Key note 1
Title: “School closures in rural areas: How necessary are they, and what are the consequences for the local population?”
Professor Gunnar Lind Haase Svendsen
The presentation conveys results from a combined interview study and population analysis, undertaken in spring 2015 in the Danish peripheral municipality of Tønder in the south-western part of Jutland, near the German border (Svendsen & Sørensen 2016). The topic is important, partly because there is a general lack of combined qualitative-demographic studies of the local socio-economic consequences of these closures, partly because local and regional debates on school closures are ongoing in Denmark and elsewhere. These ‘clashes’ between (emotional) local viewpoints and the (economic) viewpoints of municipalities and the state have in fact escalated during the last couple of decades. Thus, in Denmark, a firm belief among decision-takers that ‘big is an effective kick’ (stort er velgjort) rather than ‘small is beautiful’ (småt er godt) has prevailed and e.g. resulted in a municipal reform in 2007 with a merger of 271 municipalities into 98. In this context, the overall purpose of our research project was to account for the positive and negative consequences of the closure of 8 out of 19 schools in Tønder Municipality in 2011. More specifically, we wanted to know 1) whether the population development in the 8 local communities (parishes) was anormal compared to the parishes where closures had not taken place, 2) how the interviewed municipality politicians and employees had experienced the school closure process they themselves had decided upon and carried through, and 3) how the interviewed local rural dwellers in the afflicted local communities had experienced the consequences for their respective communities. The presentation will focus on the latter part and, besides, briefly review the international literature, compare with another Danish peripheral municipality (Jammerbugt), which has chosen not to close small schools and – on this background – suggests some policy recommendations.
Gunnar Lind Haase Svendsen is an anthropologist and holds a PhD degree in cultural history. He is professor at the Danish Center for Rural Research, University of Southern Denmark, Department of Sociology, Environmental and Business Economics. His research interests include social capital theory, discourse analysis, historical institutionalism, the socioeconomic importance of trust and civic movements in rural areas, mostly Denmark. He has published papers in international journals within sociology, history and economics, as well as books, including The Creation and Destruction of Social Capital: Entrepreneurship, Co-operative Movements and Institutions (Edward Elgar, London, 2004), and Trust, Social Capital and the Scandinavian Welfare State: Explaining the Flight of the Bumblebee (Edward Elgar, London, 2016), both together with Gert T. Svendsen. His topics within rural studies include voluntary associations, public services, life satisfaction, social networks, church life, socio-spatial planning and small businesses.
Contact details: Danish Center for Rural Research, University of Southern Denmark, Department of Sociology, Environmental and Business Economics, Niels Bohrs Vej 9, 6700 Esbjerg, Denmark, Email: email@example.com.
Telephpne: +45 65504227 Mobile: +45 22823707
Key note 2:
Nordic welfare states and geographic pluralities: public sector reforms and future challenges for rural communities.
Senior researcher Svein Frisvoll
Changing demography and uncertainties around future public funding put the expanding and evermore advanced Nordic welfare states, and especially their rural areas, under pressure. The combined consequences of these structural forces hit unevenly. The demographic consequences and their societal issues are well known. Urban and peri-urban areas experience rapid population growth, and although these areas also have an ageing population, their demographic weight is still within younger adults (20-40 years). Many rural areas, however, undergo a steady population decline, especially in the peripheries. Their demographic weight is steadily creeping towards the older age cohorts. However, the mutual interlinkages between this changing demography and the Nordic states’ welfare systems are understudied, especially in light of bleaker fiscal outlooks (ageing population) – and for Norway’s part: reduced petroleum revenues. These uneven developments represent a multitude of different contexts in which uniform welfare services are to be produced and managed. Simultaneously, the welfare state’s tasks and responsibilities seems to expand steadily as new services are implemented and regulatory frames are changed. Producing such services also seem to become more complex, as our time seem to be the age of “high possibilities”, “high expectations”, “high demand” and “high ability to make one’s expectations heard” (cf. social media). The sum of this is tougher requirements for highly specialised competence, and a need to manage and coordinate between a multitude of public/private bodies and services at different geographical divisions. On top of this, the national regulatory regime becomes intertwined with international regulation. Onto this churning context of deep change, the Nordic welfare states introduces public sector reforms, partly as a response to structural changes, but perhaps also because the changes represent a window of opportunity to impose ideologically driven changes.
The modern welfare state has so far ensured that the rural areas with declining population have not been turned into depleted societies. The question is, however, if we can continue to expect the welfare state to continue safeguarding communities with declining population against economic, cultural and social depletion? Frisvoll’s keynote presentation will address the combined pressures on rural communities and rural municipalities from demographic trajectories, welfare state reforms and national reforms in local government (the municipality reform), and analyse what future challenges lay ahead for rural communities in the Nordic countries.
Svein Frisvoll is senior researcher and research manager at Centre for Rural Research, where he has managerial responsibilities for two of the centre’s four key research areas: “Local Communities” and “Municipalities, Regions and Rural-Urban Interface”. Frisvoll has a PhD in Geography from Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), and focuses on issues within rural space, regional geography and local government in rural areas. His works on rural space include research on rural change with a particular focus on power and the entanglement of landscape, actors/agency and institutions. His works in regional geography and local government in rural areas include studies of regional development, amalgamation of municipalities, identity and the institutionalisation of new regional forms. Frisvoll has also studied how rural municipalities, some of which face bleak demographic trajectories, meet challenging national welfare reforms and structural reforms, and particularly their strategies for producing welfare services through inter-municipal cooperation. Frisvoll is part of the team of researchers studying work immigration to rural areas in the ongoing project “Global Labour in Rural Societies” (GLARUS).
Contact details: Centre for Rural Research, Dragvoll Campus, 7491 Trondheim, Telephone: +4740212862
Key note 3:
Mine establishment in the rural North: Politics of localization and uneven Development
Senior lecturer Karin Beland Lindahl
Changing welfare states, demographics, mobilities and governance approaches affect existence and the conditions for development in the Rural North. But what effects do the ongoing changes have on traditional natural resource based enterprises such as mining? In the early 1990s, Swedish mining was deregulated and opened to international actors, not least as a strategy to attract foreign investments. Over the last decade, Northern Sweden witnessed an increase in sceptical attitudes towards mine establishment, even in areas that have traditionally harboured positive attitudes toward mining. In some places, intractable, even violent, conflicts have evolved. In other places, new mines are welcomed or even asked for. Drawing on comparative qualitative and quantitate research, Karin Beland Lindahl explores the connections between mineral policy, place related factors such as labor market, demography, natural resource management history, and local actors’ perceptions and acceptance of new mine establishments in Northern Sweden. Using a place based lens, she investigates negotiations and conflicts over mine establishment as expressions of alternative, or competing, pathways to sustainability. However, sustainable development means different things to different actors who perceive different pathways to sustainability. Everybody wants jobs and a sustainable future for their descendants but a major division exists between those who perceive a mine as a threat and those who see it is a precondition for sustainable development. Whereas expectations of more jobs and local growth seem to be the most important factors shaping pro-mining perceptions and position, misgivings about negative effects on the environment, Sámi reindeer husbandry, Sámi culture, and outdoor recreation shape the negative ones. These perceptions, in turn, are linked to socio-economic factors such as education, perceptions of the legitimacy of the formal permitting process and place related parameters such as local labour market, population development, social organisation and political culture. Consequently, the spatial distribution of these factors affects local interpretations of sustainable development and mobilisation in ways that may explain why resistance and conflict exist in some places but not in another. Hence, the future of extractive industries in the Rural North is shaped by a politics of localisation that may give rise to uneven development rather than sustainable development.
Karin Beland Lindahl (PhD) is a senior lecturer with the political science unit of Luleå University of Technology in Sweden. She has a PhD in rural development from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and did her Post-Doctoral studies at the Institute for Future Studies in Stockholm. She has consistently focused her research on politics of natural resource management in rural contexts and is particularly interested in the the relationship between people’s perceptions and political action. What perceptions or preferences are prioritized and whose are ignored in policy making, and how should institutions be (re)designed to avoid or handle natural resource conflicts in legitimate ways? These questions have guided much of her previous and current research which focuses on governance and public policy in a natural resource management context. Her publications include studies of local processes, global trends, national governance, and how different governance levels interact and shape the conditions for national and local politics. Theoretically, Karin’s research is best placed in the field of interpretive policy analysis. Her expertise is in qualitative methods but she collaborates closely with colleagues with expertise in quantitative analysis. She has an interdisciplinary background, an interest in participatory research approaches and has been part of several interdisciplinary research projects and programs. Her current research focuses on three interlinked themes: natural resource management policy, place and sustainability, and conflicts and deliberation. Empirically, she has moved from a focus on forests to projects exploring the forest-, energy-, and land- use- nexus as well as mineral exploitation. She is currently involved in a number of research projects that explore the intersection between forest and climate policy as well as conflicts, legitimacy and deliberation in relation to mineral exploitation in Sweden and beyond.
Contact details: Unit of Political Science, ETS, Luleå University of Technology, 971 87 Luleå, Sweden, Telephone: +46929493293