Amidst campaigns of “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” “Shop Local” “Buy Local” “Read Local” we seldom ponder what it means to be local in the first place. The question is all the more pressing in an age of digital media, global flows of capital, and the global movement of people – forced and/or voluntary. This presentation reflects on these dynamics and offers preliminary thoughts on what it means to be local in the digital age. This presentation is thus part workshop, part thought-experiment, and part lecture. It begins by synthesizing previous work on media localism and then brings in new research on rural communication technologies. Drawing on a range of theories from critical political economy and critical geography, to cultural studies and phenomenology, the presentation begins by mapping the conceptual contours of the local. The argument is made that the local is subjective, contextual, material and mediated. These dynamics are captured in the neo-Marxist theory of critical regionalism. This theoretical progression is grounded by examples of local communication technologies. Introducing new work on municipal and rural broadband, I demonstrate how the local is shifting away from content in media studies and moving towards issues of infrastructure and access. Ultimately, through this talk, I argue that we need to rethink what we mean by local: a more holistic and ecological approach to the question of the local in an age of the global, the digital, and the contemporary.
Dr. Christopher Ali is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Media Studies at the University of Virginia and a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication. His research focuses on communication policy and regulation, localism, local news/local journalism, and critical theory. His new book, Media Localism: The Policies of Place (University of Illinois Press, 2017) addresses the difficulties of defining and regulating local media in the 21st century in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada and the implications these difficulties have for the long-term viability of local news.
While at CARGC, Christopher will be working on a new book project, Farm Fresh Spectrum: Rural Interventions in Communication Policy, which will investigate the roles of farming communities in shaping communication policy. Christopher is also a Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University finishing a project on the state of small market newspapers in the United States called Local News in a Digital World: Small Market Newspapers in an Era of Digital Disruption.