What do micro-breweries, the production of retro surfboards and urbanites going to the countryside to become farmers have in common? A pronounced taste for local production rooted in a unique history. This would be at the heart of a trend that affects many sectors. If it is confirmed, it should attract our attention, because it shows many changes in terms of work practices and lifestyles.
Neo-peasants and neo-artisans
Unlike other changes in work, such as telework or digital nomadism, which are characterized by high mobility and digitalisation of relations and production, the trend for local production, which is accompanied by a preference for a consumption of equally local products according to an Ipsos survey in 2014, is anchored in a territory and a history. To express this trend, the prefix “neo” is often used to signify the innovative nature of this approach and its affiliation with traditional practices. We then speak of neo-peasants and neo-artisans.
Neo-peasants and neo-craftsmen working on the outskirts of cities or in the countryside share the same approach: relying on contemporary tools to invent alternative production and consumption methods. Coming from social backgrounds often remote from the world of crafts or agriculture, these new workers discover manual practices that are innovative or inherited from the past. For example, neo-peasants – ie new farmers of urban origin and unrelated to this sector – represent 30% of installations . By favoring short circuits and alternative production methods, they bring up to date practices and products considered authentic while making them part of current trends.
Local production therefore seems to be a trend that affects many sectors, to the point of becoming a banner for many pretenders to entrepreneurship. This trend, carried by a generation of entrepreneurs as much in search of meaning as in search of a remunerative activity, seems to be related to a conservative movement which would consist in idealizing bygone modes of production and consumption.
However, unlike nostalgia, which consists in regretting a glorified past, this quest for the local aims more to give meaning to new activities by drawing on references from various periods and fields. It is undoubtedly related to trends that marketers call neo-retro or retro-innovation, ie practices and products of yesteryear that also mobilize contemporary technologies.
Towards gentrification of rural areas?
Should we compare this trend with the gentrification of certain cities? On closer inspection, these practices indeed seem to be developing rapidly in the cities and neighborhoods already described as being in the process of gentrification. For example, it is interesting to note the proliferation of Parisian micro-breweries in recent years. However, it would be simplistic to think that this phenomenon only affects certain large cities.
Local production also seems to be developing in many regions – as an effect of consumer attraction for these products, according to the general commission for sustainable development – and above all this phenomenon shows a renewed interest in rural areas. We then use the notion of neo-campaign to designate territories that have not yet been deserted and which today attract a population of urban dwellers who wish to settle and develop a professional activity. Unlike their elders who thought they would find in these countryside spaces allowing a life in autarky, it would seem that these neo-peasants and craftsmen are in a process of opening up to the world.
Moreover, far from wanting to be disconnected, they are very present on the Internet. It is for example on social networks that these trends are affirmed and staged. Instagram and Facebook are powerful media for promoting neo-retro products or services. In another genre, on Pinterest there are also countless categories of contemporary images featuring local and authentic practices. In short, these neo-rurals are players in the development of a local culture and know-how, but are also keen to interact with as many people as possible.
Epiphenomenon or underlying trend? It will probably take a few more years to form an opinion. One thing is certain, the interest in local production, concerned with the history of the territory and the environment, is already questioning our relationship to consumption and the territory. Contrary to studies that indicate a growing concentration of populations in large cities , this trend is perhaps the premise of a deconcentration of economic activities and development of rural areas.
This could also benefit many people, especially those who have been fighting for a long time to maintain economic activities in so-called remote areas. The opening of new third places almost everywhere in France, the continuous progress of technologies allowing remote working and the availability of land are all elements that make this hypothesis plausible.