In spite of decades of offshoring and a global race-to-the-bottom, manufacturing remains a significant part of the European economy, employing around 30 million people. Given increasing evidence of the vulnerabilities and unsustainabilities resulting from over-reliance on global supply chains, especially in a post-Covid context, RESHORE aims to enhance our understanding of how emerging and established manufacturers operate and thrive, influencing discourse on sustainable economic transformation in Europe.
Reshore – Towards Alternative Production Networks (APNs)
The pursuit of just-in-time (JIT) production, fossil fuel-based mobility, and extensive offshoring – all underpinning a growth-based economy – have resulted in widely acknowledged vulnerabilities.
Facing shortages of products and raw materials during initial months of the Covid crisis, for instance, governments and communities eschewed the market and stepped in to meet shortfalls in various ways. This coincides with the arrival of the European Green Deal and new forms of ‘green’ protectionism.
While it has been argued for decades that much of the food supply can or should be relocalised – sparking a flourishing of research on Alternative Food Networks (AFNs) – this perspective has been less prevalent with regard to the production of non-foodstuffs. Instead, the free-market idea of the Global North as ‘post-industrial’ remains prevalent.
RESHORE will focus on the role of Alternative Production Networks (APNs) for community wellbeing and sustainability.
Key Question: Is localisation always good? For whom?
Building on the work of EF Schumacher, we can ask ‘When is small beautiful?’
Simply (re)localising production does not necessarily create resilience, justice or sustainability by default. Therefore, understanding the qualitative factors in such a move to reshoring, and how it can be conducted in more regenerative and inclusive ways, is crucial.
Emerging work in ecological economics differentiates, for example, between ‘open relocalisation’ and chauvinistic protectionism. Examples of open relocalisation in the literature include the worker-led factory occupations which followed economic recessions at other times and places (such as after the economic crisis of 2001 in Argentina) and the Alternative Production movement of the 1970s.
Cultures of Making
Economic geographers have increasingly turned their attention to ‘cultures of making’ (Carr & Gibson, 2015), asking questions such as ‘How should we make, and what skills are needed to make, given the looming spectre of economic and environmental crisis?’ (Gibson & Carr, 2018). This pays attention to how skills and manufacturing practices develop in place, and can be re-appropriated for the common good (for instance, for repair of the ecological commons or for community benefit)