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The Enduring Need for Community in a Global Age to be Discussed in WIU's 2006 Distinguished Faculty Lecture

February 3, 2006

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MACOMB, IL - - Two competing traditions in American culture – individual freedom and the need for community – will be explored in light of history, society and democracy by Christopher Merrett, Western Illinois University professor of geography, director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs and the University’s 2006 Distinguished Faculty Lecturer.

Merrett will present “In a Global Economy, The Marlboro Man Needs a Neighbor: The Enduring Need for Community in the 21st Century” at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 23 in the College of Fine Arts and Communication Recital Hall, Simpkins Hall, on the Macomb campus and at 3 p.m. Monday, April 10 at WIU-Quad Cities (Room 102), in Moline.

“My premise is that while individual freedom and the need for community have often been posed in opposition to one another, they can also be combined to create new economic development strategies,” Merrett said. “This is important because at the beginning of the 21st century, many communities are beleaguered by the onslaught of free trade and market forces.

“I will argue that while some communities and businesses have not fared well, other ‘entrepreneurial communities’ have succeeded by understanding that entrepreneurship and cooperation are not mutually exclusive concepts,” he added.

Merrett’s presentation will include research he has conducted at Western’s Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) on new cooperative business forms and the development of specific entrepreneurial communities such as Renville, MN and the Mondragon Region of Spain, which, he said, “have met the challenge of globalization head on.”

“Americans still embrace the entrepreneurial idea of individual freedom; but in order to help small businesses and communities compete in a global economy, we need to rethink the idea of individual achievement,” Merrett said.

“My idea is that the Marlboro Man, identified as one of the most influential advertising icons in the 20th century because of its appeal to freedom and independence, needs a neighbor. In other words, we can resurrect the American Dream by combining individual entrepreneurship and cooperation in a place-based development strategy. Two strategies I identify are new locally-owned cooperative businesses and entrepreneurial communities,” he added.

Merrett, who was named director of the IIRA July 1, 2005, succeeding founding director Norman Walzer, has been a faculty member there since 1995, with teaching duties in the geography department and Western’s Centennial Honors College. He has co-managed the Illinois Value-Added Rural Development Center and has authored or edited more than 100 publications, including five books and 14 book chapters. Most recently, he co-edited, with Walzer, two books: “A Cooperative Approach to Local Economic Development” and “Cooperatives and Local Development: Theory and Applications for the 21st Century.” He has published in many journals, including the Journal of the Community Development Society, Journal of Geography, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Urban Geography and the Professional Geographer.

Merrett has taught both graduate and undergraduate students and has served on 60 masterÂ’s and doctoral thesis committees at Western, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, George Mason University and the University of Florida, serving as chair on 35 of those committees. He has extensive experience in grant writing, strategic planning, project management, conference planning and directing research. Merrett has served in leadership positions in numerous professional organizations and has served on the editorial board of two journals.

Merrett earned a doctorate degree in geography from the University of Iowa (1994); a masterÂ’s degree in geography from the University of Vermont (1988); a bachelorÂ’s degree in political science from Lake Superior State University, Sault Ste. Marie, MI (1986); and a bachelorÂ’s degree in geography from the University of Western Ontario (1983).

Western Illinois first presented an annual lecturer award in 1969 to honor an outstanding faculty member whose professional development in research or creative activity, teaching and service to the University represent the highest standards of the academic community. In 1998 the award was renamed the Distinguished Faculty Lecturer.

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