Bringing Democracy Back Home: Community Localism and the Domestication of Political Space

Quintin Bradley

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Bradley, Q. (1). Bringing Democracy Back Home: Community Localism and the Domestication of Political Space. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 32(4), 642–657.

Community , Localism , Participation , Performativity , Place , Scale

Strategies of localism have constituted the community as a metaphor for democracy and empowerment as part of a wider reordering of state institutions and state power. In conflating the smallest scale with increased participation, however, community localism provides a framework through which the power of sociospatial positioning might be made vulnerable to resistance and change. This paper identifies four spatial practices through which marginalised communities apply the technology of localism to challenge the limitations of their positioning and imprint promises of empowerment and democracy on space. Drawing on the work of Judith Butler, the paper theorises these practices as the incursion into the public realm of regulatory norms related to domestic and private spaces, rendering political space familiar and malleable, and suggesting that power and decision making can be brought within reach. It is argued that these spatial practices of community rehearse a more fundamental transformation of the political ordering of space than that authorised by the state strategies of localism.

Main finding
The author identifies four performative, spatial practices demonstrated by a community tenant organization's management of their housing services. The spatial practice are: 1) extending domestic space to promote interactions and ethics of care, 2) constructing place as participation by bringing decision making into the rhythms of everyday life, 3) rooting power in domesticity which explicitly admits antagonism and conflict that enables decisions to be dealt with during unmediated encounters, and 4) bringing democracy back home. To the last point, social housing tenants are weakly networked at the national level and the community organization's participatory democracy of 'nearness' seemingly precludes a role for hierarchical or authoritarian national organizations.

Description of method used in the article
The article looked at England's coalition government's Localism Act 2011 (which authorizes an enacted democracy and citizenship) to study strategies of localism at the scale of community organizations. The author studied community organizations in England that manage public and semi-public housing services and conducted focus groups and interviews with 151 community activists in social housing. The focus group narratives were analyzed through the lenses of Judith Butler's feminist and queer theory and Lefebvre's production of space.

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