Assembling Newtown and Everyday Globalization31 March 2015
This week the WISERD blog is delighted to host a guest blog relating to the ‘Global Countryside: Rural Change and Development in Globalization (GLOBAL-RURAL)’ – a major research project funded by the European Research Council. This study aims to advance our understanding of the workings and impact of globalization in rural regions through the development and application of new conceptual and methodological approaches.
Globalization has a pervasive influence in transforming rural economies and societies, with implications for the major societal challenges of environmental change and resource security. However, in comparison to studies of the global city, relatively little research has focused on the ‘global countryside’, and existing research lacks integration.
GLOBAL-RURAL will develop an integrated perspective by drawing on relational analysis (and particularly the approaches of ‘assemblage theory’ and ‘countertopography’) to focus on the actual mechanics by which rural localities are ‘re-made’ through engagement with globalization processes, examining the mediating effect of national and regional context and the opportunity for local interventions.
Assembling Newtown is focused on part of the GLOBAL-RURAL project that will be undertaking a detailed study of ‘everyday globalization’ in the small Welsh town of Newtown. The blog reports thoughts and observations from the project’s research in the town, as well as news about how local people can participate in the research. Their first post, below, sets out the rationale and scope of the Newtown research
Studies of globalization tend to be attracted to the spectacular and the dramatic: places that have experienced mass migration, or the impacts of foreign investment or factory closures, or places that are sites for international tourism, finance capital, the destruction or conservation of nature. These studies often focus on how large scale processes are impacting people at the local level (e.g. in their workplaces or how they move around) or how global processes are reshaping the landscape in fundamental ways (e.g. the birth of the megacity) and have a distinctly urban emphasis. For example, think of a place of globalization and you’ll probably have an image of modern Shanghai or New York in your head. Yet for most rural localities the effects of globalization have been more subtle, more gradual, more mundane. As a result rural places, particularly in the so called developed world, have been relatively neglected in how we try to understand how and why the world is changing.
One of our starting points in our thinking about globalization is that we argue that globalization is not really a ‘thing’, a great big force that acts upon people and places. Instead we argue it is something that we experience, that changing relationships between finance and politics and technology and a complex bundle of other ‘things’ that connect places and people in multiple and varied ways leads to the experience of something that we characterise as ‘globalization’. But the way in which globalization is reproduced through local communities and the ways in which global influences, networks and processes are encountered, resisted, adapted and adopted does not produce what might be considered a homogenized world of sameness. Instead we live in a hybridized world, in which local and global elements are being fused together to create new goods, new practices, new places and new ways of living.
Part of the project seeks to map out and identify the ‘bundle of other things’ – what some call a counter-topography – in the ‘everyday globalizations’ through which people, places and practices are connected – whether in their similarities or their differences, whether within their neighbourhood or with the other side of the world, and what this tells us about changes in contemporary society and more particularly about contemporary rural society in a globalized world.
Rural areas are becoming increasingly globally connected through flows of people, goods, money, ideas and information. So taken as a complex ‘bundle of things’ we argue that globalization presents BOTH opportunities and challenges for community development, shaped by the local resources, capacities and actors in different rural areas.
However, at present we know relatively little about how globalization is actually changing everyday life in small rural towns, and how communities are responding. So as part of a broader project looking at the Global Countryside Aberystwyth University will be spending the next few years exploring Newtown, Powys – a small town in mid Wales, a town that in many ways has always been global.
‘Why Newtown?’ is the obvious question most people ask.
Well why not Newtown? Newtown, like most small rural towns, has been integrated into global (or at least international) networks of trade and culture for a very long time – in the case of Newtown most visibly through the mail order business of the Pryce Jones’ Royal Welsh Warehouse. Equally like most rural towns people have come – bringing new ideas and ways of doing things – and people have gone, often many times in one lifetime. This circulation of goods and people and ideas and the traces they leave behind have contributed to the particular character of the town. And in its long history Newtown has been connected in both beneficial and detrimental ways with economic markets and ideas from all over the world. For example, the flannel industry with which Newtown became synonymous relied on a combination of the old and the new and the near and the far – a traditional rough woolen cloth of the region combined with new technologies (mechanised carding mills) and better methods for moving goods (by water and rail) to and from the town, plus local skills and resources (workers and wool) and the resources of nearby places (the Brymbo Ironworks at Wrexham).
Newtown has also experienced the downside of those combinations, something that has happened repeatedly, as other places began to produce the same products in greater and greater quantities and fashions changed – leading to change in emphasis in what the town did and an ongoing opportunity to reinvent itself (an obvious example here being the 1968 Newtown Master Plan of the Mid Wales Development Corporation). So in someways Newtown is the archetypal global village. It is at once a typical small market town, albeit one with a strong emphasis on manufacturing, and at the same time, like every other place, it is totally and absolutely exceptional – a unique assemblage of events and people and ideas and structures that only occur here and can only occur here.
Slides from a presentation introducing the project’s research on everyday globalization in Newtown, given to an Institute of Welsh Politics / WISERD Understanding Wales seminar at Aberystwyth University are now available here.
About the Author: Dr Marc Welsh is a Postdoctoral Research Associate, based at Aberystwyth University. He is currently working on The Global Countryside: Rural Change and Development in Globalization (GLOBAL-RURAL) project. For the first two years of the project Marc is primarily working on Work Package 3, ‘A Countertopography of Everyday Globalization’ – which explores the practices and experiences of everyday globalization in a rural small town through an in-depth study of Newtown in mid Wales.