Young people's strategies for social and economic integration in rural areas


Analysing qualitative interviews in development issues is tightly inter-related with the issues of personal future perspectives, aspirations and strategies, and opportunities provided and shaped by various contextual aspects. As has been pointed out repeatedly, the region of Murau and its young people are particularly torn between limited prospects and regressive evaluation of perspectives of the region and the need to adapt to changes and to learn to know the outside world. Though the number of young people who emigrated from the district of Murau has gone back since the sixties (28,2% of the economically active people for 1961- 1971 and 12,9% for 1981-1991), the number of young people who migrated into the district of Murau decreased also, thus the balance of immigration and emigration is again negative (-170 young people in the period of 1991-1991). In addition the high number of non-daily commuters underlines the rather severe situation of the region.

Interviewees have been asked about their assessment on reasons for unemployment of young people in the region. Almost all interviewees have to concede that the lack of jobs in the area is the main reason for unemployment. Similar attitudinal patterns as above reveal that the contextual, structural difficulties are mentioned in the first place and the more personal reasons are estimated as being less important. With the overarching impression of the weak regional economy this attitude seems very reasonable and it points also to the need for young people to readdress their strategies for job search. It makes it understandable that a great share of young people only can conceive of opportunities in other regions.

In many cases leaving the region is not as determined as it seems to be, but rather a processual development. Most likely out-migration starts with further education (university, advanced technical college, or other educational institutions) in a neighbouring city. During the time of education regular or at least occasional visits of the region to see parents and friends seems to be normal. But because of limited job chances particularly for higher educated people, young people will probably try to get a job elsewhere with some of them still having the intention of coming back to the region in the near future, then provided with practical workplace experience.

Decisions are not just influenced by opportunities, but on the other hand, are themselves having an impact on what young people realise as choices. Personal assessment, early life experiences in family and other social networks shape the capability to retain and accept specific choices or to refuse them as being inadequate. In this respect, it is no big surprise that those young people having emigrated to Vienna ("external group") state that they "had the wish to leave the region since their childhood", and that they "had always wanted to see the world".

Some young people declared that they don't feel at all at ease in the region and that they plan to leave the region as soon as possible. In some cases the desired anonymity of cities and attractiveness of urban life were presented as main reasons to this attitude. They feel restricted and hindered by the strict forms of social control. It is not only that "everyone knows everybody" but it is a fact too, that "everyone knows everything about everybody". In particular, such a critical assessment has been experienced by the "external" group of young people. Their views shed light on the feelings of those young people who dislike the traditional closeness and who don't feel integrated in the regional networks. As they are not any more exposed (permanently) to criticism of the local community they could formulate their views and critiques more openly.

When every action is being watched and discussed in the community it is often experienced as very unpleasant and restrictive by young people.

Question: In the long term, do you have the feeling, you would like to move to a city?

Interviewee: Yes, definitely (…) it's the way of living. Each year I spend some weeks in Munich (Germany), it's already the way of living. There are more chances for children, too, when you only look at the education possibilities. I would like it anyway, it's much more anonymous, and these small towns (like Murau), that's terrible." (Elisa, 24 years, female, one child)

Thus besides a narrow range of regional opportunities and the lack of anonymity, also patriarchal elements are still deeply rooted and have expelled numerous people from the region, unsatisfied with the situation and looking for alternative experiences of life. For the remaining people the situation is consequently even deteriorating, reducing population and "critical mass" in the region. Some perceive the region as rather closed community with persistent economic and social difficulties and constraints. They cannot detect any (positive) change for the near future, taking the extreme position that there is "no development in the region at all". It is important to underline that the development approach addressed here is not limited to economic, but encompassing social development as well.

"How things develop, Murau is going to be a weekend-region, because everybody has to commute to work places. There are just few people, who find a job in the region. Although lots of people are building houses here at this time. That people are going to leave the region for work, that's the minor problem, but (they stay here) only at the weekend. And that's, unfortunately, the sad fact." (Herbert, 25 years, male)

On the other hand, things start to change and to be expressed openly by more and more (young) people. One of them put it like this:

"Well, you can try it, but it's like that: most things are getting blocked. They are so pigheaded, they just go their way, don't looking right or left. But it's getting better now. We have a new mayor now and everything new. More and more is picked up, but previously it really was like that, …. " (Marianne, 17 years, female)

6. Perspectives

Young people of the region experience the tensions of the weak local labour market and limited choices in the region. In their responses in the interviews, and particularly in the focus group discussions, they tended to take the extreme positions and to raise excessively either their positive or negative feelings toward the region's future. Most young people (still) living in the area have developed a high degree of identification with the region, despite of the limited choices available. Others who have decided to leave the region or who have left the region already impulsively refuse to believe in the future of the region and express their disregard by labelling the region negatively. It is seen "as lying behind the woods", "a boring region where nothing happens" and "no development at all" takes place. Both attitudes neglect barriers to development or actual developments going on in the region, or having started just recently.

Changes under these circumstances are possible only step by step and require a lot of "side-aspects" to be taken into consideration. The pace of change has to be seen in tight correlation to the development of participation and the recognition of active citizenship in rural communities. This process has also to include the discussion of regional problems and arrive at some kind of priorities. As problem assessment can not be objective and different groups experience different problems a wide participation has to be sought. Young people would bring a specific dimension into this debate and have to acquire a specific role in the process. It's important to note, that young people not just have to be regarded as target group for their role in the region in the future but should be seen as people capable to contribute presently to community development.

The interviews interpretation reflect the situation at the interview period in winter 1999/2000. However, youth development is particularly susceptible to actual development. Hence we can see recently rising concern about exclusion of specific groups of young people and regional and provincial initiatives addressing the situation of young people. In particular, in May 2000 Austria's largest project for youth initiatives has been started in Styria (nex: it 2000) and more than 500 small-scale projects have already been submitted for support since then and 152 projects were selected. One of these projects for example is about drug prevention in the study area of Murau and explicitly tackling some burning issues of social exclusion of young people. Together with other local initiatives it seems that a few actors in the region have gained sufficient support to start similar initiatives and thereby hope to change the general feelings towards the future of the region.

It has to be said, however, that the national political situation also affects youth policies and it is feared by labour unionists that the amendments are not oriented towards the education of young people but aim at higher economic profitability of vocational training schemes. At the extreme, this position concludes that "the government does not provide any option for young people" (ÖGB-Nachrichtendienst 2000). It will have to be seen which of the contrary movements will have a greater impact on young people in the study area of Murau: the current policy of austerity or the rising awareness of the need for local community involvement.

7. References

Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research (2001), Policies and Young People in Rural Development (PAYPIRD), Final Report for the European Commission, Aberdeen,

Böhnisch, L. and H. Funk (1989), Jugend im Abseits? Zur Lebenslage Jugendlicher im ländlichen Raum, Weinheim und München, 285pp

Dax, T. and I. Machold (2001), Assessment of rural development programmes to enhance youth integration, paper for the 41st Congress of the European Regional Science Association, ERSA, 29th August - 1st September 2001, Zagreb

Dax, T., Machold, I. and C. Meisinger (2000), Policies and Young People in Rural Development (PAYPIRD), National Report, Study Area Murau, Austria, Bundesanstalt für Bergbauernfragen, Wien

Dax, T., Oedl-Wieser, T. and G. Wiesinger (1999), Policies and Young People in Rural Development, Interim-Report for the European Commission Research, DG B.I.2, chapter 4, Young people in Murau, Austria. Edited by the Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research, Aberdeen 1999, pp.131-154.

Der Standard (2000), Jugend arbeitet in Gemeinde mit, Graz übernimmt deutsches Partizipations- und Ausbildungsmodell, 14. November, Wien, p.14

Machold, I. and T. Dax (2001), Youth participation in rural society, paper at the XIXth Congress of the European Society for Rural Sociology, ESRS, 3-7 September, Dijon

Nex:it (2000): Jugendzukunftsfonds Steiermark,

Santigli, E. (2000), Gesundheitsbericht 2000 für die Steiermark, im Auftrag des Gesundheitslandesrates,

Scheer, G. (1998), Vom alten zum neuen Regionalismus, in: RAUM, Nr. 31, Wien, pp. 20-23.

Shucksmith, M. (2000), Exclusive countryside? Social inclusion and regeneration in rural areas, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 63 pp.

Strauss, A. and J. Corbin (1990), Basics of Qualitative Research. Grounded Theory, Procedures and Techniques, SAGE-Publications, Newbury Park, London, New Delhi, 268pp.

Wyn, J. and R. White (1997), Rethinking Youth, SAGE-Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi, 169pp.

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