When Dave Briggs asks ‘how close is local?’ on the Local Democracy blog, he asks a very important question about democracy. If democracy is to be the rule of the the people, asking ‘how close is local?’ is asking the perennial question of democracy: which people? Knowing who is governed is as important as knowing that those people govern themselves.
Our democracy is stratified like a company organisational chart. A simplistic drawing would show Government at the top and parish councils at the bottom and a myriad of other organisations with decision-marking powers over any number of areas of our daily lives arranged on the intervening levels. An upper tier has a more inclusive scope than a lower tier and roles and responsibilities are appropriately distributed according to scale and competence.
Well, that’s the textbook anyway.
Dave’s post to LD highlights the problem with that model and the institutions and relations conditioned in practice. Locality is as fluid as other post-modern political problems such as community and identity. Localities dependency is perspective and there are many perspectives.
So how do we get away from institutions, or ‘structures’ as Dave said, that are out of perspective with locality, community and identity? Well, as a good post-structuralist and radical democrat I’m not disappointed by exploring that dependency. A broad and rich body of research exists exploring precisely this area of political geography. Indeed, this theme was central to my papers in ‘Hacking the Networked Society’. ‘Who governs in a networked society’ explored precisely this growing disjuncture between institutions and governmental frameworks in our contemporary networked society.
Many boosters talk up the potential of new media in its self to engender new forms of political communications which will have meaning at any / all different tiers of locality. I’d say that is simply twittering round the edges, a confusion of quantitative changes, i.e. more engagement, and qualitative changes, i.e. new / different modes of engagement.
Dave’s general point about linkages still stands however. Stronger and meaningful relationships between ‘the people’ and ‘the people when they govern’ need to replace those tried and tired tiered relationships of our contemporary democratic settlement.