ESRS2017: Belonging and Softness

I am just back from sunny Kraków, where I took part in the XXVII European Society for Rural Sociology Congress.

(Except I’m not ‘just’ back – I’ve spent the past fortnight with tonsillitis. Special thanks to my fellow international air travellers!)

I was a panellist in a working group coordinated by Aileen Stockdale and Tialda Haartsen, which looked at staying in the countryside. A lot of previous rural research has considered the reasons people leave rural places, or why new people arrive. But what does it mean to stay?

In my paper, I considered how staying in rural Northern England has a particular meaning: it means you’re not ‘soft’. You can cope with rugged landscapes and wild weather. You can get by through adversity. Leaving, I argued, is the sign of failure that confirms the success of staying.

This is a different spin on the way that ‘we’ – academics and urbanites alike – often think of people who stay behind in rural places, especially those places that are economically marginal. It’s a great example of why it’s so important to understand people’s lives through their own terms, rather than assuming we know already.

Aileen and Tialda are soon to be in print with their own work on ‘stayers’ – stay tuned!