The Community Divide is more Detrimental than the Plant Itself: Confrontational Stigma and Community Responses to Rural Facility Siting

Sarah Ann Mason-Renton, Isaac Luginaah, Jamie Baxter


Rural communities are changing as ex-urban residents in-migrate with differing expectations than long-time residents of the surrounding agricultural community. The implications come into focus when techno-industrial developments are introduced in rural landscapes—potentially affecting residents’ place attachment. In the Township of Southgate, Ontario, a proposed biosolid (sewage sludge) processing facility resulted in hostile community conflict and emotional impacts that have driven a wedge between friends and family members. Utilizing in-depth interviews
(n=22), this paper examines narratives of community in Southgate Township and the emotional impacts residents experienced during the facility siting process. The results suggest that divergent responses to facility development and landscape change has stimulated particularly strong intra-community conflict and emotions, altering the ways rural residents initially perceive their landscape and community as a safe tranquil place with a strong sense of community. Emerging from this analysis is the notion of confrontational stigma whereby residents worried the polarizing conflict that emerged in the community between those who oppose the facility versus those who support it for economic and agricultural purposes is leading to outsiders viewing their community negatively. Residents described how this depth of conflict could be more detrimental to the community than the effects of the facility itself. These findings suggest greater attention to community-level impacts of facility siting in rural areas in particular. This study makes recommendations for a facility siting process in rural communities that is more attentive to the diversity of rural residents, their range of place attachments and the potential for lasting social and emotional impacts within these diverse rural communities.

Keywords: biosolids; community conflict; place attachment; community dynamics; waste processing; risk perception

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.