Peter de Souza, Doctor of Economics, Försteamanuensis at the Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences. Former consultant in regional and local development issues (OECD, EU, public and private sectors). Former member of the Board of Regional Studies Association and former Chairman of its Nordic Section. Co-Editor of New Nordic Regions (2008) and Regional Development in Northern Europe: Peripherality, Marginality and Border Issues (Routledge 2011). Author of The Rural and Peripheral in Regional development – an alternative perspective (Routledge 2018)

The recent Swedish election (September 2018) was dominated by questions around the nature of the migratory processes in Europe and their consequences for the economic, political and social-cultural future of Sweden. The results of the election appear within a general framework of populistic achievements highlighted by, among other phenomena, the catalytic consequences of Brexit and Trump. This populism, however, is just proxy for much deeper socio-economic complexities with far-reaching and long-term political and cultural consequences.

It is therefore necessary not to remain on a level that takes these outcomes at their face value. ‘We’ and ‘them’ as identity-strengthening populistic tactics, hide the much more relevant ‘they’ of the center/urban/capital. Populistic and protest-voting partly reflect a deep-set split in society, where center-periphery, urban-rural differences are basic structures and processes with a notable impact. Identifying other ideological concerns, defined in dimensions of center, top-down and macro perspectives, continue to form a basis for societal priorities; the center-defined elites not really having an understanding as to how the other side lives. Even when fragments and aspects cannot be ignored, raising the question of whether there is a will within the political community  to act upon it. Although a functional government is still not in place, the un-ideological haggling does not relate to the necessities of society – either in the short-term or the much more crucial, long-term strategic concerns. I have argued in my recent book (de Souza, 2018) that this does not come as a surprise. The dominance of the center, and the abstract urban (capital) is not only demographic, material or political (power) defined and executed. It is also analytically biased in quite a systematic manner by academia, by being defined by the functioning of the center and/or under-researched.

Picture from protests against such a decision in Sollefteå, in the Northern parts of Sweden. Photo Copyright: Robbin Norgren, Mittmedia

Returning to the question of life in the periphery, rural countryside has still been raised in party programs and last-minute election excursions, displaying figures at the fore-front of the establishment ’slumming’ and provoking a number of ’promises’ and ideas for changes in emphasis. Without really touching the nature of dominance and logic of continuing processes of urbanisation and centralisation, and the devastating realities of the simultaneous effects of migratory patterns (see picture 2), these population thresholds continue in service and commercial functions and their negative interactivity. The rules of the game, when it comes to, for instance health care or schools (learning), are accepted as being fundamentally different ’out there’, and thus avoided as politically pertinent questions.

Welfare, in general terms, used to be a guaranteed dimension of being a Swedish citizen. Today its position for everyone (rural) is presented in terms of ’we can no longer afford it’ – ’it is not cost efficient’. As more and more people are found in the cities (capital), it indicates that the providing a guaranteed qualitative level of care in the richly populated central is prioritised before the rural elderly unable to access basic service levels, or mothers-to-be facing maternity ward closure (thus making such trips hazardous for both mother and unborn child).

Photo Copyright: Katarina Östholm, Mittmedia

The main argument at this point is the combined lack of substantiated knowledge and taken for granted profiles, which hide the positive alternatives, which would be beneficial for future societal development beyond what is outlined today. At the same time, it ignores the role of the rural/peripheral in the general functioning of society in historical terms and its role for the continuing functional survival of the urban, for example, in the extent of rurally located resources necessary for the continuation of provision of urban wellbeing. The basic question is whether the development we are looking forward to in the long run is sustainable, when fundamental imbalances in society are maintained and, amongst those imbalances, there reside center-peripheral issues. It is clear that resources of the rural need to be considered in any future development process.

Returning to the start of the argument – the scepticism with anti-centre, anti-capital (urban), anti-establishment character voiced during the election  manifests in the populistic results. The logic is, however, far from anti-migration or anti-migrants; instead, it is primarily pro-rural and about giving the rural population a  deserved place in society and the subsequent benefits from doing that – and that is not a populistic standpoint at all.

Reference

de Souza, P. (2018). The Rural and Peripheral in Regional Development – An Alternative Perspective. London: Routledge.

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