Local currency adoption and use: insights from a realist evaluation of the Bristol Pound

Susan Johnson, Helen Harvey-Wilson

Research output: Working paper / PreprintWorking paper

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Local currencies (LCs) are seen as a means of achieving greater local economic and environmentalsustainability by keeping value circulating locally. However, there is weak evidence regarding theirsuccess on this score, not least because their achievement of scale is rare. There is rather moreevidence that their social dynamics and role as “moral money” constitute their main appeal to users.Given the recent promotion of LCs in the UK as a step towards low-carbon economies, this presentsan apparent contradiction since, in order to break out of their niche and reach scale, their promotersneed to go beyond their proposed economic impacts to understand the incentives and reasoninginvolved in adopting and using them. We therefore employ realist evaluation to examine theadoption pathways of Bristol Pound (B£) users, the UK’s largest LC. We find that Bristol’s identity as acentre of alternative culture is a key context for adoption. Within this the values, image and identityof the B£ as alternative, along with the social networks that identify with these values, produces anexus of potential users for the B£. At the same time, these factors also create strong boundaries toits use constraining the currency to a niche of ideologically committed and motivated users. Theanalysis also shows how even for some of these users shopping habits and financial security constrainuse. Critically, these findings highlight the bind that LCs have to address if they are to reach scale andthe economic impact to which they aspire.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherCentre for Development Studies, University of Bath
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2018

Publication series

NameBath Papers in International Development and Wellbeing


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