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05.3 Public Services and Infrastructures: Shifting Roles, Responsibilities and Delivery Approaches in Rural Areas

Thursday, June 29, 2023
13:45 - 15:15


Dr. Falco Knaps
Leibniz University Hannover

Rural areas in crisis? Perceptions of volunteering citizens in rural and urban areas


Media, as well as political and scientific discourses, often portray rural areas as being afflicted with profound crises. Background to these ascriptions is the transition to new forms of governance in many EU-countries including a renegotiating of responsibility between state, market, and civil society. At the local level, a state retreat is reflected in limited public facilities. As services and infrastructures are not always replaced (e.g. by civil society), rural communities are often assumed to suffer from a sense of loss.

Our contribution is linked to one of the session’s core questions (“How do rural communities experience ‘loss’ and place change as a result of cuts in services?”). We will provide insights from qualitative research about perceptions of volunteering citizens in Germany. Using a comparative perspective in data analysis (“rural” vs. “urban”), our results reveal interesting insights. Based on the interview-partners descriptions of their needs and activities, our evidence suggests that public service cuts are not necessarily associated with feelings of loss or crisis. In areas with limited services (e.g., rural, remote areas), volunteering citizens adapt to their circumstances and provide support for everyday life in fields that are relevant to them. While urban areas have extensive facilities, there are also unmet needs considered extremely serious (e.g., due to anonymity, individualization, and loneliness).

Our findings indicate that feelings of loss/crisis also occur in urban areas, however under different circumstances. We conclude that approaches to support volunteering should rely on in-depth analysis of place-specific needs and experiences instead of generalized ascriptions.
Annette Aagaard Thuesen
Associate Professor, Danish Centre for Rural Research
University of Southern Denmark

Service closures and voluntary service openings in Denmark


Based on a quantitative survey to all Danish local community associations in both rural and urban communities in 2020, this paper, intends to study service closures which have occurred since 2007, the impact of service closures on the readiness of local communities, and the extent of opening of new voluntary services. The article is based on conceptualizations of civic engagement and social innovation supplemented by literature on the impact of rural service closures on citizen engagement and the startup of compensating services. Many have studied what citizens in action can achieve in relation to services, however only seldomly by use of a quantitative research design and country-wide data. This makes room for this article’s contribution. Our research question is: What is the impact of service closures on readiness to engage and which factors predicts the opening of voluntary services in Danish rural areas?
Prof. Ilona Matysiak
Associate Professor
Maria Grzegorzewska University

‘Aging in place’ and local service perceptions in small rural Iowa towns


Service provision and its availability at the local level has been discussed more and more within the literature and research on aging in place. Therefore, this paper is focused on various types of local services important for the quality of life of older adults living in small rural Iowa towns. These include facilities and services aimed directly at seniors, such as senior centres, assisted living, nursing homes, or in-home support, as well as more general healthcare and community services. The aim is to analyze how these are perceived by older adults living in four purposively selected small rural towns in Iowa: two ‘smart senior’ towns and two ‘vulnerable senior’ towns. The former are defined as aged but providing good quality senior services according to senior residents, while the latter are also aged but senior services are rated much lower. The main source of data for this paper is in-depth interviews conducted in 2021-2022 with 25 rural residents aged 65 or more (13 women and 12 men). These are supplemented with interviews with 37 local stakeholders (26 women and 9 men). The outcomes indicate the importance of not only ‘formal’ services, such as assisted living or healthcare, but also local social networks (neighbors, friends, community groups) providing support to older residents (emotional support, checking on the elderly, help with grocery shopping or driving).

Session host

Alexandru Brad
Thünen Institute of Rural Studies

Tialda Haartsen
Professor Rural Geography
University of Groningen



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

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