The power of human agency: successful community development strategies in Norway’s rural northern margins

The power of human agency: successful community development strategies in Norway’s rural... Abstract This article analyses the two fundamental contemporary challenges, and tries to outline a possible development strategy targeting these challenges. First, how do we build community in an age of individualism? Second, how can a small remote community counter the massive structural forces of centralization and urbanization? The first of these challenges is faced by all community developers today, whilst rural developers, in order to succeed, need to address them both. Drawing on experiences from an innovative rural development project in Finnøya, Northern Norway, a project that resulted in growth in a very peripheral village, the author argues that a focus shift is necessary, from the natural and material resource base to the human one. Ultimately, positive place and community development is about engaged, active and interested human beings. How can the creativity and deep engagement of the individual become an asset for the whole community, asks the author, and outlines a network-based community development model, aimed at maximizing the individual freedom to create and at the same time producing new community goods and values. Introduction: from structural to human-near perspectives The public discourse on rural depopulation in Norway, is primarily focused on structural factors. Lack of appropriate infrastructure (roads, public transport systems, etc.), lack of ‘interesting’ jobs, as well as distance from a major town and/or regional centre, are arguments that are repeatedly used. Such arguments are often presented as ‘facts’. Being generalized assertions about development trends and directions, neither of them are, seemingly, amenable to local human beings. Thus, debates about rural development quickly turn into large scale value discourses and therefore also into party politics, making general elections the arena of influence for ‘ordinary people’. Furthermore, neither are grand structural theories particularly useful when it comes to accounting for differential development between places within the same region (with more or less the same infrastructure, job-market, and proximity to larger centres/towns). With structural conditions being more or less the same, why are two neighbouring villages in the same region still performing so differently? Why are people and businesses leaving village A whilst village B – located only a few miles down the road – experiences an opposite development with in-migration, business innovations and optimism? Having been involved in action oriented rural development research in Norway for almost two decades now, I have repeatedly come across local communities/places that are performing remarkably better than their neighbours – despite having the same structural advantages/disadvantages. Endogenous development (van der Ploeg and Long, 1994; van der Ploeg and van Dijk, 1995; van der Ploeg and Renting, 2000) is used as a collective term for initiatives and activities coming from within a community (‘bottom-up development’). It is a plausible hypothesis that intra-regional development differences between communities/places are caused by different endogenous strategies. Regarding the case mentioned above, a higher level of involvement in endogenous development initiatives is expected in village B. However, to produce knowledge and information that is directly relevant to development practitioners in small rural communities in Norway and elsewhere, we need to dig deeper than that. We need to identify, first, why people in village B are far more actively involved in participatory practices than people in village A, second, what strategy/procedure/methodology is used for mobilization, and third, who the original actors were and why they got involved. A human-near development strategy Most practitioners would probably agree with the statement that ‘rural development is ultimately about people’. Dedicated human actions are necessary to turn potential resources into active development assets. And yet, only very few of the many rural development projects I’ve been involved in as an action researcher, have put primary focus on the human dimension of development. The importance of local people may be mentioned, but the emphasis is on capitalizing on local nature qualities and/or on cultural heritage attractions. Local involvement is seen as tool, not as an end. Often, too little emphasis is put on the mobilization phase, and on the many different potential ways to participate. Too much is decided before people are asked to get involved, leading to a too narrow ownership base to ideas and aims. The result could be that too few actors take part, and the process then fails to deliver its defined aims (Lønning, 2014). In my experience, the communities that succeed both when it comes to in-migration and business development – the village Bs – do have a clear strategy on mobilization and involvement. They also put individual and collective wellbeing – both in a short and long term – as number one on the agenda in their development activities. For the Bs, happiness/wellbeing and creativity is the ultimate goal of local development activities. This observation is in line with overall trends within international development. Schroeder (2015: 1) argues that the economic growth paradigm is being challenged by ‘multidimensional approaches to development that place people, not economic growth, as the ultimate end of development’. It does not necessarily have to be either or, however. A human-near perspective may aim to do both; achieve growth (social, cultural, economic) through putting primary focus on human happiness and wellbeing in a local community. The main idea is simple, and has repeatedly proved effective (Lønning, 2014): people who feel involved, welcome, integrated and listened too, will develop a stronger love of place and therefore become more dedicated and engaged community developers in the long run. In the following I will explore some elements of such a strategy. The case I will rely on, is the recent positive development history of the peripheral community of Finnøya. Finnøya – from decline to new optimism Structurally, there is nothing unique about Finnøya. Like so many rural communities in Northern Norway it is characterized by peripherality (almost 20 km to the nearest store/gas station, 70 km to the municipality hall, and several hours of travel to the main regional town), small size (about sixty people), very rudimentary infrastructure (when I first came there, the road to Finnøya was a 17 km gravel road full of deep holes and big rocks). Finnøya has no grocery store nor any public institutions like school, kindergarten, post office or old age home, and people are used to travelling considerable distances for these services. There are also many empty houses (only used as holiday homes) in Finnøya, mainly due to outmigration and an aging population (at the time when the active development initiative started). The first time I heard about this community, was in a conversation with the Mayor of the local municipality. At the time I was involved in a cultural project in the region. The Mayor spoke about a very special community that I – being a rural development researcher – definitively ‘had to visit’ due to the positive development taking place there. The Mayor also told me that people from Finnøya were renowned locally for their high level of participation in voluntary development work and cultural activities: - The people from there are unique. When we have a cultural activity in the town centre, they have to drive for an hour to get there. And still it is they who volunteer as guards and not the people living only a few minutes away. A little later I got an invitation to speak at a local mobilization event in Finnøya. The event was to take place in ‘grendehuset’ – the community hall built through voluntary labour by community members. ‘A place to make a home’ I will not forget the welcome. ‘Standard’ serving for a local meeting like this, is coffee, tea and biscuits. In Finnøya, a third of the community’s 60 members – all organized through ‘Grendelaget’, the community club – were involved in the kitchen setting up a large evening buffet – made up of homemade delicacies. Everybody had brought something special in from their own kitchen. The buffet was big enough to feed 150, and still I was the only external guest. People told me that the buffet made the mobilization meeting into a feast, thereby tying people even closer together and increasing wellbeing/happiness and sense of place in the community. Instead of delegating the task of preparing food to one person or a small group of people, the buffet became a manifestation of the Finnøya development model: each individual’s involvement in and responsibility for producing community and collective goods. At the meeting I heard several personal stories from people who had moved in to Finnøya. One had moved in from the regional town. He talked about a difficult past involving drug-use. A couple had come from Mid-Europe, originally as tourists. The ‘fabulous reception’ made them stay, they said: - In a time of flux, we have found a place where it just felt right to make a home. We are tired of searching. I feel we’ve found what we were looking for. Now they were building, virtually, a half house – ‘more than big enough for a family, and at the same time a visual statement saying just that’. Another couple came from the Baltics, originally as seasonal workers in agriculture. But when a dairy farm was up for sale, they chose to stay. They were still combining dairy farming with helping out at other farms when I met them, and were able to make a living out of this combination. A third couple was from Norway and the United States, and had settled in Finnøya to have a base for eco-tourism activities, nature philosophy and practicing shamanism. What makes Finnøya ‘successful’? Between 1999 and 2015, the population in Finnøya has varied between fifty two and sixty eight (Lønning, Barstad and Evans, 2012). It has increased a bit over the last few years, but the figures are so small that quantitative indicators are of little relevance when it comes to measuring and evaluating change. A number of new small-scale business have been established, most of them linked to tourism, local food and green care in agriculture. The main reason Finnøya has become known regionally as a success story, however, is not because of numbers of people or businesses, but because of high scores on community characteristics that people, locally, see as positive and desirable. When so many people I talked to in the surrounding region mentioned ‘all the exciting things happening in Finnøya’ or ‘the success of Finnøya’, what they were referring to was the diversity of the population, with so many in-migrants, and the high frequency of new activities starting up. A number of local festivals and very frequent use of Grendehuset for community feasts was mentioned. A concrete example that several talked about was the initiative taken in Finnøya to create a wheel-barrow relay through all the local communities in the region – many of them much bigger than Finnøya – over a whole day. The initiative turned into a large regional family feast with all sorts of local activities being linked to the relay. Start and finish was Finnøya, with Grendelaget as main organizer. This initiative has been so successful that even national Norwegian TV has covered it. People I talked to from neighbouring communities who were registering what took place in Finnøya, told me that they were ‘envious’ in relation to ‘how much they are able to do out there’. Here are some of the assessments that I collected: ‘They are very creative’ ‘They have a very developed dugnadsånd’ (a strong local culture for participating in voluntary community labour) ‘They are known for their hospitality’ ‘They always say yes to come and help out at our activities’ ‘It’s always an experience to go there’ When I was encouraged to visit Finnøya, I was told by a municipality official, that ‘It is impossible to describe the place and the people. You need to go there and experience and feel it yourself’. Being welcomed so warmly, I understood what the person meant. Like others, I experienced the community as warm, welcoming and united. In a way I felt like an insider from the first moment. From the outset I was invited into activities, given tasks, asked personal questions about my life in general and my interests in particular. I’ve felt close to local communities through my work before, but that ‘bonding’ never happened so quickly as it did in Finnøya. Consequently, the first meeting led to a number of other visits, and many conversations with community members. At a later national rural development seminar that my institution was involved in arranging in Finnøya, we were presented with more personal mobility stories from in-migrants. People were asked to tell us where they came from, why they left, and, then, why they had settled in very small and very peripheral Finnøya (ibid). In one aspect the stories were highly different; people came from very different places, the reasons for moving were also highly different. They also had different plans for how they wanted to conduct their new lives in Finnøya. One theme recurred in every personal history, however. In different words all inmigrants who took part talked about the importance of being, now I’m using ‘Shelly’s’ words, ‘allowed to be who I am, do what I do and think what I think’. In her testimony, Shelly delineated what she felt was so special about Finnøya: - Many people think that small communities are dominated by a few moral stories about how one should behave and not behave to be accepted as a local citizen. Maybe it’s a stereotype. I don’t know. Here, anyway, there is no such thing. On the contrary, you are actively encouraged to ‘Be yourself!’. Diversity is an active strategy here in Finnøya. And this is what makes it such an interesting place to live’. Albeit in different words, all the in-migrants who presented their stories at the seminar touched upon this ‘being allowed to be oneself here’ – aspect of living in Finnøya. What made Finnøya such a unique place – in the context of their own life stories – was nevertheless the combination of – in the words of ‘Jürgen’ – ‘room for diversity and individuality AND a welcoming and warm community where you feel that you are seen as a human being’. Finnøya’s strategy Finnøya is definitely not a problem-free Shangri-La. Finnøya is part of a municipality of more than 1000 km2 acreage but with less than 1800 people. Of all the small communities forming this structure, Finnøya is furthest away from the municipal centre. Like people from so many structurally similar places, the people of Finnøya continually face the challenges of being very small and very far from any mayor centre in an era of urbanization where business and public administration both go through processes of centralization. Still, the recent history of the place shows that active and strategic human agency can go a long way in creating a community that is very attractive to locals and in-migrants alike, so attractive that it mediates the distance people need to commute to get to community centre, shops, regional towns and communication hubs. The development work in Finnøya has not gone unnoticed. One public recognition, was to award the people of Finnøya, represented by two of the most active community members, the regional rural development prize. Another was the local and regional willingness to finance a new paved road to Finnøya – replacing the ‘tractorroad’ (local term) that was there before. Commenting upon the new road, both people in Finnøya and local politicians argued that the community succeeded not through complaining about lacking a good road, but through showing what they could accomplish even without it. One of the locals who had lobbied for the new road through a number of years told me the following: - We couldn’t just sit on our asses and wait for planners, politicians and bureaucrats. We’ve just kept going, and en route we’ve told them: See what we have done without a proper road? Think what we can do when we have one! To identify and describe the way of thinking that has informed the rural development work in Finnøya, a serious of individual conversations and focus-group interviews with members of Grendelaget was performed. The conversations confirmed that Finnøya has followed a path that is very different from the current market- and product-oriented paradigm. It is also very different from the one followed in most other projects I’ve been involved in, where focus has been on one or more clearly delineated and planned goals. As a contrast, in Finnøya, paraphrasing Gandhi, the path has become the goal. Focus has been on involving people and always having ongoing activities in the community in general and in Grendehuset in particular, not on any overarching ‘final goal’. Here are some central elements in Finnøya’s way of working. The establishment of an umbrella organization taking charge of all activities Civil society in rural Norway is rich and varied, and the people in Finnøya, like in most other small communities, are organized in a wide range of different organizations and interest groups, from professional ones, like the Farmer’s Union, to music or sport’s organizations. However, few, if any, of these, despite being local, have their main seat in Finnøya. These organizations are possible to mobilize for single activities, but it is very difficult to use an organization built to serve a whole region, for a set of on-going development activities in one community. The people in Finnøya therefore decided to build their own local organization, Grendelaget, taking charge of all activities, and involving other organizations when relevant and necessary. Grendelaget is open to everyone in the community, both regular citizens and owners of holiday homes. This means that every member of Grendelaget is an ‘owner’ of all activities. This seems to breed responsibility and sense of belonging in the community. The involvement of a minimum of very engaged and resourceful people And still, in a small rural community, and here Finnøya is no different than other similar places, dedicated individuals are very important. The Norwegian term ‘eldsjel’ translates to ‘firesoul’ in English. The eldsjel is a very interested, engaged and dedicated person who develops a strong personal involvement in a collective project/task. An eldsjel is, virtually, a person who does (much) more than what is expected. In any successful rural development initiative, there is nearly always one or more eldsjeler (plural) involved. This is also the case in Finnøya. A group of people have been very active over a number of years. Focus on broad involvement And yet, Finnøya has succeeded, in an almost unprecedented way, in getting a large proportion of the local population involved in Grendelaget or in other activities. People are regularly invited to collective work parties. There is also a clear focus on inviting people to get involved in community development based on what their abilities and interests are. i.e. instead of asking people to adapt to the existing offers, the focus is on adjusting activities and offers in correlation with people’s interests. Working with individuals on a one to one – basis This focus on individuals and diversity is a characteristic for the way Grendelaget and the rural development organization has worked in Finnøya. The general idea is that people are different, and that difference is a development resource to promote and use, not something to suppress and/or under-communicate. When someone has come in with a new focus/idea, the work of Grendelaget has been expanded to include this idea. The active appreciation of diversity has become a strategy in its own right, summarized by a community member in the following way: - Diversity is what we want and work for, not something we ‘tolerate’. Using a phenomenological terminology, the focus in Finnøya has been more on ‘becoming’ or ‘coming into being’ than on what is or what was (Merleau-Ponty, 2000). Focus on doing, not on planning and/or financing The focus in Finnøya has been on the process itself, and on ad-hoc opportunism; grabbing and making the most of opportunities when they are there. Thus, thorough planning of activities before they are initiated has not been overly emphasized. Neither has applying for external funding. At the point when I first came to Finnøya, the community had not received a single krone in public support for their activities. In the national rural development seminar in Finnøya, several public figures presented the ‘Finnøya-model’ as the ideal one: A local initiative and organization with many local people involved, is a foundation that vouches for sustainability. If necessary, public funding can be used to support activities that cost more, thereby possibly increasing reach, effectiveness and efficiency. A clear vision A very interesting contrast to other rural development projects I have studied, was the resource inventory list created in Finnøya. The ‘classic’ number one on these lists is ‘beautiful nature’. With only 3 percent of the landmass being arable, a large part of Norway is definitely ‘nature’; forests, valleys, mountains, fjords. Experiencing ‘beautiful nature’ is also the main reason why foreign tourists come to Norway (Innovasjon, 2015). When it comes to making the community more attractive to businesses and newcomers, however, nature-qualities is something most Norwegian rural communities can offer. It is also quite difficult to distinguish oneself from one’s neighbour – in the same region – by the use of nature. The people in Finnøya saw this. On the top of their resource inventory list, was, in contrast, a human quality. We are, people said, renowned around here for our hospitality. Doors are still open. We invite each other. Perhaps we can use this quality also to attract new people? A vision followed from this decision to promote human qualities before nature qualities: We will welcome every single person who comes here in such a way that he or she will want to remain! This vision has informed the rural development work in Finnøya over a number of years, and the testimonies from in-migrants that we collected, indicate that the strategy has been effective. What can we learn from Finnøya? The challenge of our time: building community for postmodern individualists Are we postmodern beings at best ‘ships that pass in the night’ (Longfellow, 1874), and our communities, thus, merely floating ‘meeting-places’ on an ocean of everlasting change? Zygmunt Bauman (2000b, 2001) has repeatedly discussed the challenge of creating human communities in our postmodern age of consumerism, individuality and individual freedom. As individuals, says Bauman, we cherish our freedom and are not willing to relinquish it. On the other hand, the human beings is still a social creature. Our dreams of communities are still very much alive. However, Bauman continues, community, at least in the traditional form that we still dream of, was never possible without moral control, i.e. without giving up full individual freedom. In a particularly astute description, Bauman’s volume on liquid modernity (2000a) discusses that postmodern identity grows on the grave of community, and primarily due to a wish for the resurrection of the dead. ‘Anxiety’, ‘stress’, ‘restlessness’, the most common illnesses of our time, are they the results of us finding ourselves entangled in the almost Gordian knot that Bauman describes (Lønning, 2010; Skårderud, 1998)? Suffice it to say that the challenge of creating community for ‘individualists’, postmodernity’s demanding consumers, is indeed a formidable one. In my own experience as researcher and evaluator, the probably most common reason for a project and initiative failing to deliver its stated goals, has to do with a lack of focus on and discussion of both the consequences and requirements of individualism (Lønning, 2014). As a social, cultural and economic driving force, individualism has tremendous implications for community development. One of them is ‘postmodern amorality’ (Lønning, 2007). In the age of individualism, what collective sanctions do we have to deem one action ‘better’ than another? When we freed ourselves from ‘the yoke of morality’, we also lost our ability to present participation in community activities as an individual obligation. Participation was made completely voluntary. Secondly, individualism has the potential to alter what we experience as the main building blocks of local community life. Today, ‘tradition’ is no longer a state, but an ‘asset’ for development in the experience economy (Pine and Gilmore, 1999) or a nostalgic denominator for ‘the glorious past’. The opposite concept in the classic dichotomy, ‘change’, is no longer an under-communicated aspect of local lives, but has rather become the new ‘state’. Change permeates our lives and metaphors of change our language. Similarly, plurality has become ‘normal’ both when it comes to economic activities, gender roles and the ways we use our leisure time. Is change something to tolerate or something to promote? And yet, the same tremendous changes are not necessarily reflected in the strategies, goals and organizational models of community- and place-development activities. The classic and most attractive in-migrant is still the person ‘moving back’. Similarly, the ‘fire-soul’ who most often receives the annual voluntary work prize from the local Mayor, is still the person taking special responsibility in the traditional sports club or the marching band playing at Constitution Day, 17th of May. Only very rarely have I come across public development strategies that actually seek to promote diversity, or even strategies that officially recognize diversity as a resource for community development, be it economic, cultural or social. Finnøya is definitely one of these rare exceptions. And even if we cannot generalize from this single case, we can still try to identify some of the planning goals and actions that probably were instrumental in producing the community’s relative success. First, the premise that people are different, have different values, backgrounds, interests and aspirations, has been fundamental in the way Grendelaget and their work has been planned and organized. Individual differences are seen as assets for development, the building blocks of a community that, therefore, is seen as always ‘becoming’ – always changing relative to the values, interests and activities of the people living or visiting. During the rural development seminar that we arranged in Finnøya, the following themes were present in all presentations from in-migrants: All emphasized that they had been welcomed personally, and they all felt that like all local doors and homes were open. Likewise, all emphasized that they felt included in a community, and they experienced this community as highly tolerant and actively promoting individuality and diversity. Another recurring narrative, here in the words of ‘Silvia’, was ‘our human need to be seen and valued as the unique individuals we all in reality are’. ‘I have felt this very strongly here’, Silvia continued, ‘and this definitely motivates me to active part in local development to give something back to this fantastic community’. Grendelaget, and the many active individuals in the Finnøya community, were in several presentations and speeches, both by in-migrants, local politicians and other locals, presented as ‘extraordinary’ in their successful integration of newcomers. Returning to the more theoretical, overarching discussion on the potential schism between community and individualism, Finnøya was presented in this seminar as both a strong local community and as a place where ‘you can be yourself fully’. In the Finnøya case, community and individuality are not counter poles, but processes that actually reinforce each other. What all local developers I talked to emphasized, was that this synthesis between individuality and community, would not have been possible without Grendelaget’s active strategy to found community development on the idiosyncracies (interests, competences, visions, activities, aims) of each individual community member. The local community seen as a network In his pessimism on behalf of the ideal of community, Bauman could be criticized for not putting enough emphasis on our creative powers as human beings, powers that have led us to overcome the most extreme of challenges, physical as well as cultural and social. The case of Finnøya indicates that we also have the capability to untie Bauman’s Gordian knob. The network society (Castells, 2004; Himanen, 2004) is a concept often used to describe our age. As individuals, we are part of many networks. The network consists of individual nodes with individual aims, but the network as a whole is established around aims and values that the individual participants share. The network can therefore survive the replacement of nodes. ‘Programmers’ and ‘switchers’ Two functions are crucial for the network to succeed in creating new values, says Manuel Castells (2004). He calls these functions ‘programmers’ and ‘switchers’. The programmer’s role is to steer the network towards one or more common themes. If creative use of local resources is the focused theme, the programmer needs to make sure that access to and innovative use of these resources is possible. The switcher is the connection to other networks. In the case of community development in a remote rural area, the switcher may, e.g. be asked to link up with networks of people internationally who search for a new and ‘different’ place to settle. The development of Open Source Software programmes, is often used as an example of productive online networks (ibid). The individual node gets involved due to personal need for the tool. By participating the node also produces common network goods, however, as a flow of new versions and updates are distributed through the entire network. The work started by one node is followed up by another. Programmers and switchers are involved to, respectively, steer the work to one or several similar goals, and make sure that the tools being developed are also answering to real needs outside of the network itself. Individual interests are the modus operandi of the network There is no need to give up on individuality to participate. On the contrary, individual interests and needs are the modus operandi of the network. Summarized, the network as an organizational model is so productive because each node, de facto, has an individual interest in producing common goods. Grendelaget’s model for the development of Finnøya, has much in common with Castells model for a value-producing network. Diversity is seen as productive and therefore an end in itself. To promote diversity, individual self-interest is actively encouraged. Grendelaget, being network programmers, try to link individual nodes and steer individual activities in a common direction: ‘Use our landscape, history and culture in following and developing your own personal values and projects!’ Through this approach a wide range of highly different individual projects can be linked. In Finnøya, participants have been local historians, outdoor enthusiasts, artists, computer freaks, active pantheists, farmers, story tellers, film makers, etc. All have been following their own projects, but Grendelaget has succeeded in creating a vibrant and interesting local community out of all these different perspectives on and utilizations of the local resource base. The active promotion of change Secondly, Grendelaget’s perspective on change as not something to accept but something to promote, has probably been equally important in the development of contemporary Finnøya. The proactive human creator changes the world (Ingold, 2000; Lønning, 2010; Nietzsche, 1996, 2001, 2003). The resource base is revalued, stories and interpretations are altered, and thereby also our understanding of place. In Finnøya, new place meanings and place usages have challenged established ideas on the drawbacks of peripherality. The small, remote community presents opportunities for immense individual freedom, to live your life in ways that the density of the city prevents. In this sense, Finnøya, and similar places out there, become rural postmodern ‘laboratories’, experiments in living in an age where both community and individuality are in flux. Can the case of Finnøya be reproduced? American novelist Eric Hoffer (2018) once said: ‘In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists’. Finnøya is a very apt expression of Hoffer’s aphorism. The case of Finnøya is an example of active use of the human resource base, and, therefore of practices and attitudes that need time to develop. Tolerance is definitely a practice. It is one thing to call for new ideas and activities at the local public meeting, it is something else to welcome them as your neighbour. People who come as in-migrants to contemporary rural Norway, represent a diversity of cultural backgrounds, interests, experiences, religions and life views. Is this diversity ‘a potential’ or ‘a problem’? If diversity becomes a problem, the in-migrant will be asked to relinquish parts of his identity and engagements. Thus, the likelihood of him becoming a local innovator, in the Finnøya sense, is greatly reduced. It is perhaps more likely that he moves on, in search of a place where individuality is more appreciated. Seeing diversity as potential, on the other hand, means being open for continuous change, for new interpretations, new meaning. It implies actively applauding the innovative use of local resources. Burning and burning out. The active and the passive As a figure, eldsjela (the fiery soul) go all the way back to the philosopher Heraclitus 2500 years ago. Heraclitus’ metaphor for change was fire (Heraclitus, 2003; Lønning, 2015). Fire brings the novel into the world, he said. Fire represents liveliness and restlessness, but fire is always demanding. It has continuous need for energy. The dead, the object, is what is left when the fire has burned out. When Eldsjela burns out, the energy and creativity is gone. The metaphor is familiar. When we human beings ‘burn out’, we lose focus and motivation. We become passive, even lethargic. This is a fundamental human challenge. Choosing between becoming, evolving, and therefore the world as it potently develops, or the static, perhaps ‘safe’, but still impotent. This is the eternal human challenge; finding our ways between the active and the passive, between being the creator of values, or the one who is created by them (Nietzsche, 1968, 2003; Lønning, 2010). Eldsjela is the person who do more, often much more, than ‘what is expected’. Whilst others come to communal work parties out of a sense of obligation, eldsjela is the organizer. She is the person who invites, coordinates, even clears up the mess when the activity is finished. Eldsjela is a character in more or less all human communities, small and big. She is found in the tiny remote village and in the neighbourhood in a big city. She is nearly always in a minority in her strong engagement to community development. In Finnøya, however, I met so many of her. So many who burned. So many people with an almost personal ‘urge’ to create, develop, organize. When many fiery souls burn at the same time and coordinate their activities, change can become a manifest force, strong enough even to offset the negative structural effects of peripherality. Keeping the flame alive But then, again, the question of fire and energy becomes acute. A small place like Finnøya is so dependent upon the fire burning. If it burns out, the forces of positive change are gone. The story of eldsjela burning out, is familiar to all people involved in community development. The fire starts burning, changes happen, the fire burns out, and positive change is replaced by statics or even degradation. No effective ‘cure’ to prevent the fire from burning out, has ever been found. The case of Finnøya shows us that there are potential ways to nourish the fire, however. Presenting change as wanted and necessary may be one. Change is a process, not a project. There may be milestones along the way, but community development cannot have a final goal and date. Putting the individual, with his or her idiosyncracies, at the centre stage of development may be another. Participation in common activities could be ‘fun’ and even personally rewarding, not something one does merely out of duty. Giving the individual credit for the work that he or she does on everybody’s behalf, could be a third. Credit is energy for the fire. Our need to ‘be seen’ was discussed above. If all the hours you, as an individual, put into community work go unnoticed, ‘burning out’ is probably inevitable in the long run. The creative commons Ultimately, we all depend on human creativity. In a small peripheral rural community, survival in the long run depends on our ability to mobilize and utilize this creativity productively. To summarize the discussions in this article on the delicate balance between individuality and community, I will present a concrete model that illustrates how a local community can be understood and developed as a ‘creative commons’ (Lønning, 2010, 2014; Lønning og Barstad, 2016). The creative commons is a network where the individual nodes actively use the local resource base in accordance with their own aims, interests and values. Engagement is actively encouraged, as is free play with the local resource base. The model visualizes place and community as a balance between public and private goods. Public goods are our common resource base. We need people to produce them, reproduce them, change them, even to define them. We need to ‘see’ and give credit to all those engaged individuals and active NGO’s who maintain and expand our local histories, our cultural heritage, our popular culture. We need to focus on popular culture, on providing room in the local landscape for the new ideas and experiences. Public goods are, therefore, our community ‘seeds’. They are the common network content. Our local programmer’s role is to make sure that these are sown and cared for, and that there are enough actors who do it and who get community credit for it. But we also need to encourage the individual nodes to grow and harvest their own fruit from these seeds. A wide range of new rural products and services have over the last couple of decades been developed, both in Norway and in many other countries, as entrepreneurs and innovators have been able to identify and develop new experience qualities in the rural landscape. The model below, shows how these entrepreneurs could become even more local, producing community values and new local identities: Our local landscape is our common pool of symbols, interpretations and practices. On the seed side of the model, NGO’s, fiery souls, public development agencies, and a range of other potential actors cooperate in the development and definitions of a communities cultural, social and natural resource base. On the fruit side, these public resources are refined by private actors as, e.g. product development or as leisure activities The resources come from the same common pool, but the way they are used could vary considerably. In this network model, values of individual freedom and community can be developed and expressed simultaneously. ‘Programmers’ are needed to make sure that the local resource base is the focus of network activities, ‘switchers’ to link local activities with extra-local trends and needs. The resultant place and community is always in a state of becoming, corresponding to the interests and activities of the people taking part. Perhaps this is the closest we can get, in our age of individuality, to a community model that can keep the flame alive? Dag Jørund Lønning is professor of rural development and innovation and rector at The Norwegian University College for Agriculture and Rural Development (HLB). References Bauman , Z. ( 2000 a) Savnet Fellesskap , Cappelen Akademisk Forlag , Oslo . Bauman , Z. ( 2000 b) Liquid Modernity , Polity Press , Cambridge . Baumann , Z. ( 2001 ) The Individualized Society , Polity Press , Cambridge . Castells , M. ( 2004 ) Informationalism, networks, and the network society: a theoretical blueprint, in Castellsz M. , ed. , The Network Society. A Cross-cultural Perspective , Edward Elgar , Cheltenham, UK and Northamton, USA , pp. 3 – 45 . Heraclitus ( 2003 ) Fragments , Penguin Classics , New York Himanen , P. ( 2004 ) The Hacker Ethic as the culture of the information age, in Castells M. , ed. , The Network Society. A Cross-cultural Perspective , Edward Elgar , Cheltenham, UK and Northamton, USA , pp. 420 – 431 . Hoffer , E. Eric Hoffer Quotes, accessed at http://www.notable-quotes.com/h/hoffer_eric.html (9 April 2018 ) Ingold , T. ( 2000 ) The Perception of the Environment. Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill , Routledge , London and New York . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Innovasjon Norge 2015 : Nøkkeltall for Norsk Turisme 2015, accessed at http://www.innovasjonnorge.no/contentassets/ad75036d7d1141338d4ccc200c162c32/nokkeltall-2015-enkeltsider.pdf Joseph Pine , B. and James , H. G. ( 1999 ) The Experience Economy. Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage , Harvard Business School Press , Boston . Longfellow , H. W. ( 1874 ) Tales of a Wayside Inn. Lønning , D. J. ( 2007 ) Fridomen til å skapa. Alternative historier om nyskaping og bygdeutvikling, Norges miljø-og biovitenskaplige universitet, Dr. Philos, Thesis 2007:1. Lønning , D. J. ( 2010 ) Kva er nyskaping? Om fridom, skaparglede, framtid og fellesskap. Ål: Boksmia forlag. Lønning , D. J. ( 2014 ) Dialogbasert utvikling. Manual for lokal mobilisering og demokratifornying. Jæren forlag. Lønning , D. J. ( 2015 ) Permanence or change: what makes the world tick? Journal of Human Values , 21 ( 1 ). Lønning , D. J. and Barstad , J. ( 2016 ) Lokal mat for lokal utvikling? HLB Arbeidsrapport 1. Lønning , D. J. , Barstad , J. and Evans , R. ( 2012 )) Tilflyttarar til utkant-Noreg? Tilflyttingsbygda Finnøy viser veg. HLB Rapport nr 2. Merleau-Ponty , M. ( 2000 ) Øyet og ånden , Pax Forlag AS , Oslo . Nietzsche , F. ( 1968 ) The Will to Power , Vintage Books , New York . Nietzsche , F. ( 1996 ) Human, All Too Human. A Book for Free Spirits , Cambridge University Press , Cambridge . Nietzsche , F. ( 2001 ) The Gay Science , Cambridge University Press , Cambridge . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Nietzsche , F. ( 2003 ) Slik talte Zarathustra , Gyldendal , Oslo . Schroeder , K. ( 2015 ) The Politics of Gross National Happiness: Values, power and policy implementation. Paper presented at the Sixth International Conference on Gross National Happiness, From GNH Philosophy to Praxis and Policy, 4-6 November 2015, Paro, Bhutan. Skårderud , F. ( 1998 ) Uro. En reise i det Moderne Selvet , Aschehoug , Oslo . van der Ploeg , J. D. and Renting , H. ( 2000 ) Impact and potential: a comparative review of European Rural Development Practices , Sociologia Ruralis , 40 ( 4 ), 529 – 543 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS van der Ploeg , J. D. and Long A. , eds ( 1994 ) Born From Within: Practice and Perspectives of Endogenous Rural Development , Van Gorcum , Assen . van der Ploeg , J. D. and van Dijk G. , eds ( 1995 ) Beyond Modernization: The Impact of Endogenous Rural Development , Van Gorcum , Assen . © Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2018 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Community Development Journal Oxford University Press

The power of human agency: successful community development strategies in Norway’s rural northern margins

Community Development Journal , Volume Advance Article (3) – May 16, 2018

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Abstract

Abstract This article analyses the two fundamental contemporary challenges, and tries to outline a possible development strategy targeting these challenges. First, how do we build community in an age of individualism? Second, how can a small remote community counter the massive structural forces of centralization and urbanization? The first of these challenges is faced by all community developers today, whilst rural developers, in order to succeed, need to address them both. Drawing on experiences from an innovative rural development project in Finnøya, Northern Norway, a project that resulted in growth in a very peripheral village, the author argues that a focus shift is necessary, from the natural and material resource base to the human one. Ultimately, positive place and community development is about engaged, active and interested human beings. How can the creativity and deep engagement of the individual become an asset for the whole community, asks the author, and outlines a network-based community development model, aimed at maximizing the individual freedom to create and at the same time producing new community goods and values. Introduction: from structural to human-near perspectives The public discourse on rural depopulation in Norway, is primarily focused on structural factors. Lack of appropriate infrastructure (roads, public transport systems, etc.), lack of ‘interesting’ jobs, as well as distance from a major town and/or regional centre, are arguments that are repeatedly used. Such arguments are often presented as ‘facts’. Being generalized assertions about development trends and directions, neither of them are, seemingly, amenable to local human beings. Thus, debates about rural development quickly turn into large scale value discourses and therefore also into party politics, making general elections the arena of influence for ‘ordinary people’. Furthermore, neither are grand structural theories particularly useful when it comes to accounting for differential development between places within the same region (with more or less the same infrastructure, job-market, and proximity to larger centres/towns). With structural conditions being more or less the same, why are two neighbouring villages in the same region still performing so differently? Why are people and businesses leaving village A whilst village B – located only a few miles down the road – experiences an opposite development with in-migration, business innovations and optimism? Having been involved in action oriented rural development research in Norway for almost two decades now, I have repeatedly come across local communities/places that are performing remarkably better than their neighbours – despite having the same structural advantages/disadvantages. Endogenous development (van der Ploeg and Long, 1994; van der Ploeg and van Dijk, 1995; van der Ploeg and Renting, 2000) is used as a collective term for initiatives and activities coming from within a community (‘bottom-up development’). It is a plausible hypothesis that intra-regional development differences between communities/places are caused by different endogenous strategies. Regarding the case mentioned above, a higher level of involvement in endogenous development initiatives is expected in village B. However, to produce knowledge and information that is directly relevant to development practitioners in small rural communities in Norway and elsewhere, we need to dig deeper than that. We need to identify, first, why people in village B are far more actively involved in participatory practices than people in village A, second, what strategy/procedure/methodology is used for mobilization, and third, who the original actors were and why they got involved. A human-near development strategy Most practitioners would probably agree with the statement that ‘rural development is ultimately about people’. Dedicated human actions are necessary to turn potential resources into active development assets. And yet, only very few of the many rural development projects I’ve been involved in as an action researcher, have put primary focus on the human dimension of development. The importance of local people may be mentioned, but the emphasis is on capitalizing on local nature qualities and/or on cultural heritage attractions. Local involvement is seen as tool, not as an end. Often, too little emphasis is put on the mobilization phase, and on the many different potential ways to participate. Too much is decided before people are asked to get involved, leading to a too narrow ownership base to ideas and aims. The result could be that too few actors take part, and the process then fails to deliver its defined aims (Lønning, 2014). In my experience, the communities that succeed both when it comes to in-migration and business development – the village Bs – do have a clear strategy on mobilization and involvement. They also put individual and collective wellbeing – both in a short and long term – as number one on the agenda in their development activities. For the Bs, happiness/wellbeing and creativity is the ultimate goal of local development activities. This observation is in line with overall trends within international development. Schroeder (2015: 1) argues that the economic growth paradigm is being challenged by ‘multidimensional approaches to development that place people, not economic growth, as the ultimate end of development’. It does not necessarily have to be either or, however. A human-near perspective may aim to do both; achieve growth (social, cultural, economic) through putting primary focus on human happiness and wellbeing in a local community. The main idea is simple, and has repeatedly proved effective (Lønning, 2014): people who feel involved, welcome, integrated and listened too, will develop a stronger love of place and therefore become more dedicated and engaged community developers in the long run. In the following I will explore some elements of such a strategy. The case I will rely on, is the recent positive development history of the peripheral community of Finnøya. Finnøya – from decline to new optimism Structurally, there is nothing unique about Finnøya. Like so many rural communities in Northern Norway it is characterized by peripherality (almost 20 km to the nearest store/gas station, 70 km to the municipality hall, and several hours of travel to the main regional town), small size (about sixty people), very rudimentary infrastructure (when I first came there, the road to Finnøya was a 17 km gravel road full of deep holes and big rocks). Finnøya has no grocery store nor any public institutions like school, kindergarten, post office or old age home, and people are used to travelling considerable distances for these services. There are also many empty houses (only used as holiday homes) in Finnøya, mainly due to outmigration and an aging population (at the time when the active development initiative started). The first time I heard about this community, was in a conversation with the Mayor of the local municipality. At the time I was involved in a cultural project in the region. The Mayor spoke about a very special community that I – being a rural development researcher – definitively ‘had to visit’ due to the positive development taking place there. The Mayor also told me that people from Finnøya were renowned locally for their high level of participation in voluntary development work and cultural activities: - The people from there are unique. When we have a cultural activity in the town centre, they have to drive for an hour to get there. And still it is they who volunteer as guards and not the people living only a few minutes away. A little later I got an invitation to speak at a local mobilization event in Finnøya. The event was to take place in ‘grendehuset’ – the community hall built through voluntary labour by community members. ‘A place to make a home’ I will not forget the welcome. ‘Standard’ serving for a local meeting like this, is coffee, tea and biscuits. In Finnøya, a third of the community’s 60 members – all organized through ‘Grendelaget’, the community club – were involved in the kitchen setting up a large evening buffet – made up of homemade delicacies. Everybody had brought something special in from their own kitchen. The buffet was big enough to feed 150, and still I was the only external guest. People told me that the buffet made the mobilization meeting into a feast, thereby tying people even closer together and increasing wellbeing/happiness and sense of place in the community. Instead of delegating the task of preparing food to one person or a small group of people, the buffet became a manifestation of the Finnøya development model: each individual’s involvement in and responsibility for producing community and collective goods. At the meeting I heard several personal stories from people who had moved in to Finnøya. One had moved in from the regional town. He talked about a difficult past involving drug-use. A couple had come from Mid-Europe, originally as tourists. The ‘fabulous reception’ made them stay, they said: - In a time of flux, we have found a place where it just felt right to make a home. We are tired of searching. I feel we’ve found what we were looking for. Now they were building, virtually, a half house – ‘more than big enough for a family, and at the same time a visual statement saying just that’. Another couple came from the Baltics, originally as seasonal workers in agriculture. But when a dairy farm was up for sale, they chose to stay. They were still combining dairy farming with helping out at other farms when I met them, and were able to make a living out of this combination. A third couple was from Norway and the United States, and had settled in Finnøya to have a base for eco-tourism activities, nature philosophy and practicing shamanism. What makes Finnøya ‘successful’? Between 1999 and 2015, the population in Finnøya has varied between fifty two and sixty eight (Lønning, Barstad and Evans, 2012). It has increased a bit over the last few years, but the figures are so small that quantitative indicators are of little relevance when it comes to measuring and evaluating change. A number of new small-scale business have been established, most of them linked to tourism, local food and green care in agriculture. The main reason Finnøya has become known regionally as a success story, however, is not because of numbers of people or businesses, but because of high scores on community characteristics that people, locally, see as positive and desirable. When so many people I talked to in the surrounding region mentioned ‘all the exciting things happening in Finnøya’ or ‘the success of Finnøya’, what they were referring to was the diversity of the population, with so many in-migrants, and the high frequency of new activities starting up. A number of local festivals and very frequent use of Grendehuset for community feasts was mentioned. A concrete example that several talked about was the initiative taken in Finnøya to create a wheel-barrow relay through all the local communities in the region – many of them much bigger than Finnøya – over a whole day. The initiative turned into a large regional family feast with all sorts of local activities being linked to the relay. Start and finish was Finnøya, with Grendelaget as main organizer. This initiative has been so successful that even national Norwegian TV has covered it. People I talked to from neighbouring communities who were registering what took place in Finnøya, told me that they were ‘envious’ in relation to ‘how much they are able to do out there’. Here are some of the assessments that I collected: ‘They are very creative’ ‘They have a very developed dugnadsånd’ (a strong local culture for participating in voluntary community labour) ‘They are known for their hospitality’ ‘They always say yes to come and help out at our activities’ ‘It’s always an experience to go there’ When I was encouraged to visit Finnøya, I was told by a municipality official, that ‘It is impossible to describe the place and the people. You need to go there and experience and feel it yourself’. Being welcomed so warmly, I understood what the person meant. Like others, I experienced the community as warm, welcoming and united. In a way I felt like an insider from the first moment. From the outset I was invited into activities, given tasks, asked personal questions about my life in general and my interests in particular. I’ve felt close to local communities through my work before, but that ‘bonding’ never happened so quickly as it did in Finnøya. Consequently, the first meeting led to a number of other visits, and many conversations with community members. At a later national rural development seminar that my institution was involved in arranging in Finnøya, we were presented with more personal mobility stories from in-migrants. People were asked to tell us where they came from, why they left, and, then, why they had settled in very small and very peripheral Finnøya (ibid). In one aspect the stories were highly different; people came from very different places, the reasons for moving were also highly different. They also had different plans for how they wanted to conduct their new lives in Finnøya. One theme recurred in every personal history, however. In different words all inmigrants who took part talked about the importance of being, now I’m using ‘Shelly’s’ words, ‘allowed to be who I am, do what I do and think what I think’. In her testimony, Shelly delineated what she felt was so special about Finnøya: - Many people think that small communities are dominated by a few moral stories about how one should behave and not behave to be accepted as a local citizen. Maybe it’s a stereotype. I don’t know. Here, anyway, there is no such thing. On the contrary, you are actively encouraged to ‘Be yourself!’. Diversity is an active strategy here in Finnøya. And this is what makes it such an interesting place to live’. Albeit in different words, all the in-migrants who presented their stories at the seminar touched upon this ‘being allowed to be oneself here’ – aspect of living in Finnøya. What made Finnøya such a unique place – in the context of their own life stories – was nevertheless the combination of – in the words of ‘Jürgen’ – ‘room for diversity and individuality AND a welcoming and warm community where you feel that you are seen as a human being’. Finnøya’s strategy Finnøya is definitely not a problem-free Shangri-La. Finnøya is part of a municipality of more than 1000 km2 acreage but with less than 1800 people. Of all the small communities forming this structure, Finnøya is furthest away from the municipal centre. Like people from so many structurally similar places, the people of Finnøya continually face the challenges of being very small and very far from any mayor centre in an era of urbanization where business and public administration both go through processes of centralization. Still, the recent history of the place shows that active and strategic human agency can go a long way in creating a community that is very attractive to locals and in-migrants alike, so attractive that it mediates the distance people need to commute to get to community centre, shops, regional towns and communication hubs. The development work in Finnøya has not gone unnoticed. One public recognition, was to award the people of Finnøya, represented by two of the most active community members, the regional rural development prize. Another was the local and regional willingness to finance a new paved road to Finnøya – replacing the ‘tractorroad’ (local term) that was there before. Commenting upon the new road, both people in Finnøya and local politicians argued that the community succeeded not through complaining about lacking a good road, but through showing what they could accomplish even without it. One of the locals who had lobbied for the new road through a number of years told me the following: - We couldn’t just sit on our asses and wait for planners, politicians and bureaucrats. We’ve just kept going, and en route we’ve told them: See what we have done without a proper road? Think what we can do when we have one! To identify and describe the way of thinking that has informed the rural development work in Finnøya, a serious of individual conversations and focus-group interviews with members of Grendelaget was performed. The conversations confirmed that Finnøya has followed a path that is very different from the current market- and product-oriented paradigm. It is also very different from the one followed in most other projects I’ve been involved in, where focus has been on one or more clearly delineated and planned goals. As a contrast, in Finnøya, paraphrasing Gandhi, the path has become the goal. Focus has been on involving people and always having ongoing activities in the community in general and in Grendehuset in particular, not on any overarching ‘final goal’. Here are some central elements in Finnøya’s way of working. The establishment of an umbrella organization taking charge of all activities Civil society in rural Norway is rich and varied, and the people in Finnøya, like in most other small communities, are organized in a wide range of different organizations and interest groups, from professional ones, like the Farmer’s Union, to music or sport’s organizations. However, few, if any, of these, despite being local, have their main seat in Finnøya. These organizations are possible to mobilize for single activities, but it is very difficult to use an organization built to serve a whole region, for a set of on-going development activities in one community. The people in Finnøya therefore decided to build their own local organization, Grendelaget, taking charge of all activities, and involving other organizations when relevant and necessary. Grendelaget is open to everyone in the community, both regular citizens and owners of holiday homes. This means that every member of Grendelaget is an ‘owner’ of all activities. This seems to breed responsibility and sense of belonging in the community. The involvement of a minimum of very engaged and resourceful people And still, in a small rural community, and here Finnøya is no different than other similar places, dedicated individuals are very important. The Norwegian term ‘eldsjel’ translates to ‘firesoul’ in English. The eldsjel is a very interested, engaged and dedicated person who develops a strong personal involvement in a collective project/task. An eldsjel is, virtually, a person who does (much) more than what is expected. In any successful rural development initiative, there is nearly always one or more eldsjeler (plural) involved. This is also the case in Finnøya. A group of people have been very active over a number of years. Focus on broad involvement And yet, Finnøya has succeeded, in an almost unprecedented way, in getting a large proportion of the local population involved in Grendelaget or in other activities. People are regularly invited to collective work parties. There is also a clear focus on inviting people to get involved in community development based on what their abilities and interests are. i.e. instead of asking people to adapt to the existing offers, the focus is on adjusting activities and offers in correlation with people’s interests. Working with individuals on a one to one – basis This focus on individuals and diversity is a characteristic for the way Grendelaget and the rural development organization has worked in Finnøya. The general idea is that people are different, and that difference is a development resource to promote and use, not something to suppress and/or under-communicate. When someone has come in with a new focus/idea, the work of Grendelaget has been expanded to include this idea. The active appreciation of diversity has become a strategy in its own right, summarized by a community member in the following way: - Diversity is what we want and work for, not something we ‘tolerate’. Using a phenomenological terminology, the focus in Finnøya has been more on ‘becoming’ or ‘coming into being’ than on what is or what was (Merleau-Ponty, 2000). Focus on doing, not on planning and/or financing The focus in Finnøya has been on the process itself, and on ad-hoc opportunism; grabbing and making the most of opportunities when they are there. Thus, thorough planning of activities before they are initiated has not been overly emphasized. Neither has applying for external funding. At the point when I first came to Finnøya, the community had not received a single krone in public support for their activities. In the national rural development seminar in Finnøya, several public figures presented the ‘Finnøya-model’ as the ideal one: A local initiative and organization with many local people involved, is a foundation that vouches for sustainability. If necessary, public funding can be used to support activities that cost more, thereby possibly increasing reach, effectiveness and efficiency. A clear vision A very interesting contrast to other rural development projects I have studied, was the resource inventory list created in Finnøya. The ‘classic’ number one on these lists is ‘beautiful nature’. With only 3 percent of the landmass being arable, a large part of Norway is definitely ‘nature’; forests, valleys, mountains, fjords. Experiencing ‘beautiful nature’ is also the main reason why foreign tourists come to Norway (Innovasjon, 2015). When it comes to making the community more attractive to businesses and newcomers, however, nature-qualities is something most Norwegian rural communities can offer. It is also quite difficult to distinguish oneself from one’s neighbour – in the same region – by the use of nature. The people in Finnøya saw this. On the top of their resource inventory list, was, in contrast, a human quality. We are, people said, renowned around here for our hospitality. Doors are still open. We invite each other. Perhaps we can use this quality also to attract new people? A vision followed from this decision to promote human qualities before nature qualities: We will welcome every single person who comes here in such a way that he or she will want to remain! This vision has informed the rural development work in Finnøya over a number of years, and the testimonies from in-migrants that we collected, indicate that the strategy has been effective. What can we learn from Finnøya? The challenge of our time: building community for postmodern individualists Are we postmodern beings at best ‘ships that pass in the night’ (Longfellow, 1874), and our communities, thus, merely floating ‘meeting-places’ on an ocean of everlasting change? Zygmunt Bauman (2000b, 2001) has repeatedly discussed the challenge of creating human communities in our postmodern age of consumerism, individuality and individual freedom. As individuals, says Bauman, we cherish our freedom and are not willing to relinquish it. On the other hand, the human beings is still a social creature. Our dreams of communities are still very much alive. However, Bauman continues, community, at least in the traditional form that we still dream of, was never possible without moral control, i.e. without giving up full individual freedom. In a particularly astute description, Bauman’s volume on liquid modernity (2000a) discusses that postmodern identity grows on the grave of community, and primarily due to a wish for the resurrection of the dead. ‘Anxiety’, ‘stress’, ‘restlessness’, the most common illnesses of our time, are they the results of us finding ourselves entangled in the almost Gordian knot that Bauman describes (Lønning, 2010; Skårderud, 1998)? Suffice it to say that the challenge of creating community for ‘individualists’, postmodernity’s demanding consumers, is indeed a formidable one. In my own experience as researcher and evaluator, the probably most common reason for a project and initiative failing to deliver its stated goals, has to do with a lack of focus on and discussion of both the consequences and requirements of individualism (Lønning, 2014). As a social, cultural and economic driving force, individualism has tremendous implications for community development. One of them is ‘postmodern amorality’ (Lønning, 2007). In the age of individualism, what collective sanctions do we have to deem one action ‘better’ than another? When we freed ourselves from ‘the yoke of morality’, we also lost our ability to present participation in community activities as an individual obligation. Participation was made completely voluntary. Secondly, individualism has the potential to alter what we experience as the main building blocks of local community life. Today, ‘tradition’ is no longer a state, but an ‘asset’ for development in the experience economy (Pine and Gilmore, 1999) or a nostalgic denominator for ‘the glorious past’. The opposite concept in the classic dichotomy, ‘change’, is no longer an under-communicated aspect of local lives, but has rather become the new ‘state’. Change permeates our lives and metaphors of change our language. Similarly, plurality has become ‘normal’ both when it comes to economic activities, gender roles and the ways we use our leisure time. Is change something to tolerate or something to promote? And yet, the same tremendous changes are not necessarily reflected in the strategies, goals and organizational models of community- and place-development activities. The classic and most attractive in-migrant is still the person ‘moving back’. Similarly, the ‘fire-soul’ who most often receives the annual voluntary work prize from the local Mayor, is still the person taking special responsibility in the traditional sports club or the marching band playing at Constitution Day, 17th of May. Only very rarely have I come across public development strategies that actually seek to promote diversity, or even strategies that officially recognize diversity as a resource for community development, be it economic, cultural or social. Finnøya is definitely one of these rare exceptions. And even if we cannot generalize from this single case, we can still try to identify some of the planning goals and actions that probably were instrumental in producing the community’s relative success. First, the premise that people are different, have different values, backgrounds, interests and aspirations, has been fundamental in the way Grendelaget and their work has been planned and organized. Individual differences are seen as assets for development, the building blocks of a community that, therefore, is seen as always ‘becoming’ – always changing relative to the values, interests and activities of the people living or visiting. During the rural development seminar that we arranged in Finnøya, the following themes were present in all presentations from in-migrants: All emphasized that they had been welcomed personally, and they all felt that like all local doors and homes were open. Likewise, all emphasized that they felt included in a community, and they experienced this community as highly tolerant and actively promoting individuality and diversity. Another recurring narrative, here in the words of ‘Silvia’, was ‘our human need to be seen and valued as the unique individuals we all in reality are’. ‘I have felt this very strongly here’, Silvia continued, ‘and this definitely motivates me to active part in local development to give something back to this fantastic community’. Grendelaget, and the many active individuals in the Finnøya community, were in several presentations and speeches, both by in-migrants, local politicians and other locals, presented as ‘extraordinary’ in their successful integration of newcomers. Returning to the more theoretical, overarching discussion on the potential schism between community and individualism, Finnøya was presented in this seminar as both a strong local community and as a place where ‘you can be yourself fully’. In the Finnøya case, community and individuality are not counter poles, but processes that actually reinforce each other. What all local developers I talked to emphasized, was that this synthesis between individuality and community, would not have been possible without Grendelaget’s active strategy to found community development on the idiosyncracies (interests, competences, visions, activities, aims) of each individual community member. The local community seen as a network In his pessimism on behalf of the ideal of community, Bauman could be criticized for not putting enough emphasis on our creative powers as human beings, powers that have led us to overcome the most extreme of challenges, physical as well as cultural and social. The case of Finnøya indicates that we also have the capability to untie Bauman’s Gordian knob. The network society (Castells, 2004; Himanen, 2004) is a concept often used to describe our age. As individuals, we are part of many networks. The network consists of individual nodes with individual aims, but the network as a whole is established around aims and values that the individual participants share. The network can therefore survive the replacement of nodes. ‘Programmers’ and ‘switchers’ Two functions are crucial for the network to succeed in creating new values, says Manuel Castells (2004). He calls these functions ‘programmers’ and ‘switchers’. The programmer’s role is to steer the network towards one or more common themes. If creative use of local resources is the focused theme, the programmer needs to make sure that access to and innovative use of these resources is possible. The switcher is the connection to other networks. In the case of community development in a remote rural area, the switcher may, e.g. be asked to link up with networks of people internationally who search for a new and ‘different’ place to settle. The development of Open Source Software programmes, is often used as an example of productive online networks (ibid). The individual node gets involved due to personal need for the tool. By participating the node also produces common network goods, however, as a flow of new versions and updates are distributed through the entire network. The work started by one node is followed up by another. Programmers and switchers are involved to, respectively, steer the work to one or several similar goals, and make sure that the tools being developed are also answering to real needs outside of the network itself. Individual interests are the modus operandi of the network There is no need to give up on individuality to participate. On the contrary, individual interests and needs are the modus operandi of the network. Summarized, the network as an organizational model is so productive because each node, de facto, has an individual interest in producing common goods. Grendelaget’s model for the development of Finnøya, has much in common with Castells model for a value-producing network. Diversity is seen as productive and therefore an end in itself. To promote diversity, individual self-interest is actively encouraged. Grendelaget, being network programmers, try to link individual nodes and steer individual activities in a common direction: ‘Use our landscape, history and culture in following and developing your own personal values and projects!’ Through this approach a wide range of highly different individual projects can be linked. In Finnøya, participants have been local historians, outdoor enthusiasts, artists, computer freaks, active pantheists, farmers, story tellers, film makers, etc. All have been following their own projects, but Grendelaget has succeeded in creating a vibrant and interesting local community out of all these different perspectives on and utilizations of the local resource base. The active promotion of change Secondly, Grendelaget’s perspective on change as not something to accept but something to promote, has probably been equally important in the development of contemporary Finnøya. The proactive human creator changes the world (Ingold, 2000; Lønning, 2010; Nietzsche, 1996, 2001, 2003). The resource base is revalued, stories and interpretations are altered, and thereby also our understanding of place. In Finnøya, new place meanings and place usages have challenged established ideas on the drawbacks of peripherality. The small, remote community presents opportunities for immense individual freedom, to live your life in ways that the density of the city prevents. In this sense, Finnøya, and similar places out there, become rural postmodern ‘laboratories’, experiments in living in an age where both community and individuality are in flux. Can the case of Finnøya be reproduced? American novelist Eric Hoffer (2018) once said: ‘In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists’. Finnøya is a very apt expression of Hoffer’s aphorism. The case of Finnøya is an example of active use of the human resource base, and, therefore of practices and attitudes that need time to develop. Tolerance is definitely a practice. It is one thing to call for new ideas and activities at the local public meeting, it is something else to welcome them as your neighbour. People who come as in-migrants to contemporary rural Norway, represent a diversity of cultural backgrounds, interests, experiences, religions and life views. Is this diversity ‘a potential’ or ‘a problem’? If diversity becomes a problem, the in-migrant will be asked to relinquish parts of his identity and engagements. Thus, the likelihood of him becoming a local innovator, in the Finnøya sense, is greatly reduced. It is perhaps more likely that he moves on, in search of a place where individuality is more appreciated. Seeing diversity as potential, on the other hand, means being open for continuous change, for new interpretations, new meaning. It implies actively applauding the innovative use of local resources. Burning and burning out. The active and the passive As a figure, eldsjela (the fiery soul) go all the way back to the philosopher Heraclitus 2500 years ago. Heraclitus’ metaphor for change was fire (Heraclitus, 2003; Lønning, 2015). Fire brings the novel into the world, he said. Fire represents liveliness and restlessness, but fire is always demanding. It has continuous need for energy. The dead, the object, is what is left when the fire has burned out. When Eldsjela burns out, the energy and creativity is gone. The metaphor is familiar. When we human beings ‘burn out’, we lose focus and motivation. We become passive, even lethargic. This is a fundamental human challenge. Choosing between becoming, evolving, and therefore the world as it potently develops, or the static, perhaps ‘safe’, but still impotent. This is the eternal human challenge; finding our ways between the active and the passive, between being the creator of values, or the one who is created by them (Nietzsche, 1968, 2003; Lønning, 2010). Eldsjela is the person who do more, often much more, than ‘what is expected’. Whilst others come to communal work parties out of a sense of obligation, eldsjela is the organizer. She is the person who invites, coordinates, even clears up the mess when the activity is finished. Eldsjela is a character in more or less all human communities, small and big. She is found in the tiny remote village and in the neighbourhood in a big city. She is nearly always in a minority in her strong engagement to community development. In Finnøya, however, I met so many of her. So many who burned. So many people with an almost personal ‘urge’ to create, develop, organize. When many fiery souls burn at the same time and coordinate their activities, change can become a manifest force, strong enough even to offset the negative structural effects of peripherality. Keeping the flame alive But then, again, the question of fire and energy becomes acute. A small place like Finnøya is so dependent upon the fire burning. If it burns out, the forces of positive change are gone. The story of eldsjela burning out, is familiar to all people involved in community development. The fire starts burning, changes happen, the fire burns out, and positive change is replaced by statics or even degradation. No effective ‘cure’ to prevent the fire from burning out, has ever been found. The case of Finnøya shows us that there are potential ways to nourish the fire, however. Presenting change as wanted and necessary may be one. Change is a process, not a project. There may be milestones along the way, but community development cannot have a final goal and date. Putting the individual, with his or her idiosyncracies, at the centre stage of development may be another. Participation in common activities could be ‘fun’ and even personally rewarding, not something one does merely out of duty. Giving the individual credit for the work that he or she does on everybody’s behalf, could be a third. Credit is energy for the fire. Our need to ‘be seen’ was discussed above. If all the hours you, as an individual, put into community work go unnoticed, ‘burning out’ is probably inevitable in the long run. The creative commons Ultimately, we all depend on human creativity. In a small peripheral rural community, survival in the long run depends on our ability to mobilize and utilize this creativity productively. To summarize the discussions in this article on the delicate balance between individuality and community, I will present a concrete model that illustrates how a local community can be understood and developed as a ‘creative commons’ (Lønning, 2010, 2014; Lønning og Barstad, 2016). The creative commons is a network where the individual nodes actively use the local resource base in accordance with their own aims, interests and values. Engagement is actively encouraged, as is free play with the local resource base. The model visualizes place and community as a balance between public and private goods. Public goods are our common resource base. We need people to produce them, reproduce them, change them, even to define them. We need to ‘see’ and give credit to all those engaged individuals and active NGO’s who maintain and expand our local histories, our cultural heritage, our popular culture. We need to focus on popular culture, on providing room in the local landscape for the new ideas and experiences. Public goods are, therefore, our community ‘seeds’. They are the common network content. Our local programmer’s role is to make sure that these are sown and cared for, and that there are enough actors who do it and who get community credit for it. But we also need to encourage the individual nodes to grow and harvest their own fruit from these seeds. A wide range of new rural products and services have over the last couple of decades been developed, both in Norway and in many other countries, as entrepreneurs and innovators have been able to identify and develop new experience qualities in the rural landscape. The model below, shows how these entrepreneurs could become even more local, producing community values and new local identities: Our local landscape is our common pool of symbols, interpretations and practices. On the seed side of the model, NGO’s, fiery souls, public development agencies, and a range of other potential actors cooperate in the development and definitions of a communities cultural, social and natural resource base. On the fruit side, these public resources are refined by private actors as, e.g. product development or as leisure activities The resources come from the same common pool, but the way they are used could vary considerably. In this network model, values of individual freedom and community can be developed and expressed simultaneously. ‘Programmers’ are needed to make sure that the local resource base is the focus of network activities, ‘switchers’ to link local activities with extra-local trends and needs. The resultant place and community is always in a state of becoming, corresponding to the interests and activities of the people taking part. Perhaps this is the closest we can get, in our age of individuality, to a community model that can keep the flame alive? Dag Jørund Lønning is professor of rural development and innovation and rector at The Norwegian University College for Agriculture and Rural Development (HLB). References Bauman , Z. ( 2000 a) Savnet Fellesskap , Cappelen Akademisk Forlag , Oslo . Bauman , Z. ( 2000 b) Liquid Modernity , Polity Press , Cambridge . Baumann , Z. ( 2001 ) The Individualized Society , Polity Press , Cambridge . Castells , M. ( 2004 ) Informationalism, networks, and the network society: a theoretical blueprint, in Castellsz M. , ed. , The Network Society. A Cross-cultural Perspective , Edward Elgar , Cheltenham, UK and Northamton, USA , pp. 3 – 45 . Heraclitus ( 2003 ) Fragments , Penguin Classics , New York Himanen , P. ( 2004 ) The Hacker Ethic as the culture of the information age, in Castells M. , ed. , The Network Society. A Cross-cultural Perspective , Edward Elgar , Cheltenham, UK and Northamton, USA , pp. 420 – 431 . Hoffer , E. Eric Hoffer Quotes, accessed at http://www.notable-quotes.com/h/hoffer_eric.html (9 April 2018 ) Ingold , T. ( 2000 ) The Perception of the Environment. Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill , Routledge , London and New York . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Innovasjon Norge 2015 : Nøkkeltall for Norsk Turisme 2015, accessed at http://www.innovasjonnorge.no/contentassets/ad75036d7d1141338d4ccc200c162c32/nokkeltall-2015-enkeltsider.pdf Joseph Pine , B. and James , H. G. ( 1999 ) The Experience Economy. Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage , Harvard Business School Press , Boston . Longfellow , H. W. ( 1874 ) Tales of a Wayside Inn. Lønning , D. J. ( 2007 ) Fridomen til å skapa. Alternative historier om nyskaping og bygdeutvikling, Norges miljø-og biovitenskaplige universitet, Dr. Philos, Thesis 2007:1. Lønning , D. J. ( 2010 ) Kva er nyskaping? Om fridom, skaparglede, framtid og fellesskap. Ål: Boksmia forlag. Lønning , D. J. ( 2014 ) Dialogbasert utvikling. Manual for lokal mobilisering og demokratifornying. Jæren forlag. Lønning , D. J. ( 2015 ) Permanence or change: what makes the world tick? Journal of Human Values , 21 ( 1 ). Lønning , D. J. and Barstad , J. ( 2016 ) Lokal mat for lokal utvikling? HLB Arbeidsrapport 1. Lønning , D. J. , Barstad , J. and Evans , R. ( 2012 )) Tilflyttarar til utkant-Noreg? Tilflyttingsbygda Finnøy viser veg. HLB Rapport nr 2. Merleau-Ponty , M. ( 2000 ) Øyet og ånden , Pax Forlag AS , Oslo . Nietzsche , F. ( 1968 ) The Will to Power , Vintage Books , New York . Nietzsche , F. ( 1996 ) Human, All Too Human. A Book for Free Spirits , Cambridge University Press , Cambridge . Nietzsche , F. ( 2001 ) The Gay Science , Cambridge University Press , Cambridge . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Nietzsche , F. ( 2003 ) Slik talte Zarathustra , Gyldendal , Oslo . Schroeder , K. ( 2015 ) The Politics of Gross National Happiness: Values, power and policy implementation. Paper presented at the Sixth International Conference on Gross National Happiness, From GNH Philosophy to Praxis and Policy, 4-6 November 2015, Paro, Bhutan. Skårderud , F. ( 1998 ) Uro. En reise i det Moderne Selvet , Aschehoug , Oslo . van der Ploeg , J. D. and Renting , H. ( 2000 ) Impact and potential: a comparative review of European Rural Development Practices , Sociologia Ruralis , 40 ( 4 ), 529 – 543 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS van der Ploeg , J. D. and Long A. , eds ( 1994 ) Born From Within: Practice and Perspectives of Endogenous Rural Development , Van Gorcum , Assen . van der Ploeg , J. D. and van Dijk G. , eds ( 1995 ) Beyond Modernization: The Impact of Endogenous Rural Development , Van Gorcum , Assen . © Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2018 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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Community Development JournalOxford University Press

Published: May 16, 2018

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