Since 2002, Greg Halseth, Canada Research Chair in Rural and Small Town Studies, has been examining community and economic restructuring in rural and small town places across Canada. Through this research program, Greg and his research team have been examining how place-based assets can be re-tooled and mobilized for more flexible local and regional responses in the new rural economy. In the context of an increasingly fast-paced and connected global economy, this research program also examines local, regional, and global inter-linkages that shape policies, investments, and supports in small communities.
A description of the strategic research plans for both the current Tier I and completed Tier II Canada Research Chair in Rural and Small Town Studies at UNBC is provided below.
The Canada Research Chair in Rural and Small Town Studies Tier I program builds upon previous regional and national work and connects with international collaborative research teams to explore external and internal restructuring processes contributing to rural change. This includes attention to:
- how local, regional, and global inter-linkages are affecting rural and northern communities;
- the processes affecting the local capacity to respond to these changes; and
- the identification of strategic options available in light of these changes.
Part A: Restructuring
1) Examining global-local links:
- To what degree are global-local links changing (qualitatively and quantitatively)?
- How do these changes (and the pace of the changes) create challenges and opportunities?
(Australia, Finland, and Norway)
2) Examining changes to resource industry employment:
- How do the new labour arrangements of flexibility vary across rural landscapes and resource sectors?
- How do rural places prepare for such new arrangements?
- What are the primary impacts of the dynamic tension among labour, capital, and communities?
3) Examining political and economic restructuring literatures and critiques of CED:
- Interrogate rural renewal or ‘success’ stories for the supports and mechanisms important to success.
- What are the relative roles of local capacity and leadership, supportive public policy, comparative versus competitive advantage variables, the geographic variables of location and access, and the degree of local innovation?
(Australia, Canada, England, France, New Zealand, and USA)
Part B: Community Development, Place-Based Development, and New Regionalism
Research will be completed to examine the inter-connectedness of human capital, social capital, and community capacity in place-based resilience to economic transition. It will also examine the extent to which human capital replaced natural capital as a defining basis for rural competitive advantage. This research will focus on forest-dependent towns in Canada and Finland experiencing employment restructuring.
The CRC team will also examine changes affecting the non-profit sector, including:
- To what extent have non-profits replaced the leadership (and leadership mentoring) roles formerly provided by the local management staff of senior government agencies and resource companies?
- How can this shift be best managed locally?
Building upon previous research on place-based development in northern BC, the CRC team will examine crucial linkages between bottom-up actions and top-down supports with attention to:
- What extent are local economic plans cognizant of the importance of, and limitations on, local initiative?
- What extend do senior government policies recognise their continuing roles in support of place-based development?
- What extent are specific mechanisms already in place, or in development, for the co-construction of collective interventions in local economic transition?
- How do these vary across resource communities in countries that compete directly with Canada for global market shares?
A final focal point for the CRC team will include a regional focus on the changing structures of government and governance for responding to local and extra-local impulses of social and economic stress, including research topics that examine:
- To what extent are local government mechanisms supporting or impeding regional initiatives?
- How do successful models balance demands for local independence with the need for collective cooperation?
- Does the creation of an effective regional governance model create a new level of small community dependence on regional governance?
Through this research, the CRC team will contribute new knowledge, support policy and practice changes to assist with restructuring and transition, and stimulate scholarly debate around a more general conceptual framework.
The CRC in Rural and Small Town Studies Tier II program examined the restructuring of single-industry resource-dependent towns in northern British Columbia with a focus on two key themes:
- Understanding local, regional, and global inter-linkages and their impacts on communities, and
- Evaluating the processes contributing to community capacity building.
Theme 1: Understanding local, regional, and global inter-linkages and their impacts on communities
Study 1: Interrelated Aspects of Local Economic Diversification and Development
This research focused upon three key aspects of local economies in order to situate those economies within a broader context of:
- Changing residential and employment patterns,
- Changing shopping patterns and economic leakage to regional centres, and
- An evaluation of local businesses.
Over the past thirty years, transportation infrastructure has been greatly improved in rural and remote areas. This provides people with the opportunity to reside in one community and commute to another for employment or shopping. Such “extra-community” commuting results in economic leakage where monies earned in one community may now be spent on housing, goods, or services in an entirely different town. Using a Statistics Canada database on “Employed Labour Force: By Place of Residence and By Place of Work Status” available through the Data Liberation Initiative (DLI), this research explored the scale and extent of extra-community commuting in northern BC. The results were combined with a household survey on individual’s shopping patterns and the development of a longitudinal database on local businesses to provide information on the changing nature of regional interactions.
Study 2: Investigation into the Availability of Basic Services and Resident Quality of Life Perceptions
Restructuring of services provision has occurred in concert with restructuring of resource-based industries, with the result that many places have lost services and local residents must now travel to adjacent centres to access these services. The implications for community sustainability are clear, as households requiring services will consider relocating.
Based on a case study of the Robson and Canoe Valleys, this research examined:
- How has access to basic social, protective, and health services changed through time for rural and small town residents?
- Is there a correlation between the availability of basic services and residents’ perceptions regarding their quality of life?
This study highlighted the implications of the changing distribution and concentration of services over time for residents and small communities.
Study 3: Investigation into Changing Employment Trends in Resource Industries
Resource-based industries are the economic foundation for most rural and small town places in BC. These industries have undergone tremendous changes since the 1970s and the impacts of restructuring are being experienced within these places. Looking at the major resource industries in BC (forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas), our CRC research team examined the local impacts of industry restructuring. This research included three stages:
- Development of a historical database of resource company ownership,
- Evaluation of employment changes in resource industries and their implication for rural and small town places, and
- A case study of conflict and contention arising from restructuring in a small northern BC town (Mackenzie).
Theme 2: Evaluating the Processes Contributing to Community Capacity Building
Study 4: Measuring Social Cohesion and Social Capital
Social cohesion refers to the collective ability of people and organizations to mobilize to address some challenge or opportunity. Social capital involves the building of trust and relationships between individuals or groups. In this research, our CRC team explored processes of social cohesion and social capital that were mobilized as communities responded collectively to the pressures of restructuring and transition. This research proceeded in four stages:
- Construction of longitudinal socio-economic and demographic profiles of selected study communities,
- Analysis of historic residential mobility patterns in the study communities,
- Examination of activities and events to reconstruct the processes by which individuals and groups interact and develop cohesion, and
- Analysis and evaluation of these interrelated data sets to identify and quantify the dynamics of social capital building.
This study built upon the CRC team’s participation in the New Rural Economy Project’s research on social cohesion coordinated by the Canadian Rural Restructuring Foundation.
Study 5: Qualitative Assessment of Social Capital and Social Cohesion Processes
This study explored how social capital and social cohesion processes were functioning in rural and small town Canada. Building upon the results from Study 4, in-depth interviews were conducted with local activists to explore their assessments of whether social cohesion processes work well and whether social capital was developing or deteriorating. This will facilitate a broader evaluation of these important social processes and the roles they play in rural and small town Canada.