Learning from the Past: How Local Economic Conventions Influence Responses to Global Crises

Nina Baur & LindaHering (2017)

Human Figurations: Long-term Perspectives on the Human Condition 6(2)

Abstract. Reactions to global crises vary locally, and a specific reaction to a particular crisis does not only depend on structural aspects (such as a city’s placement in the world system), but also on local economic practices. Based on concepts from the ‘Economics of Convention’, we argue that people handle complexity and contingency in everyday life by drawing on knowledge of approved routines and practices of how things are typically done. This knowledge is highly context-specific. Adopting the idea of the ‘intrinsic logic of cities’, which tells us that cities create and maintain their own distinct constellations of knowledge and modesof expression that are reflected in their everyday practices, we conceptualise local economy as a figuration that develops procedurally and depends on the hidden structures that over time become inscribed into urban spaces. Comparable to a series of palimpsests, one can track the history of the conditions that pre-structure this figuration over time. Using material from a comparative study carried out in four cities – two in Germany (Dortmund and Frankfurt), two in the United Kingdom (Birmingham and Glasgow) –, we show that the specific reactions to a crisis and the ability of coping with it can only be grasped by understanding a city’s past.

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