Societal and economic impulses push resource peripheries towards continuous renewal

Public examination of a doctoral dissertation in the field of Human Geography

Doctoral candidate: Maija Halonen, MSocSc

Date and venue: 18.10. at 12 noon, F100, Futura, Joensuu Campus

The adaptation to societal and economic changes has required increasing tolerance towards external impulses and constant renewal from resource peripheries, according to a new doctoral dissertation to be examined at the University of Eastern Finland. The dissertation by Maija Halonen, MSocSc, challenges the traditional insight of regional studies where peripheries are determined by devolution and stagnation.

In her dissertation, Halonen studied adaptation by concentrating on evolution and resilience taking place in a case periphery, Lieksa. This periphery located in North Karelia represents a typical northern resource community within an advanced economy, where external impulses have flooded the periphery since the early 20th century. As such, Lieksa has been shaken by extreme shocks such as wars and economic crises, global societal revolutions and megatrends, techno-economic progresses, and political changes. Most commonly, the change has taken a different route than at the centres; sometimes appearing with delay, at times influencing on different industries and livelihoods, other times taking an opposite direction or even bypassing the most significant effects of renewal.

Signs of renewing adaptation

The growth of one industry while a previous one declines is an example of visible renewal. In Lieksa, the renewal of industries has often appeared: for instance, when the lake iron ore was shaken out and the forest industries expanded; and when the agriculture and forestry declined and the manufacturing increased. In previous research, however, less attention has been paid to invisible renewal that exists even if an industry or some other field in the community is facing decline as a whole.

In Lieksa, the presence of invisible renewal has been observable when local individual or collective actors have found new ways to survive through the turbulent times or even benefit from the change. Invisible renewal has varied from specialisation to process-innovation and reorganisation of services. Renewal has also often required adopting and exploiting of new values and practices.

Pressures to adapt increase when external support fails

Local adaptation and the following evolution are not influenced by local actors only but are inherently assisted or hindered by external mechanisms that are under the agency of external actors. In general, the more failures and disruptions that appear in external actors or mechanisms, the more resilient the local actors themselves are pressured to be.

“To be resilient, local actors should be able to increase robustness to tolerate their vulnerability in the face of external impulses and the ability to continue to function, reorient and bounce forward in spite of repetitive disruptions,” Halonen points out.

Unrealistic expectations towards predictability and endogenous development

The results are partly in contradiction to contemporary regional development policies which emphasise endogenous factors in development and predefine the destiny of places. According to Halonen, it would be unrealistic to assume that development in the future could be managed by locals as there are so many different dynamic mechanisms and interacting actors involved in each phase. Even if the last turning point regarding bio-industry implies an ability to see forward and manage the future by local actors, further impulses will be extensively managed by external actors and surprising co-evolution of mechanisms.

“As before, preparing for surprises is in order – whether they appear in the form of an extreme shock, a fistful of random triggers, or as unpredictably rotating mechanisms and reactions of external actors. No one can say exactly how, when, and in which format these surprises will appear, let alone predict what the outcome will be,” Halonen notes.

The doctoral dissertation of Maija Halonen, MSosSc. entitled ”Booming, Busting – Turning, Surviving? Socio-economic evolution and resilience of a forested resource periphery in Finland”, will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The opponent in the public examination will be Associate Professor Linda Lundmark of Umeå University, and the custos will be Professor Markku Tykkyläinen of the University of Eastern Finland.

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