From local consciousness to global change: asserting power at the local scale


The protests that took place at the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, Washington, in late 1999 (and the series of similar, subsequent protests around the globe) have marked a new phase in the struggle for social justice. One approach to understanding the demonstrations is to view the activists as protesting what they perceive to be their lack of control– over the conditions of their economies, environments, lives and communities. In association with such protests, discontent has also been manifest through the efforts of local–scale actors to confront a `spaceless and timeless globalization’ by pursuing strategies to assert power over local conditions at the local scale. Using the United States as an example, this article examines such local scale efforts in relation to international political economic changes and after–Fordist urban political restructuring. It explores three ways groups or individuals attempt to pursue local economic development within a liberal democratic capitalist system without compromising the equally important goals of justice and equity: (1) local ownership; (2) local regulation; and (3) local market development. The argument put forward in this article is that, while after–Fordist scalar restructuring represents a strategic effort by capital to gain power over and opportunity for capital accumulation, it may also present new opportunities for social justice activism at the local scale, provided local scale actors can develop and mobilize a consciousness of justice and a multi–scalar understanding of place, and can utilize the politics of scale by linking together similar projects across scalar divisions.