Vibrant localism: the lure of Common Ground

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This paper explores the emergence of the arts and environmental charity Common Ground and their association with authors such as John Fowles and Alice Oswald. Drawing on the background of its founding members in environmental activism of the 1970s, it suggests a relationship between the charity’s response to the Thatcherite 1980s and the aesthetic strategies of the postmodern novel. But is also traces this into more recent preoccupations with an ethical attitude to ‘a determining but nevertheless unrepresentable real’ (Boxall). In tracking the resistance of these activists and authors to official government institutions and institutional practices, it does, however, recall an alternative way of thinking about institution as temporal, as the emergence of something new, drawing on the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and bringing it into productive dialogue with Raymond Williams’ descriptions of divergences in a ‘structure of feeling’. The claim it makes is that the work of Common Ground and these various artists helped to institute a divergence in a certain structure of feeling at a time of political and historical impasse. Doing so serves to remember the capacity of the ‘institutional’ to be oriented towards the future rather than an ossifying present and to connote possibility where it might otherwise suggest imposition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)86-102
Number of pages17
JournalCritical Quarterly
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • localism
  • environmental criticism
  • activism
  • john fowles
  • alice oswald
  • common ground

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