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14. Civic engagement and socio-structural changes in rural areas. Current developments

Tuesday, June 27, 2023
15:45 - 17:15


Francisco Antonio Navarro-Valverde
University of Granada

Warm Hubs: Social innovation engaging ‘hard-to-reach’ people in rural communities


Loneliness and isolation of elderly people are a big concern in rural areas. The “Warm Hubs” programme in Northumberland has been created to offer safe, warm, friendly, and relational environments where rural residents can enjoy social activity, information, and advice. In this project, we are examining the ways in which different actors are working together to build a network of distinctive local initiatives under the umbrella of “Warm Hubs”. Ongoing research has identified that each of the six examined hubs reflects different characteristics of their local communities allowing analysis to explore the effectiveness of place-based approaches as well as the types of networks and models that best support and promote their activities. Conceptually, the study seeks to shed new light on the dynamics of social innovation, where initiatives are created collaboratively between local actors and higher-level policymakers, to deliver new services to vulnerable groups in rural areas. We also assess the value created by Warm Hubs to other agencies who use the hub as a means to engage with hard-to-reach rural residents to provide advice on energy use, financial management, health, and nutrition. In some cases, Warm Hubs have evolved out of pre-existing community groups, elsewhere they have been newly created. This provides a further opportunity to analyse the added value of being part of a larger organisation while still retain local distinctiveness and autonomy.
Prof. Michael Woods
Aberystwyth University

Rural Civil Society and Political Polarization: Negotiating Black Lives Matter in an English Small Town


Recent years have witnessed a sequence of disruptive political events and movements that have contributed to increased political polarization both between rural and urban populations and within rural society. Local civil society is entwined in dynamics of political polarization in several ways. Civil society organizations, events and public spaces can become sites of contestation as groups with conflicting views struggle to align their perspectives with place identity. However civil society organizations can also incubate polarization, by acting as echo-chambers within which world-views are reproduced, or conversely can be can actors in countering polarization and bringing communities together. This paper draws on a project exploring local civil society and political polarization to discuss a case study of a Black Lives Matter protest in the small English town of Lydney in 2020. Plans for the protest deeply divided the town, with civil society organizations drawn into the argument and the right to public space positioned as a key battleground. Drivers of polarization including differing understanding of race and racism, contrasting scales of identity, and disagreements around local heritage drew on discourses embedded in different parts of local civil society. Finally, subsequent attempts to use civil society to re-unite the community have been compromised by ongoing divergence of views over the appropriate structures of civil society in the town and who gets to participate.
Kathrin Fahn
Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin
Humboldt University

Sports clubs in rural areas


Sports clubs are an important part of village life. However, it is assumed that sports clubs in rural areas face challenges against the backdrop of social and regional conditions, e.g., the municipal financial situation. Empirical studies on these assumptions are scarce. This study examines the collective experiences of board members in sports clubs with a focus on socio-spatial factors.
The actor-theoretical model of sports club development (Nagel, 2007) serves as a heuristic framework. Sports clubs are corporate actors that develop through the ongoing mutual constitution of members' social actions and social structures over historical time. To reconstruct group-specific and cross-group orientations and experiences, group discussions with board members of different types of sports clubs in rural areas were conducted and analysed using the documentary method (Bohnsack, 2021). The data were collected as part of the BMEL-funded project "Civic Engagement in Peripheral - Rural Areas of the New Federal States".
The comparison of two contrasting cases illustrates processes at the interface between sports club and municipal administration that promote or inhibit engagement. Although the sports clubs benefit from funding by the municipality, they make their own contributions to the maintenance of the municipal sports facilities. Increasing bureaucratisation reduces the willingness to get involved. In the lecture, the complex relationships between the sports clubs and the municipal administration will be outlined.

Bohnsack, R. (2021). Rekonstruktive Sozialforschung. Einführung in qualitative Methoden. Opladen & Toronto: Barbara Budrich.
Nagel, S. (2007). Akteurtheoretische Analyse der Sportvereinsentwicklung – Ein theoretisch-
methodischer Bezugsrahmen. Sportwissenschaft, 37, 186-201.
Franziska Lengerer
Thünen Institute of Rural Studies

A biographical approach to the interplay of older rural residents‘ local community participation and their observations of socio-structural changes


Forms of civic engagement have been investigated from different theoretical perspectives, but their embeddedness in and potential influence on socio-structural changes in rural areas still raises many questions. Acknowledging the complexity of these interdependencies, my aim is to zoom in on older rural residents’ local community participation and their observations of socio-structural changes in a German case-study area that experienced strong population decline and ageing over the last decades. For doing so, I combine a biographical approach with Elias’s figuration sociology and his idea of the we-I-balance (Rosenthal & Bogner 2020; Crow & Laidlaw 2019). Based on survey data collected in the context of the STAYin(g)Rural project, 15 older rural residents with different residential histories and varying degrees of participation were selected and interviewed in 2021. My presentation will address (1) the meanings that these residents assigned to their diverse forms of local community participation, (2) the changes they observed in their village communities and the wider area, and (3) whether and how their participation is related to the identified changes. With this analysis, I hope to shed light on the interplay of socio-structural changes and local community participation from the perspectives of older rural residents.

Crow, Graham; Laidlaw, Maggie (2019): Norbert Elias’s extended theory of community: From established/outsider relations to the gendered we–I balance. The Sociological Review 67 (3), pp. 568–584.
Rosenthal, Gabriele; Bogner, Artur (2020): Sozialkonstruktivistisch-figurationssoziologische Biographieforschung. In Ronald Hitzler, Jo Reichertz, Norbert Schröer (Eds.): Kritik der Hermeneutischen Wissenssoziologie. Weinheim: Beltz Juventa, pp. 67-79.

Session host

Anna Eckert
Thünen Institute



Contact for questions about abstracts or registration: groningen@congressbydesign.com 

Contact for questions about the content of the programme: ruralgeo2023@rug.nl