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Social competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 1:
Social competitiveness in the territorial approach


1.1 Diverse situations in terms of social competitiveness


The ability of local players and institutions to act jointly and effectively varies considerably from one rural area to another. In some cases they do so, but in others conflict and mistrust make consultation and collective action difficult.

To a large extent such differences are a legacy of the past. The shared work practices customary in traditional societies, which bound the community together to some degree, have for the most part disappeared. However, in some places they have survived, changed and continue to mark local life (as in the industrial clusters of northern and central Italy).

Rural areas that have suffered large-scale depopulation, particularly of young people, have found themselves stripped of the social/inter-generational fabric that formerly bound them together.

Nevertheless, as the rural world has changed, new practices of consultation and collective action have emerged, notably as a result of:

  • Developments in agriculture that have often induced farmers to join forces to meet common needs: marketing, supplies, credit, etc. Also, there are many rural areas in which trade union, cooperative and civic movements have made a strong mark on the farming world by teaching people how to take collective action.

  • The strengthening, or in some cases relatively recent introduction, of democratically-elected local authorities, leading to the gradual generalisation of local consultation and decentralised decision-making practices.

  • The strengthening or introduction of new decision-making levels above that of the village or district, such as the communautés de communes in France, the comarcas in Spain, counties in the United Kingdom, groups of districts in Sweden, Belgium, etc. These new decision-making levels gradually make it possible to break away from the parochialism so often characteristic of rural areas, and allow the development of a broader view of the role of local authorities in territorial development.

  • The arrival of new populations, which is very often a factor in reviving community and public life and in diversifying production activities and services.

This brief overview shows just how diverse are the factors determining how the social fabric of Europe’s rural regions is made up and how, when combined, such factors tend to produce differing, and even contrary, effects. It is this that has led to their extreme diversity.

What is there in common, for example, between the isolated mountain areas of the Iberian peninsula (whose democratic revival dates back less than one generation and, since the 1950s, have been drained by rural depopulation), the areas north of the Parisian basin (characterised by intensive, but not very labour- intensive, farming), the rural areas on the outskirts of urban areas (which very often serve as dormitory areas with no local life) and areas marked by economic and religious conflict, such as Northern Ireland? In each of these areas, the problem of social competitiveness inevitably takes a different form.

A look further back into the legacy of the past reveals still more elements of differentiation. Of course, social behaviour and shared values differ radically between, for example, regions that for centuries have been dominated by large-scale land ownership and agricultural paid labour (as still exist in the southern Iberian peninsula, eastern Germany and Scotland) and regions dominated by small family farms and a strong attachment to individual land ownership, especially in terms of entrepreneurial spirit, risk-taking (whether or not an enterprise culture exists) and spatial relationships.

Nevertheless, it is possible to draw out from this extreme diversity a few broad categories of rural area, such as:

  • Some areas have become socially de-structured today. Having remained isolated, and hence removed from modern social movements, they have also lost their traditional forms of organisation.

  • Other areas are marked by a lack of confidence in public and civic institutions.

  • Yet others suffer from deep rifts as a result of past conflicts and unhealed blows to morale.

  • Still others are handicapped by the lack of an enterprise culture.

  • Certain rural areas situated on the outskirts of large urban areas are “other-directed” and have no real local life.

  • Yet other areas which, on the contrary, have developed local forms of socio-institutional consultation, are gaining increased powers to act independently in accordance with their own interests.

All of these examples show how important it is for any LEADER local action group (LAG) to meticulously analyse the area’s situation in order to determine how much “room for manoeuvre” exists for (re)building or strengthening social competitiveness.

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