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Why Live "In the Middle of Nowhere?"

Christopher Lagerqvist
Department of Economic History
Uppsala University
June 2002

I am currently conducting research concerning the agricultural development and urbanization process in the northern part of Sweden over the last 75 years. I want to explain why people have chosen to stay in the countryside when they could have received a higher salary and higher standard of living in the cities. What type of rationality influenced their behavior? What types of strategies and tactics made it possible to earn a living in the countryside; for example, in the Ängersjö community?

My research questions are of scientific importance because they focus on how people earn their living at an extreme micro level and on why and how some people choose not to do as the majority does. Three major concepts I address are rationality (action with a specific purpose), strategy (long-run rational superior plan) and tactic (short-run rational subordinate plan).

In my view, the countryside can be characterized as "the middle of nowhere" or "the end of the road." The population in Ängersjö community, for example, has decreased rapidly from its highest level of more than 450 people during the 1920s, to its present level of less than 100. The small size of this population explains why a welfare structure has never been fully developed. In fact, the social infrastructure has gradually been dismounted and today there are no signs of it at all. There are no stores, no schools, no petrol stations, no post offices, no modern dwellings, etc. and the residents must travel 35 kilometers by car to by milk. Still, there are some people who choose to stay, and the question is: Why?

These circumstances make it hard to understand why anyone would want to stay in such a community. Apparently, the preferences of the people who have chosen to stay are different from the people who have chosen to live in the cities. The people who wanted to stay preferred a different lifestyle, and in my doctoral thesis I am examining this specific kind of rationality. My general results are that there are at least two important long-run factors explaining this phenomenon of why people choose to stay in the community. The first, and most important, is individual preferences. People choose to stay because they like the community and want to maximize their "nature-loving outdoor lifestyle." Due to these preferences, it has been important to arrange several different survival strategies, i.e. to get a job in the local forest industry.

The second, and less important, factor is a collective preference or mentality, which could be described as a feeling of obligation or a duty to the historical community. This factor implies that it is important that Ängersjö community survives in the future and does not become a "ghost town." Therefore, it is important to stay and to arrange several social activities and found several societies that can attract other people to move to Ängersjö in the future. It is important to emphasize that these activities and societies create economic growth. It is also important to make sure that the future generation is able to stay and earn their living in the community if they want to. Of course, it is impossible to force the next generation to stay. "I am afraid we are not in control over their preferences," says John Subeck, chairman of the village council. This second factor could be seen as a strategy that will make the first factor come true.

Above all, I want to explain the human strategies that made it possible to earn one's living in the countryside. This is the primary focus of my doctoral thesis, and in order to accomplish it I generally use three different methods. The first is to read other scientific publications such as doctoral theses, research papers and different types of scientific overviews. By this method I have been able to construct a relevant historical context. The second method is to analyze public archives such as census documents and lists of migration and agricultural material. I have received the relevant documents from The National Archives (Riksarkivet) in Stockholm and from The Regional Archives (Landsarkivet) in Östersund. The third method is to interview four different types of people who are related to four different ideal types of survival strategies; agricultural units that are increasing production, agricultural units with constant production, agricultural units that are decreasing production, and people who receive salary from another sector.