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Social competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 2:
Analysing an area’s social competitiveness


2.2 The area’s culture and identity


Most local action group leaders quickly realised that understanding common identities and shared values was vital to the success of a development project. Understanding the factors of attachment to the area and identifying the characteristic cultural features enabled them to anticipate possible reactions to a given type of development strategy, and to adapt their actions accordingly. Even though an area’s future does not necessarily depend on the links and cultures that have been forged over time, these are the levers on which LAGs base their coordination, mobilisation and innovation strategies.

In the history of the rural world, the links between generations have significantly determined the configuration of the area. For many years it was through these links that know-how and attachment to the area were passed down. When it was no longer possible to keep young people in the area, the local fabric was weakened and many activities disappeared.


    In France since the Second World War, the Breton people have rediscovered a strong sense of identity which, among other things, has encouraged the agricultural world to find the means to assure “a future in the region for all its children”. More than in any other agricultural region of France, this strong social competitiveness has made it possible to keep the Breton people in the region. Now the next stage is to correct some of the negative effects of this accelerated development, especially threats to the environment.

The spatial links that bind people to their environment, understood in the broadest sense (land, scenery, architecture, etc.), are also an essential element of the local identity.


    In the Alentejo region (Portugal), which for centuries has been dominated by large-scale land ownership and where, up to one generation ago, more than 80% of the population was comprised of casual farm labourers, shared values reflect this social situation: little attachment to the land, a virtually non-existent local culture of enterprise, predominance of forms of solidarity and hospitality, collective organisations marked by a labourers’ tradition, etc.

Similar situations can be observed in other regions where large- scale farming predominates, as in the new German Länder or, more generally, in areas where the future hangs on the fate of a single big company or group of businesses that have employed a large number of workers for several generations and which, today, are in decline (mines, textile industry, etc.). In a context such as this, collective action has mainly taken the form of trade union membership, cooperatives, etc. The LEADER groups’ experience shows that, during periods of crisis or restructuring, the most important first step to building social competitiveness is to create new collective structures aimed at making individual risk- taking socially bearable and at giving individuals the desire and ability to become entrepreneurs.

Other cultures, by contrast, are very conducive to entrepreneurship: in Italy’s cluster areas, for example, there are many potential business innovators and creators, since the local environment makes people less likely to shrink from taking an individual risk because there are mechanisms of collective support that make such risk-taking bearable, both economically and socially. In everybody’s eyes, being the head of a small business firm is an enviable position and bosses find it perfectly normal that their employees should one day wish to set themselves up in business, too. Socially acceptable, any failure is counterbalanced by family solidarity and the possibility of being able to return to salaried employment at any time.

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