Small Towns, Austere Times: the dialectics of deracinated localism

Hanson, Steven. 2013. Small Towns, Austere Times: the dialectics of deracinated localism. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

No full text available
[img] Text (Small Towns, Austere Times: the dialectics of deracinated localism)
SOC_thesis_Hanson-2013.pdf - Accepted Version
Permissions: Administrator Access Only

Download (5MB)

Abstract or Description

This thesis explores the concept of ‘deracinated localism’, as a big, dialectical, conceptual frame, in order to think through small towns - and community research - in a period of economic downturn, using the northwestern post-industrial town of Todmorden as an example. It is an ethnographic study. The thesis examines how small towns have been viewed as erroneously contained units, in terms of how the historical literature of community studies approached them, but also in terms of how declarations of particular kinds of localism emerge from ‘holistic’ community groups on the ground in Todmorden. This thesis argues, by spending time with - for instance - those practicing informal economies in a post- industrial context, that these rhetorical, ‘ways of life’ forms of community tend to over-write and eclipse particular ‘ways of being’, which are characterised by ‘getting by’, and are produced by relatively weak flows of capital, through an area some distance from metropolitan centres. It also argues that a particular kind of ‘degentrification’ is being symbolically enacted here, as the expansion of the middle classes slows, although this ‘degentrification’ is coupled with a symbolic attempt to gain access to resources and agency. In this there is a sense that class divisions have been both preserved and overcome in Todmorden, as the advocates of a spiritualised rustic production incubate classed disgust in their discourses, and working class groups resist this with ambivalence. At the same time, very complicated class narratives emerge from - for instance- those practicing informal economies, which are neither straightforward nor simplistically binary (i.e. ‘working or middle class’).

A further dimension of this thesis is the fact that the site of study is the author’s ‘home town’ - although this is not straightforward either - and so the methodological issues around ethics, biography, autoethnography, reflexivity, the familiar and strange, private troubles and public issues, are explored in relation to the ethnographic work carried out. Drawing on interviews, participant observation and visual archives, it also works through the key paradigms of the rural and urban, provincialism, race and racism - including extreme fascism - asian community politics, gender, sexuality and moral communities, in order to build a picture of an opened-out small town, which is both provincial and transnational. These contradictory complexes generated my key framing idea of ‘deracinated localism’, via which we might think through the tangles of global flows, and more symbolically entrenched, older forms of community, which still exist, essentially as traces of the older industrial period. Other forms of community politics and conflict are explored, for instance supermarketisation, in order to further place Todmorden as just another global node in a globalised field, at the same time as inwardly, most of the community networks here attempt forms of symbolic resistance to the divorce of global power and local politics, a divorce which is too vast to be seen ‘in the local’, and yet constructs and re-constructs it every day. These forms of resistance are often not clearly understood from within, but instinctively applied, and an underlying purity and toxicity discourse emerged throughout the research, as various individuals and groups attempted to impossibly bracket themselves apart from each other, and from this unseen global power, on a small-scale local landscape which is reproduced and therefore framed by these larger, global flows.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


Community, dialectics, class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, urban, rural

Departments, Centres and Research Units:




Item ID:


Date Deposited:

21 Jan 2014 13:27

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 08:56


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)