Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

A Mixed-Methods Investigation of Community Attachment in Rural Romania*

Academic journal article Journal of Rural Social Sciences

A Mixed-Methods Investigation of Community Attachment in Rural Romania*

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article explores the intricacies of community attachment using a multidimensional construct; attachment to the social and natural environment. A central focus is to assess whether attachment to the social and natural environment are distinctively predicted by length of residence, social interaction, and sociodemographic characteristics. Furthermore, this work elaborates on current understandings of community attachment by qualitatively exploring feelings of attachment toward the place of residence. All are explored in the context of rural Romania and communities managing the natural resources available to them. The results show the effect of several independent variables on attachment to social and natural environments. Residency was a stronger predictor of attachment to the social environment, while social interaction was a stronger predictor of attachment to the natural environment. Residents' narratives underscored the importance, and interconnection, of the social and natural environment in defining feelings of local attachment. We conclude that community attachment is grounded in different facets of the locale that each play unique roles in shaping citizen perceptions.

Rural communities attract considerable attention due to their continuous exposure to external pressures instigating local economic and social instabilities. Flora and Flora (1990) and Wilkinson (1991) emphasized that, to achieve sustainability in such communities, building social structures, maintaining population, and engaging residents in community action is imperative. This need is particularly relevant in Romania, the Eastern-European country exposed over the last twenty years to a wide range of economic and social changes following almost a half century under a communist regime. Institutional renewal, massive restructuring, and privatization are characterizing the postcommunist period. In this process, demographic and social-economic changes continue to take place with direct impacts on citizens' attitudes and behaviors (Roman and Roman 2003). The treatment and management of natural resources remain a vitally important issue in this setting.

The rural landscape of Romania is experiencing complex social, economic, and institutional developments. Often in the public media increased attention is given to out-migration in rural Romanian communities, with younger generations being strongly driven by more stable economic opportunities to urban areas. Equally important has been the attention given to what is seen as an acute lack of citizen interest and participation in community affairs in rural Romania (pjb Associates 2006). This has particular implications for the management of natural resources in rural areas. Some have argued that such developments are a direct consequence of a low sense of community in rural areas. Others suggest a legacy of the communist system, primarily based on a centralized political power where little expectations for public engagement existed (Oostenbrink and Kosterink 2005).

Central to an active, engaged citizenry is the concept of community attachment. It is a key concept discussed as being at the root of community action that ultimately fosters community development and sustainable resource management (Trentelman 2009; Wilkinson 1986, 1991). Consequently, such attachment has been examined in a variety of disciplines, focusing on operationalizing the construct, as well as understanding its major determinants and its implications for community well-being (Theodori 2000).

The focus on attachment and community is particularly relevant in Romania, where public engagement, participation, and involvement in resource management has been called for and viewed as paramount in areas rich in natural resources. The research literature underscores that successful management endeavors and environmental sustainability depend on the cooperation and support of local communities (Brandon and Wells 1992; de Beer and Marais 2005; Hall 2004). …

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