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Challenging Peripheralising Discourses: Connecting New Regional Knowledges

Challenging Peripheralising Discourses

Joanie Willett, Politics, University of Exeter, Cornwall.

Key findings

  • The stories that we tell about our region are really important for how we want to develop our future.
  • The stories that we tell about Cornwall are compromised by the fact that people don’t always know how the economy has changed in recent years.
  • In Cornwall, one way that we might challenge this would be to make it more clear to people wanting to train and re-train, what skills are needed in the local economy, and where those skills might be gained.


People construct stories about regions for many reasons. From Cornwall to Eastern Europe and the Southern Appalachian mountains, regions and communities use aspects of their own identities to promote themselves and the things that they do to the outside world, and in turn, the outside world ‘knows’, or develops an interpretation about these regions. For example, I ‘know’ that Paris is a place of high culture and sophisticated people even though I have never been there. In actual fact, this ‘knowing’ might be based on inaccurate information and might not be something that people that live there experience.

Rural regions, and regions that are ‘peripheral’ to economic hubs are often imagined in ways which ‘stigmatises’ them (for example, the perception that businesses from rural regions are less good at innovation than cities). As we know in Cornwall, this is not necessarily true, and as our businesses making kayaks, litter bins, and swimwear from recycled fishing nets show us, people in rural areas can be extremely innovative too.

The challenge then, is to find ways of talking about Cornwall which means that everybody becomes our ‘brand ambassadors’, able to tell every visitor about what great things we do in contemporary Cornwall. However, part of the problem that we have, is that many of us just do not know about how the Cornish economy has transformed in the past few decades.
This is a real problem for our businesses in many of our newer sectors. For example, how can school leavers who want to stay in Cornwall know that the digital economy, or aerospace can provide an interesting career locally? As a consequence, not enough people are gaining the skill-sets that our businesses need in order to flourish properly.

One way that we can bridge this gap, is if jobseekers are able to better find out what kinds of skills are the most marketable in the workplace, and what the skills gaps are in Cornwall’s economy. Then, we might be able to go some way towards making more visible how our economy has changed, and then all of us will be better equipped to generate stories about Cornwall that tells the world how amazing we are!.

»Read full paper on Open Research Exeter (ORE)