David J. Hess

The Green Economy:


This page lists my two case study collections on localism and my publications and talks on the topic. Localism is a social movement that supports increased local ownership of the economy, including public, private-sector, and nonprofit ownership. From this perspective, it is a reformist anti-globalization movement but one with historical linkages, and in the U.S. it has roots in the history of populist and Progressive-era politics. The connections with sustainability and social justice issues are historically contingent, and I study places where those connections are stronger and weaker. In Localist Movements I argue that localism is a distinctive political ideology, and in Good Green Jobs (MIT Press, 2012) I also develop a comparison with mainstream developmentalism.

The main research project coming from this project is Localist Movements in a Global Economy: Sustainability, Justice, and Urban Development in the United States (MIT Press), which is the first book-length social science study of localism.This project analyzed the tensions between the goal of increased local ownership, which is often mobilized in "buy local" movements, and goals of achieving greater sustainability and social fairness in regional economies. I argue that localism in this sense is an ideology that has roots in the progressive and populist movements and is distinguishable from social liberalism and neoliberalism. I focus especially on areas where there is some potential for convergence of localism with sustainability and justice goals, such as in community gardening, the reuse sector of local retail, BALLE networks of local businesses, and some community media.

Urban Sustainability Programs: Case Study Collections

There are two case study collections. The first set is based on research conducted in 2005 as part of a graduate student research training project that was funded by the National Science Foundation,Science and Technology Studies Program (SES 0425039, see details below) that analyzed issues of localism, sustainability and the design of industrial and technological systems. Students received training in qualitative social science research methods. The case studies are made available here for general public educational purposes. The cases are listed below.

1. The greening of urban public transit and electricity: This document contains case studies of the greening of public transit systems (Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District, Chattanooga (CARTA), San Francisco Muni, and Seattle Metro Transit) and of the greening of electricity (Austin Energy, San Francisco Community Choice, and Seattle City Light and Public Power).

2. Reuse centers and building deconstruction organizations: This document contains case studies of the Habitat for Humanity Re-store (Austin), the Loading Dock (Baltimore), Urban Ore (Berkeley), Recycle North (Burlington), the Reuse People (Oakland), Construction Junction (Pittsburgh), and the Rebuilding Center (Portland).

3. Locally oriented and green business networks: This document contains four case studies. One is of an AMIBA network, the Austin Independent Business Alliance, and the others are of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia, Local Exchange (San Francisco), and the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

4. Community gardens and sustainable local agriculture: There are separate case studies here for community gardens in Boston, Denver, Cleveland, Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Seattle. There is also a case study of an urban farm in Sacramento and a farmers' market in San Francisco.

The second set of case studies is based on undergraduate research projects at Vanderbilt University as part of courses that included the analysis of local sustainability poltiics and policies. The student papers discussed sustainability plans and programs as well as a specific area of relative strength. Papers are posted with students' permission. Contents include discussions of overall initiatives and a selected leading initiative in various cities, including Barcelona, Berkeley, Bogota, Chicago, Denver, London, Madrid, Melbourne, Montreal,New York, Oakland, Ottowa, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Shenzen,Singapore, Sydney, Vancouver, Washington (DC). This set of case studies is available as a single document here.

Publications and Presentations:

2014 "The Small Business Sector and Urban Sustainability Policies: Assessing the Relationship." Coauthored with Quan D. Mai. This paper had an interesting premise but negative results, so we did not publish it. We did find that studies of the positive effects of local business on general welfare need to be conducted with controls for population. Paper here.

2013 "Industrial Fields and Countervailing Power: The Transformation of Distributed Solar Energy in the United States." This paper was given in May, 2012, at the Conference on Grassroots Innovation, University of Sussex, and it is in press with Global Environmental Change. It tracks the marginalization of local ownership in the development of distributed solar energy in the U.S. The paper engages transition theory by developing the thesis of countervailing power in sustainability transitions. A copy of the paper is available on request. Prepublication version here.

2013 "Local and Not-so-Local Exchanges: Alternative Economies, Ethnography, and Social Science." In Jeff Juris and Alex Kasnabish, eds.,, Ethnography and Transnational Activism. Duke University Press. Final draft of chapter here.

2012 "Changing Frameworks in Local and Regional Sustainable Economic Development." Invited seminar for the Local Sustainable Economic Development Euro-Med Research Group, European Neighborhood Policy Instrument Cross-Border Cooperation in the Mediterranean (Portugal, Israel, Italy, Palestine), Project Wealth. Paper here.

2012 "Alternative Currencies in the Context of Localist Movements." Presentation given at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, panel on local currencies, economic sociology. Presentation here.

2011 "Building the Local Living Economy." Lecture given at Nashville Public Library, "Thinking Outside the Box" series. Video available on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl3dOEBlCl0&feature=relmfu. The talk gives a summary of both my localist research and green jobs research for a broad public audience of about 200 people.

2011 Pathways to a Great Transition. Invited lecture, Tellus Institute. Here.

2010 Plenary talk at the Live Green conference. Here.

2010. "Sustainable Consumption and the Problem of Resilience." Sustainability: Science, Practice, Policy. 6(2): 1-12. Open source, available at the journal web site. Link here.

2009 Localist Movements in a Global Economy: Sustainability, Justice, and Urban Development in the United States. (MIT Press)

2010. "Declarations of Independents: On Local Knowledge and Localist Knowledge." Anthropological Quarterly 83(1): 147-170. Article here.

2008 "Localism and the Environment." Sociology Compass 2(2): 625-628. Final draft here.

2008 "Some Ways in to Research on Locally Owned, Independent Businesses." This is a bibliography for a talk that I gave at Capital District Local First. I helped found this affiliate network of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies. Here.

2007 "Enhancing Justice and Sustainability at the Local Level: Affordable Policies for Urban Governments." By David Hess and Langdon Winner. Local Environment 12(4): 1-17. Related local Policy Paper here

2006 “The University and Sustainable Regional Industries.” In Arthur C. Nelson, Barbara Allen, and David Trauger, eds., Toward a Resilient Metropolis: The Role of State and Land Grant Universities in the 21st Century. Alexandria, VA: Metropolitan Institute Press. Pp. 29-51. Here.

2006 "Community Choice, Public Power, and Energy Conservation: Democracy, Sustainable Consumption, and the Problem of Scale." Paper presented at the RC-24 Conference on Sustainable Consumption. Available at www.michaelmbell.net/suscon-papers/hess-paper.doc.

2002 Workshop at Renssealer on "Technologies for Communities." The workshop included presentations on sustainable, healthy communities as well as work on information technologies, electronic media, and the built environment as they relate to building more sustainable, just, and democratic regions. More information is available here.

Description of the Original Research Project

Some of publicatoins and case studies (the first set of case studies, theLocal Environment paper, and the book on localism) are the result of a project on "Sustainability, the Politics of Design, and Localism," sponsored by the National Science Foundation through the STS Program (SES 0425039). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.This project created case studies (see database link above) for teaching purposes and use by NGOs above as well as the publications above. The case studies examine organizational, technological, design, and social change where the goals of environmental sustainability, social fairness, and economic localism intersect. Langdon Winner served as co-PI on the project. Four graduate students--Colin Beech, Rachel Dowty, Govind Gopakumar, and Richard Hernandez--conducted some of the interviews and received training as part of the project.