dickens, P. 1988: One nation? Social change and the politics of locality. London: Pluto Press. Duncan, S. 1989: What is locality? In R. Peet and N. Thrift, eds, New models in geography, vol. 2. London: Unwin Hyman, 221-52. Duncan, S. and Savage, M. 1989: Space, scale and locality. Antipode 21: 179-206. Jackson, P. 1991: Mapping meanings: a cultural critique of locality studies. Environment and Planning A 23: 215-28. Massey, D. 1984: Spatial divisions of labour. London: Macmillan. Massey, D. 1991: The political place of locality studies. Environment and Planning A 23: 267-81. Massey, D. 1993: Questions of locality. Geography 78: 142-9. May, J. 1996: Globalization and the politics of place: place and identity in an inner London neighbourhood. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 21: 194-215. Murdoch, J. and Marsden, T. 1995: The spatialization of politics: local and national actor-spaces in environmental conflict. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 20: 368-80. Rose, G. 1989: Locality studies and waged labour: an historical critique. Transactions, Institute of British Geographers NS 14: 317-28. Savage, M., Barlow, J., Duncan, S. and Saunders, P. 1987: \'Locality research\': the Sussex programme on Economic Restructuring, Social Change and the Locality. Quarterly Journal of Social Affairs 4: 27-51. Sayer, A. 1984: Method in social science: a realist approach. London: Hutchinson. Sayer, A. 1991: Behind the locality debate: deconstructing geography\'s dualisms. Environment and Planning A 23: 283-308. Smith, N. 1987: Dangers of the empirical turn: some comments on the CURS initiative. Antipode 19: 59-66. Urry, J. 1981: Localities, regions and social class. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 5: 455-74. Urry, J. 1987: Society, space and locality. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 5: 435-44.

Suggested Reading Cooke (1989a, b and c); Environment and Planning A 1991: Special issue on new perspectives on the locality debate. Environment and Planning A 23 (2). Massey (1993). Peet, R. 1998: Modern geographical thought. Oxford: Blackwell, 180-93.



Bookmark this page:



<< former term
next term >>


Other Terms : migration | leisure | consumption, geography of
Home |  Add new article  |  Your List |  Tools |  Become an Editor |  Tell a Friend |  Links |  Awards |  Testimonials |  Press |  News |  About
Copyright ©2009 GeoDZ. All rights reserved.  Terms of Use  |  Privacy Policy  |  Contact Us