Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

My Village Is Dying? Integrating Methods from the Inside Out

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

My Village Is Dying? Integrating Methods from the Inside Out

Article excerpt

THE PURPOSE OF this paper is to first, confront the notion of "rural decline" at the village level and second, to illustrate how a more immersive approach to demographic research can further our understanding of rural and remote communities. "Rural decline" is typically represented by a series of quantitative trends at the regional level that are assumed as evidence--population loss and aging, closure of services and businesses--whose (negative) meaning and importance is implicit. Significant regions in countries like Australia, Canada, and Sweden have been identified as "in decline" on this basis. In contrast, qualitative research undertaken at the settlement (town or village) level tends to look for social structures that enable towns and villages to revitalize and reverse these negative trends (Li et al. 2016). Settlement-level research, when compared to that focused on "decline," challenges negative assumptions and can uncover processes and strategies that counter the deterioration of rural and remote villages. This paper proposes that a deeper understanding of local processes that recognizes qualitative experience is required to understand what it means to be a rural village in a declining region, and that new methods of linked quantitative and qualitative analyses are needed to facilitate this understanding.

The very term "decline" carries both quantitative and qualitative meanings. Quantitatively, there is a process of indicators becoming represented by absolute or comparative decrease in selected indicators. Decline represents a reduced capacity to do something or to be something. Carson and Schmallegger (2011), for example, examined small rural towns which had declined in their ability to attract tourists. In Canada, Ensign (2010) has discussed declining ability to attract and retain entrepreneurs, and others have conducted analyses of difficulties in retaining skilled and professional workers (Fiore et al. 2015). The decline of places might be reflected quite directly in a quantitative sense (population, physicians per capita, number of tourists). There is less attention paid to what these places might decline to. Quantitatively, linear forecasting suggests continued decline of a resident population may ultimately lead to the disappearance of settlement. Mostly, however, even very small villages persist over long periods of time (Ahlin 2015; Robards and Alessa 2004), suggesting decline is likely nonlinear or at least has some end point which is different to disappearance (Banks 2001).

This research explores two somewhat overlapping concepts from rural sociology. The first is the idea of "rurality" itself, and a particular kind of rurality that has been referred to as "extractive" or "northern" in the Canadian literature (Stark, Gravel, and Robinson 2014). The second concept is that of community or village "identity" (Dampier et al. 2014), which is similarly tied to a set of myths about living in small and relatively isolated settlements. The myths are remarkably similar in each of the three countries from which we draw our cases, and, indeed, have a sociological tradition beyond those countries (Freudenburg 1992). At a regional level (the "rural"), these areas are seen as unable to manage the transition from domestic to global economies, subject to "booms and busts" in economic performance, regional population decline, increasing poverty, and a myriad of social problems (Markey, Halseth, and Manson 2008). Within the "rural" are individual places--often referred to as "communities," engaged in a "battle" against the processes of decline, armed with "resilience," "capital," or "identity" (Buikstra et al. 2010). However, these social constructs are varied, with communities and population groups, particularly indigenous communities, having a multitude of means via which identity is expressed, emerging from interactions between individuals, their communities, and the larger regional, national, and global systems (Kirmayer et al. …

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