Moving to the peace and quiet of the countryside – a question of lifestyle or safety?2020-06-16
There is a relatively large group of people from Germany and the Netherlands who have chosen to move to Scandinavia. There are several reasons behind the move from urban, densely populated areas in their home countries to the quiet countryside in middle of nowhere. Previous research has primarily described this as a desire to make a lifestyle change, from stressful urban life to the tranquillity of the countryside. However, Linda Persson, doctoral student in Risk and Environmental Studies and part of CRS, shows that there may be other strong reasons that contribute to the decision to move.
“Sometimes I think ... It’s a bit like in the Lord of the Rings. Sweden is a bit like Hobbiton, nice and friendly; sure, people can be a bit strange sometimes and you don’t always understand everything, but at least you are safe and secure here. And the world outside is big and dangerous with Russians, ISIS – and Sauron. But here it feels safe, tranquil and stable.”
These are the words of a person who has moved to Värmland from Germany and one of the interviewees of Linda Persson’s study “Lifestyle migrants” or “environmental refugees”? – Resisting urban risks. The quote summarises well what families describe as the reasons why they decided to move to Sweden.
“Previous research on the reasons why people, especially families, choose to move from a metropolitan area to the countryside mainly indicates that it is about lifestyle and quality of life, but these studies have looked mainly at migration to rural areas within close proximity of a city or migration where families move back to ‘their roots’, which is not applicable to the participants of this study”, says Linda Persson.
Risks of urban life motivate people to move
“In addition to lifestyle factors, there is a significant risk perception behind the decision to move from metropolitan areas – in my study, this includes metropolitan areas in Germany and the Netherlands. The risks include negative environmental impacts such as pollution, the unstable situation in the world, flaws in the social safety net and welfare system, and aggression and hostility of other people in heavily urban environments. Sweden is considered a safe country to live in, but it is important to point out that for many, the choice on where to move was random, the primary aim was to move somewhere. A word that the interviewees in the study often came back to when describing their new life in Sweden was ‘quiet’”, says Linda Persson.
She conducted qualitative interviews with twelve people of different ages from seven families. Some of the families had children, others did not. The time the interviewees had spent living in Sweden ranged from two months and up to 16 years at the time of the interview. All of them lived in Värmland – a part of Scandinavia that has been described by economics researcher Kjell A. Nordström as a “wasteland” with no future.
“The interesting thing is that from the beginning, I wanted to do a study on downshifting, people who choose to live their lives a little quieter, which is what these people have done. However, when I asked them to tell me about the move and their decision to move, everyone shifted their story to the things they wanted to leave. The quiet downshifted life in Värmland seemed secondary compared to avoiding the discomfort and risks of the urban environment they left behind. Now the entire thesis is about resistance instead, since their move could be understood as a form of resistance to the heavily urban neoliberal society”, says Linda Persson.
Linda Persson is a doctoral student in Risk and Environmental Studies and part of the Research School on Sustainable Societal Transformation. She plans to defend her thesis in 2022.