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Socioecological Reindustrialisation: Striking the balance of local and global dynamics

This short text will expose the key assumptions guiding the project "Socioecological Reindustrialisation: Striking the balance of local and global dynamics”. It invites partners and interested stakeholder to comment and deepen the exposed arguments. Multiple perspectives should contribute to mutual learning within the Green movement and beyond.

1. Learning from each other in a complex world

This GEF-project is aimed at forming a knowledge alliance of European partners coming from diverse regional backgrounds: Grüne Bildungswerkstatt in Austria, Oikos in Belgium, Fundacion Nous Horizons in Spain, Ecopolisz in Hungary, the Greek Institute, the Green Institute in Ireland and the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Croatia. These countries are faced with different economic structures and specific socioecological challenges. Our knowledge alliance parts from the assumption that nobody knows everything and nobody knows nothing. Thereby, everybody can learn from a dialogue of partners coming from diverse backgrounds – with respect to nationality, policy fields and academic disciplines. In a complex world there exists no ‘silver bullet solution’. And in the European Union deep structures of uneven development lead to a diversity of regional and national development paths which does not allow for a ‘one solution fits all’.

This project will acknowledge this diversity and stimulate a fruitful dialogue on the burning issue of the future of European industry within the joint framework of the transition to a sustainable economy that is lowcarbon and fosters an more equal society. We will try to identify context-sensitive solutions, allowing for different pathways towards an inclusive low-carbon economy.

2. Different roads to a socioecological reindustrialisation

Even if all Greens, many social movements and researchers agree on the need for socio-ecological reindustrialisation, there exist divergent strategies. This is exposed in the GEJ-publication on ‘green industry in a post-industrial society’. Although everybody agrees that we should move towards a circular economy, there are quite different pathways developed. On the one hand there is the pathway that wants to modernize our industrial base, aiming at innovation, efficiency and sustainable technology to make our industry more competitive in a globalized economy. On the other hand, there is the road that leads to stronger local economies based on citizen cooperatives and regional linkages, linking the question of sufficiency with a more equal society.

Although these roads are not 100% compatible, they are not necessarily incompatible. Both strategies have their shortcomings. The first road has to provide an answer to the increasing concentration of economic power and the emergence of innovative local initiatives; the second road has to provide an answer to the challenges for the European industrial base under increasingly international competition.

3. A Multilevel approach

The project aims at overcoming the duality of either local or global by applying a multi-level approach. It is an often-heard analysis: We live today in a globalized economy. And while this is certainly the case for a number of goods and services, the statement hides a much more diverse reality. To give an example: two-thirds of what Flanders, one of the most open economies in Europe, exports is destined for EU markets. And while the main destinations for Flanders industry remain the Netherlands, Germany, France and Great Britain, Austria, Croatia and Hungary are linked by diverse transnational regional linkages without strong ties to the Flanders economy: European industry is not uniform. 

At the same time, innovative regions and cities are becoming the nodes of new economic networks, that develop at the same time new businesses integrated in the global economy (ICT firms, services industries) as new initiatives aiming at developing a local and sustainable economy (urban farming, collaborative consumption, …). The latter are at the same time also part of open and global peer-to-peer networks. Acknowledging these diverse developments at different levels is a decisive starting point for a fruitful dialogue on the need for a socioecological reindustrialisation in Europe.

Synergies and tensions with broader attempts towards a sustainable economy are part of this open dialogue. Only multilevel answers, such as the necessary regulations for local economic recovery, will provide answers that will work in the real world. To sum it up, globalisation is a process which is mediated by continental, national and regional dynamics which shape the respective industrial sectors.

4. Our focus: The transition towards an inclusive lowcarbon society

At the core, the above cited strategies represent the old duality between small and large; niche strategy and mainstreaming. In this project we will aim at overcoming this duality by focusing on the transition towards an inclusive low-carbon society. Small and large initiatives, bottom-up or top-down strategies might both contribute to this huge challenge. So we are interested in overall socioeconomic transitions and not only in new green sectors (such as wind or solar energy). Our starting points are the new bottom up initiatives that we see rising up all over Europe (commons, local currencies, citizen cooperatives, share economy, solidarity economy, peer-to-peer initiatives, …) aiming at strengthening local markets and regional linkages. These local and regional initiatives do not substitute, but complement the proposals and actions that aim at renewing the existing European industrial base such as Rise and the Green New Deal.

Therefore, we will look for social innovations for socioecological reindustrialisation in the following three fields:

1) innovative regulatory frameworks (eg. German renewable energy law, youth employment and training schemes)

2) Innovative governance dynamics which foster the transition towards socioecological reindustrialisation (eg. renewed forms of corporatism, urban industrial policies, networks of green and social entrepreneurs …)

3) Innovative projects and best-practice examples in fostering local economies or in high-tech industries (eg. urban farming networks, 3 Dprinter production in fablabs, repair economy)

- Dirk Holemans, Andreas Novy, April 2014

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