Defining municipalism is not an easy task. The term, always associated to the local sphere, has been used in different ways in different places and times. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, municipalism is “the preference for municipal as opposed to centralized action or control in government; municipal government as an institution.” But there are other uses of the concept that go beyond the focus on the autonomy of local government because they understand politics in a broader sense, that includes not only formal institutions. From some examples in the libertarian tradition and different forms of anarchist organization to Bookchin’s communalism (Bookchin 2014), municipalism has also been understood as a way of constructing and organizing political power beyond government, in society.
New municipalism is a political strategy that differs from others in the fact that it not only pursues building power from a specific place (the local level) but also in its approach towards politics:
- It does not only aim at implementing progressive policies, but at radically changing the way politics is done. It aims at departing from representative democracy and to implement participatory, open and horizontal decision-making mechanisms that truly distribute power.
- It aims at working both within and outside formal institutions. The emphasis on one or the other varies, depending on the place, but municipalism aims at articulating the “inside” with the “outside” and to blur the borders between the two.
- Instead of building power by scaling up local initiatives vertically, it aims at combining local action with networked distributed and cooperative power trans-locally. From the municipality to the globe.
- It has a feminist approach towards politics: care ethics, care work, relationships, interdependence and the challenge of privileges are at the center of the agenda.