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Cuadernos del Centro de Estudios en Diseño y Comunicación. Ensayos

versión On-line ISSN 1853-3523

Cuad. Cent. Estud. Diseñ. Comun., Ensayos  no.73 Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires jul. 2019 


Cosmopolitan Localism: The Planetary Networking of Everyday Life in Place

Gideon Kossoff*  , lecturer

1 Dr. Gideon Kossoff is the coordinator and lecturer in the doctoral program at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Design. His research focuses on how the relationships between humans and between the natural environment, humans, and the built/designed world are the foundation for a sustainable society. Gideon holds a PhD in design from the University of Dundee, Scotland. His thesis was entitled “Holism and the Reconstitution of Everyday Life” through which he proposed Transition Design as a new approach to design. His argument is summarized in an essay-book “Grow Small, Think Beautiful,” edited by Stephan Harding and published by Floris.


La globalización está en la raíz de muchos problemas perversos en los que el localismo ha sido una respuesta común. Sin embargo, tales problemas suelen ser demasiado complejos e interconectados para ser resueltos al nivel de lo local. Además, si los estilos de vida futuros, basados en el lugar, y propugnados por el Diseño para la Transición han de ser de alta calidad, será necesario desarrollar formas de vida cotidiana auto-organizadas y conectadas a múltiples escalas: desde los hogares a los barrios, las ciudades, las regiones, y el planeta. Esta conexión simbiótica entre los diferentes niveles de la escala de la vida cotidiana, de lo local, al planeta como un todo, integraría dos tradiciones antiguas y distintas

-cosmopolitismo y localismo- y sería la base para un nuevo tipo de asentamiento social, cultural, político y económico, el Localismo Cosmopolita.

Key words: globalization; networks; localism; Cosmopolitan Localism; cosmopolitanism; self-organization; wicked problems; lifestyles; everyday life; Transition Design.


Globalization is at the root of many wicked problems to which localism has been a common response. However, such problems are usually too complex and interconnected to be resolved at the local level. Furthermore, if the future place-based lifestyles advocated by Transition Design are to be of high quality, it will be necessary to develop forms of everyday life that are self-organized and networked at multiple scales: from households through neighborhoods, cities, regions, and the planet. This symbiotic connection between different levels of scale of everyday life, from the local to the planet as a whole, would integrate two longstanding and distinct traditions -cosmopolitanism and localism- and would be the basis for a new kind of social, cultural, political and economic settlement, Cosmopolitan Localism.

Key words: globalization; networks; localism; Cosmopolitan Localism; cosmopolitanism; self-organization; wicked problems; lifestyles; everyday life; Transition Design.


A globalização está na raiz de muitos problemas perversos nos quais o localismo tem sido uma resposta comum. No entanto, tais problemas costumam ser complexos e interconectados para ser resolvidos ao nível local. Além, se os estilos de vida futuros, baseados no lugar, e propugnados pelo Design para a Transição serão de alta qualidade. Será necessário desenvolver formas de vida cotidiana auto organizadas e conectadas a múltiplas escalas: desde os lares aos bairros, as cidades, as regiões e o planeta. Esta conexão simbiótica entre os diferentes níveis da escala da vida cotidiana, do local, ao planeta como um todo, integraria dois tradicionais antigas e diferentes -cosmopolitismo e localismo- e seria a base para um novo tipo de assentamento social, cultural, político e econômico, o Localismo Cosmopolita.

Palavras chave: globalização; localismo; localismo cosmopolita; cosmopolitismo; auto organização; problemas perversos ou intrincados; estilos de vida; vida cotidiana; design para a transição.

Introduction: Cosmopolitan Localism as a Transition Design Strategy

If Transition Design aims to “reimagine and remake the human presence in the world,” as environmentalist David Orr (2002, p. 3) argues is necessary, it needs compelling visions of sustainable, long-term futures and a conceptual framework to guide tangible actions to realize these visions. This paper argues that the nascent concept of Cosmopolitan Localism (Manzini, 2011; Ramos, 2017; Sachs, 1999, Tonkinwise, 2015) needs to be developed so that it can inform powerful visions of futures in which entire lifestyles are reconceived to be more sustainable. Such visions can guide and assist solutioning in the present.

Cosmopolitan Localism is the theory and practice of inter-regional and planet-wide networking between place-based communities who share knowledge, technology, and resources. It offers a timely and powerful alternative to globalization: the planet-wide process through which human affairs -in particular, economies- become interconnected in ways that degrade ecosystems at a local and planetary level, undermine local communities and the social fabric, and erase cultural diversity (Cavanagh & Mander, 2004; Ritzer, 2010; Sachs, 1999). Cosmopolitan Localism suggests a new social, political, cultural, economic and technological “settlement” that could help address many of the 21st century’s wicked problems (Buchanan, 1995; Coyne, 200; Rittel & Webber, 1973). It also suggests that we do not have to choose between our immediate, geographically proximate community and the larger community of humanity. Indeed, we cannot afford to make this choice: the fate of humanity and planetary ecosystems are inextricably intertwined at the local and global level.

In a cosmopolitan-localist system, we can have attachments, commitments, loyalties, and a sense of belonging at multiple levels of scale: to our locales, other locales, and the planet as a whole. These locales would be the setting for rich, place-based lifestyles that are united and networked to address the complex issues of the 21st century through a spirit of cooperation, interdependence, and mutual learning. This vision of place-based, diverse lifestyles contrasts with globalization’s drive towards homogenization -its promotion of similar lifestyles, regardless of particular cultures, histories, and ecosystems (Sachs, 1999). Cosmopolitan Localism is situated within the visions area of the Transition Design framework (Irwin, 2015). It embodies a utopian sensibility in that it contrasts what could be with what is (a desirable future vs. the dysfunctional present) but it is not utopian in the sense that it is detached from reality, or that it depicts an impossible scenario: there are many indications that a “spirit of Cosmopolitan Localism” is emerging within the contemporary landscape. This is partly evidenced by the increasing number of initiatives and movements that challenge dominant forms of governance and business. These include social movements such as the World Social Forum, a global but decentralized network of non-governmental organizations and social activists collectively working towards alternatives to globalization (de Sousa Santos, 2006); emerging global networks of collaborating municipalities responding to the inaction of national governments, addressing major contemporary issues (Barber, 2013); and information and communication systems that allow global sharing of knowledge and skills by peer-to-peer networks and commons activists (Kostakis, Niaros, Dafermos, & Bauens, 2015; Ramos, 2017). Cosmopolitan Localism represents what utopian philosopher Ernst Bloch called “The Not-Yet”, the emergent and progressive dimension of history, the manifold expressions of which may or may not come to fruition (Daniel & Moylan, 1997; de Sousa Santos, 2006). A key task of the transition designer, therefore, is to identify and foster the “Not-Yet” of Cosmopolitan Localism. Cosmopolitan Localism was first articulated in the 1990s (Sachs, 1999). It can be understood as an expression of the socially and politically radical spirit of the previous decades, but since that time the concept has been explored only sporadically. This paper argues that Cosmopolitan Localism can be advanced through the integration of two separate, but highly developed, traditions of cosmopolitanism (Brown & Held, 2010; Delanty, 2012; 2017) and localism (Douthwaite, 1996; Hopkins, 2008; Jacobs, 1970; Max-Neef, 1991; Norberg-Hodge, 2000). For this reason, the evolution and basic principles of each tradition (as discussed by economists, anthropologists, philosophers, and activists) are discussed in the following section. It is hoped that Cosmopolitan Localism can incorporate the insights of each tradition, whilst addressing their respective shortcomings.

Origins of Cosmopolitanism and Localism

Localism and cosmopolitanism have long traditions, both in theory and in practice. Cosmopolitans have advocated and sought to institutionalize the unity of humanity regardless of national borders, in an effort to address the tendency towards local self-interest and chauvinism (Brown & Held, 2010; Delanty, 2017). Localism has sought the freedom for communities to manage their own affairs and to live without the imposition of authority and control by external agencies. However, both have been transformed in the last few decades by globalization and the complex social, ecological, cultural, and political problems mentioned above.

The origins of cosmopolitanism in the West extend back to Ancient Greece when the philosopher Diogenes declared himself a citizen of the world” (Nussbaum, 2010, p. 29), but similar philosophies regarding the unity of humanity can be found in many non European traditions, including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Confucianism (Delanty, 2017). Cosmopolitanism’s modern day agenda was established by the philosopher Kant, who argued for the moral desirability and historical inevitability of a league or federation of sovereign republican states, guided by international law and based upon the right of individuals to “hospitality” in foreign territories (Brown, 2010, pp. 45-60).

As a concept, the origins of localism are more difficult to date, since for most of history, most people have lived local, place-based lives (albeit these were often within centralized empires or nation-states). Social philosopher Kirkpatrick Sale (2007) argues that history has been punctuated by “the impulse to local governance, to separatism and independence, to regional autonomy …one gets the sense that these next few decades may provide its chance again” (p. 279). Perhaps the difference between the localism of previous eras and the localism of today is the scope of the challenge it now faces. In no other era have place-based lifestyles, cultures, and economies, that are adapted to their local ecosystems, been so extensively undermined or extinguished.

Important Aspects and Principles of Contemporary Localism

The advantages of local economies have been extensively argued; urbanist and sociologist Jane Jacobs (1970) contended that the strategy of import-substitution (the process through which locales come to produce for themselves goods and services that were previously imported) has always unleashed a multiplier effect that has been the key to urban and regional prosperity and innovation (Jacobs, 1970). Similarly, economist Richard Douthwaite (1996) has demonstrated how dependence upon external investment connected to a fragile global economic system, drains communities of resources and undermines their resilience. Anthropologist Helena-Norberg Hodge (2000) has extensively documented how the culture, economy, and social fabric of the once place-based Ladakhi community in India have been undermined by the centralizing forces of the Indian state and the market economy. Arguing for localization, Norberg-Hodge (2012) says “the essence of localization is to enable communities around the world to diversify their economies for as many of their needs as possible from relatively close to home” (p. 65). Localists concur that by producing for themselves as many goods and services as is reasonably possible, communities can develop a better quality of life, reinvigorate local culture, minimize their environmental impact, and lessen their vulnerability to “external perturbations,” such as fluctuations in the global economy (Hopkins, 2008).

In addition to localizing economies, localists also seek a renewed relationship with place, as it is defined by culture, history, and ecosystem. This dimension of localism has been best articulated by bioregionalists who maintain that our modernized and globalized lives have become divorced from the ecological processes that characterize the particular places -the bioregions- that we inhabit (Berg and Dasmann, 1990). These emerge out of the interaction between human activity, climate, watershed, flora, fauna, soils, and topography. While transition town activists have adopted the term resilience to describe the practices through which communities can protect themselves from the vagaries of the global economy and climate change, bioregionalists have coined the term reinhabitation to describe the practice of ‘living-in-place’, in attunement with the bioregion. Bioregionalists Berg and Dasmann (1990) state that:

Living in place means following the necessities and pleasures of life as they are uniquely presented by a particular site, and evolving ways to ensure the longterm occupancy of that site. A society which practices living-in-place keeps a balance with it region of support through links between human lives, other living things, and the processes of the planet -season, weather, water cycles- as revealed by the place itself. (p. 35)

Local economies must therefore be bioregionally adapted. Returning to the connection that Helena Norberg-Hodge makes between localization and needs satisfaction, localization can be described as the process through which human needs are satisfied within the constraints and opportunities presented by particular bioregions.

Important Aspects and Principles of Contemporary Cosmopolitanism

Contemporary cosmopolitanism asks how humanity can best cohabit a globally- interconnected planet. Sociologist Gerard Delanty (2012) argues that although the cosmopolitan theory of recent decades has typically focused on the possibilities for global democracy, transnational citizenship, and universal rights, it is better characterized as a concern for the ethical, political, cultural, and societal implications of the encounter between different peoples: “The cosmopolitan imagination occurs”, Delanty argues, “wherever new relations between Self, Other and World develop in moments of openness…a reframing of identities or loyalties and self-understanding in ways that have no clear direction” (p. 59).

This ontologically relational imaginary, Delanty (2012) argues, is not the traditional cosmopolitanism based on universal moral norms. Rather, it is a dialogic and co-evolutionary “post-universalistic” cosmopolitanism committed to diversity, reflexivity and the interaction and mutual transformation of “collective identities” (p. 177), from which new normative cultures may emerge. Cosmopolitanism, in short, is about the encounter between cultures on equal terms, and the possibility that new ways of being in the world may arise out of this encounter. In a future in which societies and cultures embody this cosmopolitan imaginary, the global order would be founded on self-organization, a process of “immanent transcendence…internally induced social change” (Delanty, 2012, p. 251), of place-based communities with diverse lifestyles. Whilst a vision of this future is currently inchoate, the cosmopolitan imaginary is reflected in pluralistic and self-organizing civil society networks such as the World Social Forum, which has a categorical anti-neoliberal and anti-globalization agenda (de Sousa Santos, 2006).

In contrast, the international bodies (eg. The UN, ASEAN, the EU, the African Union and the International Court of Justice) that actually have the authority to address global issues, are comprised of nation-states whose sovereignty impedes the necessary cooperation. In as much are these bodies are federations of sovereign states they have their roots in the cosmopolitanism of Kant and the Enlightenment (Brown, 2010). The political philosopher Benjamin Barber (2013) notes that the very notion of sovereignty, which is at the heart of the modern political system, pits nation-state against nation-state. Sovereignty invests nation-states with the freedom to act with authority inside their own borders whilst discouraging collaboration across borders, making it unsuitable in “addressing the multiplying problems of an interdependent world” (p. 3).

These international bodies suffer from the same dysfunctions as their member sovereign states. According to political philosopher David Held (2010a), they are unrepresentative of and have limited accountability to, their many stakeholders. Institutional fragmentation means that remits are uncoordinated and overlapping and that issues fall, or are pushed, between the cracks. This results in an “inability to mount collective problem-solving solutions faced with disagreement over means, objectives, costs and so on…there is a fundamental lack of ownership of global problems…It is far from clear which global public issues…are the responsibility of which international agencies” (Held, 2010a, 299). Held (2010b) argues that the solution lies in cosmopolitan democracy, which seeks to reform this system through increased transparency; reorganized international bodies; separation of economic and political interests; new political institutions at global and regional levels; enhanced and coordinated legal systems; and the encouragement of civil society.

Although these proposals have much to recommend them and they contain elements of both Enlightenment and contemporary cosmopolitan imaginaries, they rely on the willingness of sovereign nation-states and transnational corporations to cooperate and willingly relinquish power. They do not challenge the fundamental premises of globalization and suggest that we should have more, not fewer, of the kinds of institutions that are currently failing to address global issues. This is not a cosmopolitan vision that unfolds logically out of a relational ontology but one that patches up a system that originated in another era when global imperatives were very different.

Need to Integrate Cosmopolitanism and Localism

It would be mistake to dichotomize contemporary cosmopolitanism and localism, since they both acknowledge the need for an improved relationship between the local and the global and they have the shared aim of addressing problems caused by globalization. Localists warn against “walling off the outside world” (Shuman, 2000, p. 28) and promote self-reliance rather than self-sufficiency, trading and sharing resources in ways that are environmentally and socially sustainable. Localization advocates Raymond de Young and Thomas Princen (2012) argue that “place-based localization includes institutions at the regional, national, and international levels”, and poet and bioregionalist activist Gary Snyder (1990) states, “we seek the balance between cosmopolitan pluralism and deep local consciousness. We are asking how the whole human race can regain self-determination in place after centuries of having been disenfranchised by hierarchy and/or centralized power” (p. 42). Conversely, the cosmopolitan tradition has maintained, since the Stoic philosophers, that being a citizen of the world does not mean renouncing local identity (Nussbaum, 2010). Political theorist Danielle Archibugi (2010) contends that cosmopolitan democracy requires an increase in local governmental powers and Gerard Delanty (2012) states that, “cosmopolitanism concerns a dynamic relation between the local and the global….[and] the multiple ways the local and national is redefined as a result of interaction with the global” (p. 68).

This paper argues that localism and cosmopolitanism need to be integrated to address their respective limitations. Furthermore, each discourse addresses concepts that are relevant to the other. Under the overarching themes of resilience and reinhabitation, localism poses questions about needs, place, and community that are relevant to the issue of the collective human presence on the planet. Cosmopolitanism poses questions about our common humanity and cohabitation of the planet, about the meaning of otherness and openness, and about the co-evolution of cultures; the answers to all of these will help shape localized lifestyles.

From the perspective of Transition Design, the wicked problems it seeks to address are systemic and multi-level and their global, regional, and local impacts are inextricably entangled. Furthermore, the design and development of vibrant, localist, place-based lifestyles will be impossible without coordinated (designed) interregional and planetary exchanges of culture, knowledge, technology, and resources. However, Transition Designers and activists cannot hope to challenge globalization effectively through national and international organizations whose knowledge of localities over which they preside is minimal and disconnected from place. A conceptual framework that integrates cosmopolitanism and localism and provides a rationale for developing solutions that address both cosmopolitan and local concerns is needed.

Cosmopolitan Localism and Cultural Diversity

Wolfgang Sachs (1999) coined the term Cosmopolitan Localism in the 1990s not only to address ecological catastrophe but to challenge “cultural evaporation” (Sachs, 1999, p. 94) -the loss of many different ways of being human in world- caused by globalization. Whilst rejecting the Enlightenment project of the unification of humanity through reason, he proposed that the first photos of the earth from space demonstrated that national boundaries are intellectual constructs. The photo of the “blue marble” symbolized not merely our common humanity, but more importantly, the ecological (or biophysical) unity of the planet; the connection between the local and global.

He argued that it is necessary to allow each culture to actualize its “particular image of a good society” (Sachs, 1999, p. 107) and that this should unfold in ways that do not undermine other localized good societies or the possibility of planetary cohabitation. The responsibility for the biophysical well-being of the planet, Sachs argues, should not be handed to bureaucratic and technocratic eco-management regimes, which would create a new kind of decontextualized and place-less socio-political system that will further erode the diversity and autonomy of local cultures. Rather, the biophysical integrity of the planet would be the mutual responsibility of localized communities, even as they each they develop rich, self-determined, and place-specific lifestyles.

Sachs’ version of Cosmopolitan Localism integrates the differing agendas of cosmopolitanism and localism. He makes a localist case for self-creating, autonomous, and placespecific cultures and societies. But also, in his analysis of the catastrophic loss of cultural diversity, decline of Otherness, and need for self-organized -rather than externally driven- societal development, Sachs articulates the contemporary, post-universalist, cosmopolitan imaginary. While he is wary of appeals to the unity of humanity (that have historically steered us into a globalized monoculture), his argument for biophysical unity suggests that the Other should include non-human beings that cosmopolitanism has overlooked, but which constitute the fabric of the planet’s ecosystem.

Cosmopolitan Localism and Socio-Technical Networks

A networked society is a prerequisite for the realization of Cosmopolitan Localism, but Sachs’ conceptualization pre-dates this emerging phenomenon. It is perhaps because of this that there has been relatively little discussion about how Cosmopolitan Localism might work in practice. Since the 1990s, only a handful of papers have been written on Cosmopolitan Localism (Manzini, 2011; Mignolo, 2011; Ramos, 2017; Tonkinwise, 2015). Most recent explorations of the topic have maintained that localization cannot be robust or innovative enough to effectively challenge globalization, but that connectivity and networks have opened up possibilities for new relaitonships between the local and the global. For example, international information and communication networks and small-scale and flexible manufacturing, energy, and other technologies can now be combined with localized food production to form decentralized and distributed socio-technical systems. By combining localized import-substitution and regional and planet-wide networking, wherein knowledge and innovation is shared between communities, new kinds of socio-technical systems could become the foundation for more self-reliant and circular place-based economies.

This perspective has developed in particular within the context of the peer-to-peer (P2P) movement and the related vision of a commons-based civilization. P2P activists Michel Bauwens and Franco Iacomella (2012) argue that the commons should not only include our tangible natural heritage and resources but also what is intangible -design, culture, software, and science- and has been created through “collective social innovation”(p. 324). Although theoretically, such knowledge can be shared easily, various intellectual property rights impede the process. When free exchange is possible, P2P networks, can become “hyperproductive…[allowing the]…rapid sharing of innovation and very low cost mutual coordination on a global scale…[drawing on]…rapidly established quick connections between emerging and valuable expertise” (Bauwens & Iacomella. 2012, p. 325). Progress towards a cosmopolitan localist society organized around networks of communities that share knowledge, among other things, is going to be contingent on the extent to which knowledge becomes part of the commons.

Designer Ezio Manzini (2011) has proposed a small, local, open, and connected (SLOC) scenario. This describes a distributed production and consumption system that could become a new kind of socio-technical infrastructure, that would serve a cosmopolitan localist society. SLOC would allow communities to develop local self-managed economies and lifestyles wherein manufacturing and agricultural production would be largely for local consumption. Such local communities would be globally networked for the exchange and sharing of knowledge and resources (when appropriate). Of particular interest in the SLOC scenario is Manzini’s (2011) distinction between long and short networks, “the short networks generate and regenerate the local social and economic fabric, whilst the long networks connect a particular place and community to the rest of the world” (p. 217). Thus, a cosmopolitan localist society would be characterized by tapestries of densely localized networks with communities as its nodes. These dense local and regional networks would be embedded or nested in more extensive and looser global networks. By contrast, globalization only creates networks designed to connect centers of production and consumption that are usually separated by great distances and that often undermine local networks in the process.

The rapid spread of communication and information networks combined with the development of flexible and small-scale technologies and the emerging possibilities for distributed production and consumption make Sachs’ vision of a cosmopolitan localist society much easier to imagine. It is now possible to see how different cultural images of the good life on different parts of the planet can be actualized: not in isolation, but in relationship with each other.

However, Cosmopolitan Localism has left several key ideas under-defined. In order for it to serve as a vision of a future society, these need to be more clearly conceptualized. Concepts like the local, lifestyle, needs, place, community, networks, and connectedness need to be brought into focus, and their interrelatedness better understood. This needs to be done in ways that helps Transition Designers and others understand the origins of wicked problems, and that assists and guides interventions that help restore the social and ecological fabric at a local and global level. The question is, can a more defined vision that offers an approach that is applicable to many different locales be compatible with localized cultural, social, and lifestyle diversity?

Cosmopolitan Localism, Needs, and Everyday Life

At its core, localism is about enabling communities to satisfy as many of their needs as is practical, in ways that optimize quality of life rather than maximize consumption. Assuming that human needs are infinite, conventional economics maintains that consumption is the route to societal well-being and it tends to ignore non-material and intangible needs that are essential for high-quality lifestyles (Max-Neef, 1991). By addressing the shortcomings of conventional economics, development economist Manfred Max-Neef has developed an approach to understanding needs relevant to the theory of localization. Because the manner in which communities satisfy their needs determines the shape of their lifestyles and everyday lives, Max-Neef’s approach can become the basis for a cosmopolitan localist vision.

Max-Neef (1991) argues that needs are finite rather than infinite. It is postulated that there are ten core human needs: subsistence, affection, freedom, understanding, security, identity, creation, protection, participation, and transcendence. Poverty is defined as the inadequate satisfaction of any of these needs, not just material, subsistence needs. While subsistence must be adequately satisfied before other needs can be addressed, these core needs are systemically interrelated and not ranked by importance. Although the specific needs identified may be contentious (and some needs may remain unidentified) this does not detract from the basic argument that there are finite number of needs, and that it is necessary to distinguish between needs and how they are satisfied.

Whilst the needs postulated by Max-Neef are universal, they are satisfied in myriad ways according to era, culture, and place; while the number of needs is limited, the ways in which they can be satisfied is infinite (Max-Neef, 1991). For example, a satisfier for the need for food (subsistence) may be to shop at a supermarket or a farmer’s market, or may be to work on a smallholding; a satisfier for the need for understanding may be to attend university, fix a car, or read a newspaper. Some of these satisfiers will be effective and some will be inadequate. Max-Neef (1991) refer to the latter as “pseudo-satisfiers” (p. 31). Some satisfiers are “endogenous,” controlled from within a community, and some are “exogenous,” that is, externally controlled (Max-Neef, 1991, p. 34).

“Synergistic satisfiers” (Max-Neef, 1991, p. 34) are satisfiers that are designed to simultaneously satisfy several needs in an integrated manner. For example, traditional agricultural practices may be very social and cooperative, and therefore act as satisfiers not only for subsistence, but also for affection, participation, and security. In contrast, industrialized agriculture aims only to satisfy the subsistence need, to maximize efficiency, whilst ignoring other needs. Moreover, it is likely that the satisfiers generated by industrial agriculture are pseudo-satisfiers, as they are generic rather than place-specific; centrally designed, created and controlled; and intended to maximize corporate profit, rather than quality of life. In short, in terms of their quality and synergies, the most effective satisfiers are likely to be endogenous rather than exogenous.

Through the Max-Neefian lens, localization can be defined as community based control of satisfiers of material and non-material needs. To the degree that such control exists, communities are empowered to be self-organizing and self-determining; they would be able (to paraphrase Sachs) to actualize their own image of the good life. Control over satisfiers and the ability to create synergies between them, would enable communities to satisfy their needs in place-based ways that are tailored to specific cultures and ecosystems. In industrial-capitalist societies, most satisfiers have been appropriated by large centralizing institutions such as multi-national corporations and the nation-state. Food production and distribution (subsistence) is controlled by agribusiness; the political process (freedom, participation) and the law, police, and military (security, freedom) are controlled by national governments; and the media (understanding, freedom) is controlled by conglomerates. Most satisfiers produced by such institutions will fail to adequately satisfy a given need: they are pseudo-satisfiers. The centralization of satisfiers destroys local autonomy and undermines communities’ ability to self-organize. Transition town activists would argue that this causes communities to lose their resilience (Lewis & Conaty, 2012). Because satisfiers in contemporary society are usually centrally designed, created, and controlled and are intended to meet needs irrespective of specific social, cultural, or ecological contexts, everyday life and lifestyles become generic and homogenized. If bioregionalists argue for reinhabitation (Berg & Dasmann, 1990), the process through which need satisfaction is centralized might be described as disinhabitation.

However, the spread of information and communication networks, small-scale technologies, and distributed production and consumption systems, means that the potential now exists for communities to challenge the centralization of satisfiers. It is possible to imagine scenarios in which satisfiers (energy, food, manufacturing, building, transport, health, education, etc.) for multiple needs (subsistence, understanding, participation, freedom, etc.) are decentralized and controlled by the communities that use them. Furthermore, distributed and decentralized socio-technical systems could give locally-based need satisfaction a cosmopolitan dimension by allowing some satisfiers to be designed and managed from within local communities but also to be distributed through coordinated networks across the planet.

Cosmopolitan Localism and the Domains of Everyday Life

As Manzini (2011) suggests, a cosmopolitan localist society would be comprised of networks with differing degrees of density and connectivity: the local would be comprised of dense and highly connected networks and the global of thin and loosely connected networks. From the Max-Neefian perspective, these are spun out of the myriad everyday activities that occur as people strive to satisfy their needs: these networks of everyday life represent dynamic relationships between people, the natural world (ecosystems), and the designed and built world (Kossoff, 2011; Kossoff, Irwin, & Tonkinwise, 2015). The quality of these networks of everyday life is a reflection of the quality of satisfiers from which they are derived; it is likely that where these networks originate from pseudo, exogenous, and nonsynergistic satisfiers, everyday life will be much less vital and cohesive than those created from genuine, endogenous, and synergistic satisfiers (Max-Neef, 1991).

Networks of everyday of life (the relationships between people, nature, and the designed and built world) can be vitalized or degraded depending on how needs are satisfied. This can be demonstrated by taking a simple example of satisfying the subsistence need for food. If a family satisfies this need by going to a fast-food restaurant, it will reinforce the extensive and global supply-chain networks generated by agribusiness, transportation, and fossil fuel industries (Ritzer, 2010). It will also reinforce the many commodified and usually exploitative relationships that involve both people and ecosystems at a local and global level (Cavanagh & Mander, 2004). In addition, because the fast food satisfier is designed purely for profit and efficiency (Ritzer, 2012), there will be no synergies with satisfiers for other needs such as affection and participation (Max-Neef, 1991). In short, the trip to the fast food restaurant will damage networks that comprise the social and ecological fabric (ecosystems) not only of the locality, but the planet as a whole.

By contrast, the family may satisfy its need for food by going to a neighborhood cooperative restaurant. In this case, the satisfiers would likely be high quality and synergistic, in the form of good food (subsistence) in a pleasant social environment (affection) that engages with the local community (participation). Further, if the restaurant is supplied by local, organic smallholdings, this form of need satisfaction will contribute to the satisfaction of needs of people residing in the surrounding region and to the creation of vital regional social and ecological networks. If organic-farming skills were acquired through shared knowledge from global networks of farmers, this form of need satisfaction will also contribute to the development of vital planetary social and ecological networks. In the case of the fast-food restaurant, satisfiers are exogenous (controlled from outside of the community); in the case of the neighborhood cooperative restaurant, satisfiers are endogenous (controlled from within the community): the former damages the relationships between people, nature, and the designed and built world; the latter strengthens them.

The satisfaction of needs not only creates networks of everyday life (whether these are of a high or low quality) but it does so at different levels of scale. In the example above, various kinds of satisfiers are implicated at the level of the household, neighborhood, region, and planet. The family could have chosen to cook, eat and grow some food at home, in which case they would (hopefully) strengthen the network of relationships at the household level; or they could have chosen to eat a picnic in a municipal park, in which case they would strengthen the network of relationships at the city level.

Six levels of scale of everyday life have been alluded to: the household, neighborhood, city, region, and planet, within which multiple needs -subsistence (food, shelter, and clothing), identity, affection, understanding, freedom, protection, among others- can be satisfied. In as far as this process is endogenous and synergistic, it gives rise to what social ecologist Gideon Kossoff has called the Domains of Everyday Life, that is, self-organizing and nested networks of networks through which material and non-material needs are satisfied (Kossoff, 2011). The boundaries between these Domains are defined by the shift between different ways of satisfying needs within them: typical satisfiers at the household level differ considerably from those at the neighborhood level, which in turn will differ from those at the city level and from those at the regional level. This gives rise to different and distinct forms of everyday life at each of its levels of scale. Each represents a different kind of community with its own identity, potentialities and challenges (Kossoff, 2011; Kossoff et al., 2015).

To the degree that households, neighborhoods, cities and regions control the satisfaction of the needs generated within them, they become autonomous, self-determining and selforganizing entities. This is the Cosmopolitan Localist scenario: the Domains of Everyday Life would be both internally networked -as people satisfy their needs within them- and externally networked, since needs within any single Domain could not be satisfied in isolation from other Domains: no household, neighborhood, city or region can be entirely self-sufficient and they therefore will always need to be connected to other households, neighborhoods, cities and regions. This would be a decentralized and non-hierarchically organized system in which social, economic and political power is distributed throughout rather than concentrated in particular places. The symbiotic and multidirectional connectivity of everyday life would be the basis for a cosmopolitan localist society, a planetary network of culturally diverse and self-organized communities.

With industrial-capitalism, however, and particularly with globalization, communities have lost control of the need-satisfaction process: the creation of satisfiers has become highly centralized and therefore the place-based and need satisfying networks of everyday life that enable communities and local economies to flourish are degraded: household, neighborhood, city and region lose their cohesiveness and vitality. The Domains are hollowed out and begin to disintegrate, and the quality of everyday life is correspondingly diminished. To return to the example above, consuming fast food undermines the quality of relationships of everyday life at all of the levels in which it is implicated. Instead of helping to develop networks comprised of high-quality relationships, as is the case with the cooperative restaurant, the fast food outlet contributes to thin networks of low quality relationships both within the Domains of Everyday Life in its locality, and in other localities that are connected to it through the global system.

The loss of the social and ecological fabric that results from the disintegration of the Domains gives rise to many wicked problems that Transition Design seeks to address. Fast food, to use this example again, is connected to myriad such problems: obesity, pollution, topsoil and biodiversity loss, deforestation, water shortages, climate change, and inequity, among others. All can be traced back, at least in part, to the loss of control over the satisfaction of needs by place-based communities and to the consequent deterioration of the quality of everyday life at multiple levels of scale.

The Vision of Cosmopolitan Localism

The conceptual framework of the Domains of Everyday Life helps define a cosmopolitan localist vision of multi-scalar, or nested, networks of self-organizing, semi-autonomous, and place-based communities that are empowered to create the good life in the image of their own cultures and histories. The challenge of Transition Design is to help restore and reinvent households, neighborhoods, cities, and regions, by enabling their inhabitants to recover control over the satisfaction of their needs and by redesigning satisfiers so that they are synergistic and placed-based. This, in turn, requires the redesign of socio-technical systems, so that they become decentralized, distributed and networked.

This vision responds to many themes within localism, cosmopolitanism and Cosmopolitan Localism that need further development. A number of concepts frequently used in these discourses (community, locality, place, lifestyle, networks, needs, reinhabitation, resilience) are clarified and become more nuanced. It addresses the question, posed by localism, of how to conceptualize needs. As people strive to satisfy their needs in different ways, they come to create different kinds of community, different kinds of localness, different kinds of place, different kinds of lifestyles and different kinds of networks. These differences correspond to the nested levels of scale of everyday life -household, neighborhood, city, region- at which needs are satisfied in different ways. Also, the concepts of resilience and reinhabitation can be applied with increased focus: each level of scale of everyday life needs to become more resilient and each needs to be reinhabited.

The emphasis on the development of vital networks of everyday life, within and between communities, and the fostering of mutually supportive, diverse, place-based lifestyles and cultures, is an expression of the relational ontology that is at the heart of the contemporary cosmopolitan imaginary. Networking between households, neighborhoods, cities and regions would enable the sharing of skills, knowledge and, where appropriate, resources, and would give everyday life a cosmopolitan dimension. Finally, this vision proposes a complex, multi-level and multi-directional networking process that connects the local (Domains of household, neighborhood, city, and region) to the global (the planet), which is the essence of Cosmopolitan Localism.


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Received: December 2017; Accepted: March 2018

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