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Saturday, 5 June 2010

9. People Swarms

People swarms is a phrase used by Alan Finlayson and James Martin in their contribution to the Localopolis pamphlet. They describe:
...a 21st Century participatory politics taking place in unpredictable forms as people "swarm" together to deal with a cause or problem and then dissipate or move on to the next one.
The idea seems both simple and strange. To really understand it you have to get to grips with the working assumptions that sit beneath it. These assumptions (which come from the poststructural end of social theory) include the following ideas: 
  • The world of local governance is a very complex and shifting place
  • 'Power' is not something that can be found in any particular place, instead it exists in the relationships between people and organisations (an idea very much associated with the work of Foucault)
  • Sovereignty does not reside in any one place, and is not the property of any specific locality or identity
All of this means that we are working in a very weird environment. According to Finlayson and Martin: 
In reality local government is just one nodal point in a complex network of interrelating elements each of different intensities and moving at different speeds. Governance is not structured, it is not static and it has no fixed or orderly lines through which power is transmitted.
Also, governance is both 'local' and 'international' and people are interested in both. Modern communications make it possible for people to belong to communities at all levels. Add to this the idea that power can be found in many different places, and we have a very difficult challenge for 'local' government if it sees its role as one of control.

The natural conclusion from all of this is that local democracy needs to be as fluid as the world it exists in.

Finlayson and Martin also reflect on the role of the local authority worker in the world of people swarms:
As initiators or managers of unpredictable forms of political organisation and action we might call them "political entrepreneurs" or "community partners". Then again we could just call them "citizens".
I was reminded of this idea when reading this post from Carl Haggerty this week. He comes to a similar place although from an different angle.

Haggerty argues that technological change, financial pressures and a push for more citizen involvement will drive us in any case towards this fluid form of local governance. Local government itself will itself be more of a concept than a real institution. He says: 
So we could get to a situation ...where the only aspect of local government which is truly local is the actual service delivery and decision making. The organisation behind it all could well be a mix of local, regional, national and cloud based services all supporting an individual worker (who may not actually be employed by the council) to deliver a service to someone in a community.
Like Finlayson and Martin, Haggerty's vision has only one constant - the people at the heart of local governance. People that will be able to swarm around the policy issues that interest and inspire them.  People served by a fluid mix of local, national and international support systems.

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