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Big Society, little justice? Community energy and the politics of localism?

Catney, P; MacGregor, S; Dobson, ANH; Hall, SM; Royston, S; Robinson, ZP; Ormerod, M; Ross, S

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S MacGregor

ANH Dobson

SM Hall

S Royston

S Ross


This paper challenges ‘Big Society (BS) Localism’, seeing it as an example of impoverished localist thinking which neglects social justice considerations. We do this through a critical examination of recent turns in the localist discourse in the UK which emphasise self-reliant communities and envisage a diminished role for the state. We establish a heuristic distinction between positive and negative approaches to localism. We argue that the Coalition Government’s Big Society programme fits with a negative localist frame as it starts from an ideological assumption that the state acts as a barrier to community-level associational activity and that it should play a minimal role. ‘BS localism’ (as we call it) has been influential over the making of social policy, but it also has implications for the achievement of environmental goals. We argue that this latest incarnation of localism is largely ineffective in solving problems requiring collective action because it neglects the important role that inequalities play in inhibiting the development of associational society. Drawing upon preliminary research being undertaken at the community scale, we argue that staking environmental policy success on the ability of local civil society to fill the gap left after state retrenchment runs the risk of no activity at all.

Acceptance Date Feb 8, 2013
Publication Date May 17, 2013
Journal Local Environment
Print ISSN 1354-9839
Publisher Routledge
Publisher URL


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