Meanings of 'the local' in a Swedish Rural Development Organization - All Sweden Shall Live!

Bo Nilsson


Organized rural development in Sweden can be described at two levels; a local level with a large number of local actors organized in a so-called village-action movement, and a national level where political parties and the government present different suggestions on how to develop rural areas. However, characteristic for Sweden is also a close relationship between these two levels and a bottom-up perspective encouraging local initiatives, which is exemplified by All Sweden Shall Live (ASSL); a general rural development organization characterized by both policy-making ambitions and support of local development projects.
A central but also ambiguous concept in the organization ASSL’s campaigns and ideology is ‘the local,’ and with discourse theory, as a point of departure, this case-study examines how different meanings of ‘the local’ are used to advocate investments in local perspectives and local measures. Special attention is directed towards how meanings of ‘the local’ form a ‘fantasy,’ an emotional and ideological worldview, and how this worldview is of importance in the organization’s self-legitimization and for its potential as an agent of political mobilization. While ASSL is a Swedish organization, the subject is of general relevance because ideological investments in both ‘the local’ and ‘the regional’ are common, for example, in processes of relocalization—local responses to globalization—and in arguments about the importance of localities and regions in a global economy. Furthermore, the paper illustrates how such investments can have unexpected effects such as the transfer of responsibility for rural development from the government to local actors.

Keywords: rural development; local; discourse theory; ideological fantasy; urban norm

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