Monday, November 29, 2010

"Hyper localism"

#alttext#This is a buzzword I've encountered a few times lately, usually in a negative sense as a modern version of "parochial". On the other end of the scale is of course "national" and with it the idea that everything within a particular country or nation is, or should be made, uniform.

These have come up in conversations over the last while with a variety of people, with most folk I've talked to agreeing (in our own context) that:
- the province of Ulster has a distinct character,
- within it each county has a distinct character (but probably not strictly contained within the blunt county boundaries)
- then to go another level down things get more interesting, as there are areas within the counties which in turn have different characters. In many cases these are based around local market towns, with the surrounding rural communities tending to gravitate towards one town rather than another. Stories, traditions, folk customs, social activities, commercial life then all circulate within these communities, and into and out from their main market town. Look at your own county - I'm sure you could think of 4 or 5 market towns to which this applies.

Over recent years there have been moves to oppose the "globalism" which has reduced every high street to a bland uniformity of brand names and shopfitting styles. Similar problems arise when the UK is assumed to be all the same, or that the island of Ireland is all the same, or even that every county within Ulster (presently 9, but I'm told that this has varied over the centuries) or Northern Ireland (6) is the same... and some even deny that each county has variety within it.

What about cities?
Cities break down like this as well; one PhD I recently spoke to said that when he was a boy in Belfast there were detectably different accents even within the clusters of streets where he grew up. There's a good post here at The Resurgence of how cities influence culture. I think that's fair enough to a certain extent. But 95% of Northern Ireland is rural, with a high proportion of employment in the cities taken up by people who commute in from the country or the satellite market towns. Many urban or suburban folk in Northern Ireland, when they trace their ancestry, are only 2 or 3 generations away from farmers. Pumping stuff out of the city into the country doesn't pay due regard or respect to rural ways, or acknowledge the richness of country traditions, or preserve a sense of rural and market town community.

Rural life is a key element of Northern Ireland's character and culture, but it varies greatly - flat uniformity just doesn't exist. Regional, and local, variety is what exists, and it should be acknowledged, encouraged and celebrated.

(pic above is of a "hoodie" very similar to the ones which I saw for sale in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Café in Axminster during the summer)


Patrick Corrigan said...

Of course, there's also the trend towards 'hyperlocal' blogs as discussed recently at PiCamp. See iced cofee blog for more: