Local discourse and global competition: production experiences in family workshops of the Brianza


One of the most important consequences of post‐Fordist global restructuring has been the ‘deterritorialization’ of capital and its increasing geographic expansion. Another and quite different view emphasizes the fact that capitalist activity can be organized by means of localized or territorially based systems of specialized production. In this article my purpose is to show how these two disciplinary discourses are actually not mutually exclusive. Developed local economies are not immune from concerns of deterritorialization, nor should their economic achievement gloss over the glitches that are emerging at the local level due to stiffer global competition. These two aspects become immediately apparent as I illustrate the local discourse that emerges among workshop owners within an industrial district of the Brianza in the Italian region of Lombardy. After a discussion about the origin and the characteristics of this regional economy, I illustrate by way of ethnographic examples how innovation and competitiveness within and outside this industrial district mask forms of exploitation and contradictions amidst family‐run workshops. In discursive terms, exploitation is articulated in various ways, but two in particular seem to be most recurrent in the narrative of small entrepreneurs of this region. One is the ideology of ‘hard work’ and the other, more recently heard of, is the ideology of ‘high quality product’. In the brief concluding section I will stress the point that these two discourses emerging from exploitative social relations of production are to be viewed as responses to the concerns regarding the possible deterritorialization of some factories and the increasing competition with crossboundary markets.