Going nowhere? Staying local in a global village

Saturday 30 October, 10.30am until 12.00pm, Student Union

The newest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary includes the word ‘staycation’, a vacation taken in your home country. David Cameron took one in Cornwall this summer, and has urged Britons to follow his lead to help boost economic recovery. With no sense of irony, he then advocated making the UK one of the top five tourist destinations in the world. Presumably staycations are not to be encouraged for the Chinese. This seems to capture today’s ambivalence about mobility.

We are more connected then ever – by travel, culture and the economy – and people have consistently demonstrated their desire to live more mobile lives. Take any measure from car ownership or rail use to the rapid growth in air travel, and the picture is clear: people embrace opportunities for increased mobility. Visiting the world’s great cities and sights is no longer restricted to the wealthy. Millions of us are able to travel and visit historical and cultural destinations, or just lie on a beach and relax. Many have staked more than the cost of a holiday on our ability to live a more mobile life: we are increasingly able to maintain relationships across long distances and migrants are able to return home regularly to visit family. At the same time, however, there are cultural pressures to rein ourselves in. Concern for the environment increasingly clashes with peoples’ desire to see the world or eat food air-freighted foods. We are warned of the consequences of our ‘hyper-mobility’ and the cultural impacts of our trips on host communities. Be it in food, culture or customs, a fashion for going ‘slow’ and keeping it local seems to buck the globalising trend. Our ambivalence to mobility was recently illustrated by the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud this year. Many saw the disruption caused to flying as a chance for us to take stock of whether we needed foreign travel at all. One TV commentator even celebrated the chance to hear the birdsong ‘all the clearer for the fact that the sky is silent’. Others suggested the ash cloud made us appreciate we’ve become too reliant on air freight and travel. Are we making too many unneecessary trips; doesn’t technology such as Skype and webcasting mean we can cut down on our flying?

While the cliché goes, ‘Think global, act local’, isn’t there a contradiction between localism and our global aspirations. National infrastructure projects, for example, often run aground against the opposition of locals whose wishes seem to trump those of others who want easier travel to see faraway relatives. Is there a danger of undervaluing the benefits of mobility, of a common humanity living in a global civilisation? Do we risk giving up on the gains of a more global world and retreating into local differences?

INTRODUCED BY: Ekua McMorris, president, students’ union, Royal College of Art


Listen to session audio:


John Adams
emeritus professor of geography, University College London; editor, Risk in a Hypermobile World website

Michelle Di Leo
director, FlyingMatters, the national campaign for flying

Dr Peter Heller
technology consultant, Innovationszentrum Niedersachsen GmbH, Germany; co-editor, Science Skeptical blog

Leo Johnson
partner, PwC Sustainability & Climate Change; host, BBC World's Down to Business

Philippe Legrain
visiting senior fellow, LSE’s European Institute; author, Immigrants: your country needs them and European Spring: Why Our Economies and Politics are in a Mess – and How to Put Them Right

Peter Smith
director of tourism, St. Mary’s University College, Twickenham, London; co-author, Volunteer Tourism: the lifestyle politics of international development

Produced by
Peter Smith director of tourism, St. Mary’s University College, Twickenham, London; co-author, Volunteer Tourism: the lifestyle politics of international development
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