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The difference that rural rhythm makes

Revisiting the work of Henri Lefebvre, this chapter reconnects his early rural sociology with his late rhythmanalysis by applying his ‘method of residues’ to a study into the quality of everyday life in the Danish countryside. According to Lefebvre, the rural becomes an object of study when it poses practical problems to the urban elite, which is precisely what has happened with the rural–urban happiness paradox. Having heralded the coming of a new gilded age of the city, urban triumphalism is hard pressed to explain why the numbers do not add up; why do rural dwellers insist that they are doing fine? What qualitative difference does the rural make?

The chapter seeks answers by analysing 289 photos and 78 photo collages submitted by rural dwellers in response to the simple question: what is quality of life in the countryside? This question was subsequently discussed in interviews conducted in the homes of informants. Three key findings emerged: by growing their own food rural dwellers hold on to, or reinvent, a peasant lifestyle; rural dwellers ‘let go’ of control by only concerning themselves with what is within reach; and communal rural life is filled with unavoidable encounters that are cherished rather than wished away. Moreover, a thread that runs throughout these themes is that natural and social phenomena alike are accentuated; rural life is more alive. These findings lead to a discussion about Rosa’s conceptualisation of resonance as an alternative to social acceleration and the rhythm of the rural quality of life.

Introduction

Urbanisation and city life have become symbols of the intrinsic logic of economic growth and the celebration of a rapid imitative diffusion of ideas, innovations, fashion subcultures and finance which form the basis of contemporary capitalism. The countryside and rural life, in this narrative, are portrayed as little more than appendages, envisioned to be either en route to oblivion or destined to play only a minor supporting role in the larger, that is to say urban, scheme of things. Having heralded the coming of a new gilded age of the city, however, urban triumphalism is hard-pressed to explain why the numbers do not add up where quality of life is concerned. As ‘our greatest invention’, the city was supposed to make us happier (Glaeser, 2012), but as shown in Chapter 1, the truth of this bold claim is questionable. It may be true that aspects of urban life are favourable for the happiness and quality of life of (some) city dwellers, but as a sweeping generalisation the claim is clearly misguided. Urban life is not favourable for everyone and even if this were true, it would not follow that rural life was therefore less favourable. Indeed, the empirical data suggests that across the global North we are not seeing a widening rural–urban gap in levels of life satisfaction. On the contrary, many rural dwellers insist they are doing fine. Now, Henri Lefebvre once suggested that the rural becomes an object of study only when it poses practical problems to an urban elite (Lefebvre, 1953, p. 123). This is precisely what has happened with the rural–urban happiness paradox. The rural attracts academic attention because it defies the expectations of an influential segment of the intellectual elite, the proponents of urban triumphalism. For us, this provides an occasion to explore what rural quality of life is actually about in the messy realities of everyday life.

Theoretically, we get our initial bearings from Hartmut Rosa, whose recent work has suggested a decoupling of economic growth and ideas about what a ‘good life’ is: ‘Many still take it for granted that growth and the good life only come together. Only if we understand and dissolve this link can we try to spell out visions of the good life that no longer depend on this problematic assumption’ (Rosa & Henning, 2017). Since alienation, in Rosa’s account, is linked to social acceleration, it is tempting to suggest that resonance may be pursued through deceleration. In turn, it may be equally tempting to assume that this is what explains the rural–urban happiness paradox: rurality decelerates everyday life, allowing residents to retain a quality of life comparable to city dwellers. But reality is not that simple. Rural life is as bound up with social acceleration as urban life, and its pace is not necessarily any slower; indeed, ongoing structural changes affecting rural life point in a very different direction, with increased commuting and the export of ‘project culture’ from the city (see also Part II). In any case, countering acceleration-induced alienation simply by slowing down does not solve the problem (Heidegren, 2016). So, even if social acceleration is problematic, we cannot slide into the truism that fast is bad and slow is good. The problem with such a line of thinking – to which Rosa himself does not subscribe – is that it risks an exclusionary focus on quantified time while paying no attention to other aspects of temporality, including, not least, those associated with rhythm. A key concept in Rosa’s sociology of the good life, therefore, is the notion of resonance, which stands in opposition to the alienation engendered by social acceleration: ‘If acceleration is the problem, then resonance may well be the solution’ (Rosa, 2019, foreword; see also Rosa, 2013). Alienation is a relation to the world which lacks responsivity and which fails to affect any sense of self-efficacy: if our relation to the world is alienated, we are not touched by it, nor do we get the feeling that it responds to our actions. For Rosa, resonance is precisely about achieving responsivity and self-efficacy in the relation between human beings and the world.

Our proposition in this chapter is that Rosa’s theory on social acceleration and his associated sociology of the good life may benefit from being informed by a rhythmic perspective. We do so by anchoring ourselves in a differential ontology and drawing on Lefebvrian rhythmanalysis to gain empirical access to how rural residents deal with the phenomenon of social acceleration as that which today stands in the way of achieving ‘the good life’. In short, our proposition is that particular rhythms may be responsible for producing resonance in rural everyday life, which could explain why relatively high levels in quality of life may be retained in the countryside despite all the structural disadvantages that rural communities are faced with. Such a juxtaposition of Rosa and Lefebvre has recently been suggested by Christiansen and Gebauer (2019, p. 9), who pointed out that ‘technological rhythms are accelerating but our biological rhythms are not. Predictably, social acceleration follows in ways that clash with our experience.’ But the connection has yet to be followed through by employing Lefebvre’s theorisation of rhythm as an analytical framework for empirical investigations of how people deal with social acceleration in everyday life. The question we will explore in this chapter is how everyday rhythms of rural life relate to social acceleration: How are these rhythms involved in producing relations of responsivity and self-efficacy and hence in achieving resonance? Inversely, how do rural rhythms limit or constrain resonance from emerging?

The rhythmic perspective on time and temporality that we take involves a differential ontology, where difference is seen to be produced through repetition: ‘there is no identical absolute repetition, indefinitely. Whence the relation between repetition and difference. When it concerns the everyday … there is always the something new and unforeseen that introduces itself into the repetitive: difference’ (Lefebvre, 2004, p. 16). This dynamic or processual aspect of the repetitive lies at the heart of our take on rhythm along with a related emphasis on imitation. The latter is drawn from Tardean sociology according to which societies are constituted through the diffusion of ideas and desires by way of imitation – as expressed for instance in the related rhythmic notion of the refrain (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988). When applied to the phenomenon of social acceleration, this approach places emphasis on the multiple tempi and densities of the imitations that diffuse ideas and desires. As such, it points beyond the notion of clock time as an abstract human invention which is used to control and organise human and social behaviour, but also as one of the features distinguishing human society from nature. Our rhythmic perspective thus also affords a more-than-human view where the society–nature dualism dissolves into cross-cutting imitative relations.

For the exploration of everyday rural quality of life we used empirical material including 267 photos, 84 informants’ written descriptions, photo collages and 31 hours of transcript interviews with 31 respondents in six Danish rural communities. In each, local community fieldwork was initiated by placing an advert in a free weekly newspaper encouraging residents to send us photos and a brief explanatory text in response to a simple question: What is rural quality of life for you? Fieldwork then proceeded by conducting household interviews with those who sent us photos. Later, we exhibited the received photos in a rural location, asking exhibition visitors to create collages showing their own answer to the same question. The material went through an iterative coding process informed by the combination of the sociology of difference and the rhythmanalytical perspective. The coding process continued until a point of saturation was reached and clear themes on desires, performances and rhythms was identified. Our findings suggested three broad themes which all connect to the difference that rural rhythm makes to the quality of everyday: (1) biorhythmia, pertaining to how informants attempt to reconnect with the biological rhythms of their own bodies and surroundings, for instance, by reinventing peasant lifestyles; (2) polyrhythmia, pertaining to how informants sought to manage, negotiate and reconciliate between the diverse rhythms imposed by urbanisation and social acceleration, including (dis)entangling the rhythms of work, leisure and free time; and (3) sociorhythmia, pertaining to how rural communities involve a plethora of social rhythms associated with formalised sociality, third-place sociality and informal encounters.

Biorhythmia

The body. Our body. So neglected in philosophy that it ends up speaking its mind and kicking up a fuss. Left to physiology and medicine … The body consists of a bundle of rhythms, different but in tune.

(Lefebvre, 2004, p. 20)

Our unwrapping of the rhythmic bundle begins with how our rural informants desired to reconnect their bodily rhythms with those of non-human rhythms – cosmic and vital. Overwhelmingly, this desire was fulfilled through food provisioning (see quotes in Table 3.1). Four ways of reconnecting through food provisioning were identified: (1) growing your own vegetables; (2) foraging (wild berries, fruits, herbs, mushrooms, etc.), fishing and hunting; (3) preserving and pickling of grown and foraged food; and (4) preparing meals from homegrown and/or locally sourced ingredients for friends and family. Photos included depictions of homegrown vegetables, emphasising how they were freshly harvested, for instance by showing them with roots and remains of soil still attached or by displaying a basket of tomatoes in front of the greenhouse from which they were just picked. Other photos exemplified how artefacts associated with food provisioning can become markers of the repetitive nature of place-based practices, serving as reminders of the season and the processes with which everyday life is rhythmically intertwined. Examples of this included a lamb’s carcass stretched out on wooden stakes, hanging to dry by the beach, and a photo of fish being smoked over an open fire. These were accompanied by a text emphasising the importance of slowness in the local quality of food. Another series of pictures showed micro-production of a variety of dried herbs mixed with sea-salt, likewise followed up with remarks about the satisfaction of using local, traditional – i.e. slow – methods for preservation.

In interviews, informants talked about how growing their own food calibrated their bodily rhythms with those of nature and the places in which they lived. It was about connecting with the body by directly experiencing the rhythm and emotions associated with life, reproduction and death. Provisioning homegrown lamb, for instance, requires one to provide the conditions for sheep reproduction, to enact an environment of care for nurturing a thriving lamb cohort, and ultimately to slaughter the living beings who become companions in everyday life over the summer months. Importantly, this reconnection was not articulated as something individual but as something involving friends and relatives. Parents, in particular, were eager to provide for their children an environment enabling them to grow up in an unalienated fashion, especially where food was concerned. This meant gaining first-hand experience and understanding of where food comes from, how it is produced, and ultimately how this entails an entanglement of biological rhythms between human beings and non-human others. Parents were less reflective about how the choice of bringing their children closer to food provisioning extended their own options of reconnecting to their bodily rhythm through their children. However, a few informants, including grandparents, mentioned that it was a great satisfaction for them to follow how the children learned through the bodily experiences of unalienated food provisioning. These conversations were prompted by photos of children proudly showing off the catch from a fishing trip or playing with lambs in a field. The reconnection with biological rhythm was thus seen to ripple across social relations, not just between generations as illustrated above but also between the rural and the urban. Informants expressed pride and satisfaction in being able to share homegrown rural food with city dwellers – either by bringing produce along during visits to the city or by inviting relatives for a homegrown meal in the countryside. This exchange of food between countryside and city cannot be properly understood within an economic logic – as informants did not do this to save money – but has to be seen as a matter of practising everyday life in a satisfying way.

I’m more interested in permaculture and cultivating the garden poison-free, and I also keep bees. But it’s really about cultivating the garden in a way where we could … yes because I have this dream about making us self-sufficient. (Jette, Møn)
I was just on a trip to Copenhagen with the car full of everything for my family; where they then buy vegetables, I have and so forth. So yes, that means a lot to me. … to make things myself and have my own; have my own organic vegetables and stuff, that’s also essential. (Gurli, Bornholm)
You can say that as a supplement to this thing about the annual cycle of the farmers, that we also have our own because we have a vegetable garden and apple trees and stuff, which also show the changing of nature and the seasons. (Inge Dorte, Norddjurs)
Klaus: […] in relation to the kids that they get this red thread; that they can relate to foodstuff. What does it take to produce food and we … we also butcher our animals at home and they [the children] are part of that process, plucking geese and … so they know what it takes to get food on the table. I mean, it takes many hours preparation before you have a goose, but it just gives a ballast and it’s really just a, how to put it, a learning tool […] Kia: Yes yes, but it just tastes a lot better [laughs]. (Klaus, Kia and kids, Bornholm)
And my lambs become incredibly tame and sweet and nice, which makes them much easier to shoot in the autumn when I have to butcher them, right. It’s a combination of them being cosy and we just get super – we think – super good food out of it, right. I wouldn’t want to be without that, to be self-sustaining in that regard. (Kim, Møn)

The slow handicraft and satisfaction associated with growing their own food stands in stark contrast to the landscapes of industrialised agriculture in which informants lived. In Denmark, 62 per cent of land is agricultural and around 90 per cent of this land is farmed in highly industrialised ways (Danish AgriFish Agency, 2016). The result is a landscape marked by monotony with only a few biotopes and where domestic animals are rarely seen in the fields. Accordingly, the biodiversity crisis in Denmark is closely linked to land use issues (Ejrnæs et al., 2019). Given the dominance of this landscape type, it is remarkable that it was visible in only 3 of the 265 photos. Other photos depicting rural landscapes showed extensive – more traditional – farming with grazing sheep, horses or cattle in the fields and hints of nature such as wildflowers, deer, birds and berries.

In written comments and in interviews (see quotes in Tables 3.1 and 3.2), informants attached great significance to growing their own food in ways that were respectful of nature by being organic or otherwise environmentally friendly. Although rarely uttered in notes of nostalgia for a lost past, this desire for ecologically sound self-sufficiency reflects an attempt to reinvent the peasant lifestyles from which the cultural heritage of their rural places get much of their distinct flavour. Instead of drawing up a romantic imagery of an idyllised peasant past, informants explicitly contrasted their own pursuits with those of contemporary farming. They held distinctly negative views of the industrial farming estates that most informants found themselves surrounded by, either directly across the property boundary or a bit further afield. The presence of unsustainable, non-organic farming was seen as impeding quality of life and making many rural places nearly uninhabitable. What informants had in common was that they perceived their immediate surroundings as pockets of rural land where those unfavourable spaces could be kept at a distance and where hopes for a different rurality could be nurtured in both thought and action. At the same time, however, the seasonally dictated activities of industrial farming were still highlighted as markers of seasonal rhythm through the changing sights, sounds and smells with which they are associated. Using chemical fertilisers and pesticides for growing food represents attempts to defy the rhythms of nature, but the persistence of the annual cycle was seen to reaffirm the absolute limitations imposed by nature. As Lefebvre (2004, p. 73) would have it, ‘everyday life remains shot through and traversed by great cosmic and vital rhythm: day and night, the months and the seasons, and still more precisely biological rhythms.’

Where we lived before … there was a potato farmer who lived to be 85 and dug potatoes by hand, and we became good friends, and it was really like, how to put it, extensive I mean; he used his 30-year-old machinery and his David Brown tractor and sold potatoes by the stable entrance, made flour and such; it was really traditional farming. Then he died and it was sold to one of, what to call them, one of the big farmers up there. From that year, there were cornfields and they grow three metres tall, so from that year we were just looking into a wall of corn. (Jesper, Møn)
It’s so few farmers who own all the land around here, and they live so far away themselves and some of them you don’t even know and those who sit on the machines are often from the machine pools or foreigners, Ukrainians and whatever; so, I mean, we don’t feel in that way that they live here either, the people who work in agriculture, so it’s kind of a closed world I would say. (Inge, Nordvestjylland)
It’s totally undebatable because it’s not in any way a quality for [the conventional farmers], in any possible way; nature, I mean. It’s simply a business, it’s economy. That’s the only thing it’s about: how much can we get out of it. If there’s the least amount of water in the fields they have to be drained; it needs to go away. And we just feel completely differently. (Tine, Norddjurs)

Polyrhythmia

Polyrhythmia always results from a contradiction, but also from resistance to this contradiction – resistance to a relation of force and an eventual conflict. … This can be phrased in yet another way: there is a tendency towards the globalising domination of centres (capital cities, dominant cultures and countries, empires), which attacks the multidimensionality of the peripheries – which in turn perpetually threatens unity.

(Lefebvre, 2004, p. 99)

Social acceleration does not mean that this or that particular rhythm has become faster. Rather, it refers to the multiplication of rapidly changing interfaces or junctions between rhythms, or what Rosa has called an inherent tendency towards escalation. Inevitably this produces situations where some rhythms in a polyrhythmia dominate others, even if the relation of dominance is not always immediately perceivable. An important source of inter-rhythmic domination has thus been the diffusion of clock time as the yardstick against which all manner of temporal phenomena are measured. Lefebvre was acutely aware of this and argued that the introduction of clock time entailed a modelling of everyday life on abstract quantitative time.

The most notable manifestation of rhythmic domination that emerged in the photo ethnography was connected to the relations between time at work and time away from work. Regarding the latter, it is useful to distinguish between the quantitative term free time and the qualitative term leisure (De Grazia, 1962). Free time represents a dominated rhythm because it refers to time away from work as an integrated element in the work cycle: a time to recover from obligations which is always followed by a return to those obligations. The rhythms of work thus dominate the rhythms of free time, which also makes it highly susceptible to the impacts of social acceleration. In Pieper’s understanding and in line with the ancient Greek conception, leisure denotes a state of contemplation where ‘the human being does not disappear into the parcelled-out world of his limited work-a-day function, but instead remains capable of taking in the world as a whole, and thereby to realize himself as a being who is oriented toward the whole of existence’ (Pieper, 1998, p. 54). The distinction between free time and leisure – where ‘free time is a truncated version of leisure that is greatly constrained by the necessity to work under the terms and conditions set by capitalism’ (Shippen, 2014, p. 22) – can thus be projected onto Rosa’s concepts of social acceleration and resonance, with free time being associated with the former and leisure with the latter. Now, if the rhythm of work is seen to dominate the rhythm of non-work, then time away from work corresponds to free time. Only to the extent that the rhythms of non-work escape this domination by work do they become leisure, and only then would they be capable of contributing to resonance.

Nearly all photos submitted by informants depict scenes and activities belonging to time away from work. This is not surprising given that most informants work in the city and that they were asked about quality of life specifically in the countryside. But how the depicted situations map onto the leisure–free time distinction is much more ambiguous. For instance, all the activities related to growing one’s own food could be categorised as unpaid work carried out during time away from paid work. As already mentioned, however, these were activities carried out primarily for their own sake and only secondarily, if at all, for their economic utility. For the current purpose, then, the activities of growing your own food are neither more or less ‘leisurely’ than horse riding on the beach. Finally, some informants were retired and would thus seem to escape the dominating–dominated relation between rhythms completely, were it not for the fact that the rhythms of everyday life are not individual but social – that is, the rhythms in which a retired person is involved extend through their social relations to working-age children and grandchildren.

To make further sense of these ambiguities we need to look at how informants reflected on work, free time and leisure in written comments and interviews. The first quote in Table 3.3 appears to provide a very clear-cut example of an everyday life in which work dominates the rhythms of non-work. The informant also projects the duality of work and non-work onto a binary conception of the urban and the rural by connecting everything work-related to the former and everything else to the latter – that is, work-time in urban space and non-work-time in rural space. The second quote conveys a similar story from another informant. And yet it is not altogether clear whether these people made their strict compartmentalisation of work/non-work and urban/rural in the service of work or in the service of leisure. The third quote departs markedly from the others by accounting for a morning routine in which the boundaries between work and non-work are almost completely absent.

I think perhaps also for me, it’s this duality because I work in the city and that’s this thing with PC and stilettos, you know. So I think it’s great with this contrast that when I get home to the countryside, then it’s on with the clogs and out in the vegetable garden. (Inge Dorte, Norddjurs)
I think it’s fantastic when I’ve been to Køge – about a year ago I was there way too much, I worked five days a week and had no holidays at all, for a full year. It was too much. I think it’s fantastically wonderful to come home and to be able to go out and take a leak in the garden without thinking about whether anyone – I mean, if it’s wrong what you’re doing or if anyone can see it. (Kim, Møn)
Early in the season – when it’s not so busy in the shop yet – then when John gets up and drives to the harbour, because he also cleans and he likes to do that, so he sometimes drives down there when it’s four, half past four [AM], or something like that. So then I get up at the same time and then perhaps I take my camera and take a round out that way or out towards the reef or something, and on the way back I drive by John to say good morning down there and join him on the way home when he’s done. It fits so that I can just get home and bake the bread before I have to open at eight o’clock. (Anne-Mette, Lyø)

Clearly, our informants had diverging ways of dealing with the polyrhythmia of a socially accelerated society. Nevertheless, they shared a grounding in the affordances that come with living in the countryside. As the quotes in Table 3.3 illustrate, the coping strategies ranged from a re-entanglement of work, leisure and free time to a disentanglement that reinforces not only the connectedness of the work–leisure–free time triad, but also the spatial polarisation between the rural and the urban. The third quote was narrated by a couple living on a small island. She runs the local grocery store while he works as a caretaker at the harbour. Her elaboration on a rhythm of the morning shows how even if they do not till the soil, their productive lives, like those of the peasants who used to inhabit rural places, are completely entangled with ‘their life in its entirety’ as Lefebvre puts it:

What distinguishes peasant life so profoundly from the life of industrial workers, even today, is [the] inherence of productive activity in their life in its entirety. The workplace is all around the house; work is not separate from the everyday life of the family.

(Lefebvre, 2014, p. 52)

In contrast with this re-entanglement of work and leisure, other informants used their rural residency to achieve a disentanglement, where work belongs to the city and leisure to the countryside. Even this disentanglement, however, was achieved by a peasantisation of everyday life where time away from work is devoted to cultivation, not primarily for the utilitarian purpose of getting food but to connect bodily and spiritually with the land. This elevates the practice from the largely regenerative purpose of a free-time activity to something more akin to a genuine leisure pursuit.

In this sense, the notion of leisure as contemplation can also be traced in photos of night skies, full moons and rainbows that the informants held up as illustrations of the gift of unexpected interruptions to daily life routines. By interweaving human and cosmic rhythms, rural places hold the capacity to prompt precisely the kind of contemplative state that distinguishes leisure from free time. Informants explained that in such situations they would tend to let the moment carry them away, prompting not just a mental but also a temporal break from whatever they were doing. This leads us to the quotes in Table 3.4, which illustrate what would appear to be a completely separate aspect of rural life: rhythmic uncontrollability. This is of particular import because Rosa’s focus on responsivity and self-efficacy carries with it the risk that resonance comes to be seen as a matter of control. But the experience of responsivity is as much about the possibility of sensing the limits of controlling one’s environment. Our respondents attached substantial emotional value to the kind of rural experiences which, for lack of a better expression, ‘put human beings in their place’ by reminding us that in the greater scheme of things our individual selves are not all that important.

This thing about feeling small and feeling vulnerable sometimes – that’s wonderful. … Because to have a sense that ‘Okay, it’s not me alone’; there are actually forces in the universe, in nature, and in biology which are strong and large and … We can do all sorts of things to describe it and try it and guide each other in what to do, but in reality, we never really know, and we have to be grateful when things go well. (Rikke, Nordvestjylland)
It’s easy to get, I mean, it’s a lot easier to get friendly with people here. Because people have a bit more, I mean it’s more … it’s hard to say, I’m thinking ‘superficial’, but I don’t mean it negatively. … It’s a good thing, I think. Because it moves the focus a bit away from this ‘what are you feeling in your navel right now?’ And it’s not necessarily always good to touch that. (Sofie, Nordvestjylland)

Sociorhythmia

How does each party (individual-group-family, etc.) manage to insert its own rhythms amongst those of (different) others, including the rhythms imposed by authority? In this insertion of rhythms ‘of the self’ into rhythms ‘of the other’, what is the role of radical separation and compromises, of tolerance and violence?

(Lefebvre, 2004, p. 99)

Social acceleration has an impact on sociability, the way that social interactions are made possible and how social relations take form. Rapid cultural changes, in other words, have an impact on both personal and community rhythms. The fact that sociorhythms may be imposed by authority should not be overlooked. In rural Denmark, social acceleration has made itself felt through project-based rural development programmes, an example of how rhythms may be imposed by authority. Rural development policies and programmes in Denmark and elsewhere have taken a gradual turn towards competitive, project-based mobilisation of volunteers and local action (see also Chapter 8 by Tietjen & Jørgensen). In these schemes, funds are allocated via competitions between places where local actors are asked to submit project proposals. These set-ups entail very specific demands on what groups to involve and how, thus seeking to regulate the sociorhythms of everyday life.

In terms of sociality, submitted photos from informants can be roughly divided into three types. First, there were photos depicting community-organised events and activities organised through sports associations or the local school. These had a note of routine and were related to a work–free time rationality as accounted for in the previous section. Among the motifs were people playing petanque and a communal breakfast organised by the local school. Second, there were photos displaying the more unrestrained interaction taking place at local festivals and annual celebrations. Here, motifs included people having fun during a concert in the village hall and midsummer celebrations in a public space. These connect to the kind of social interaction occurring in what Oldenburg and Brisset (1982) called third places, characterised by an atmosphere which is joyful and immune from personal moods and worries; conversations in which everyone can participate on somewhat equal terms; subjects of conversation anchored in shared experiences; and harbouring a kind of speech which ‘is idiomatic and steeped in local heroes and local tragedies, in gossip and romance’ (Oldenburg & Brissett, 1982, p. 272). Third, and connecting again to third places, there were photos conveying everyday informal encounters at the grocery store while shopping, on the beach while enjoying the sunset, or on a path while walking the dog. These informal interactions also serve as occasions to get updated on village news, to foster ideas about how to solve a local problem, or on how to organise upcoming events. However, while the second type follows local celebrational traditions, the third type emphasises the coincidental side of rural life, the informal, unavoidable encounters with people you know.

Informants explained the feelings awakened in these rhythms ‘of the self’ into rhythms ‘of the other’ as a sense of belonging to a community and ‘as being accepted and respected as the interesting person that you are, rather than by your profession, social status or income’ (informant from Egebjerg). And yet, we also found that the cherishing of unavoidable encounters is enabled by carving out private spaces where such encounters are eliminated. The first informant quoted in Table 3.5 wrote to us that ‘we like wide open spaces – a view, lots of space, no shared hedge with a neighbour’ and elaborated in the interview that ‘no, it’s not because – there hasn’t been anything with our neighbours, they are nice people all of them. No, what I meant was, I have known someone peripherally who lives in a Copenhagen suburb who has had big conflicts around neighbour hedges.’

In this sense, ‘lots of space’ becomes a qualitative rather than a quantitative matter. It is not the amount of space in itself that makes a difference, but the fact that the socio-spatial organisation of everyday rural life affords a ‘hedge-free’ environment where the potential for conflict between neighbours is substantially diminished, if not entirely eliminated.

So, it is such a small place out here that almost no matter where I go, then among a bunch of people there will be someone I know from before. This is unavoidable. (Bente, Vig)
So, Malou and Leo who live over in … who are our … we see them a lot; we actually see a lot of people a lot, but it’s also as you can see: you live a bit unbounded. So when Morten is going to Martin’s then he passes by here and then Morten drops off pears or apples or whatever he’s got for us on the way. I mean, there’s this flow here, but without … I mean, it doesn’t feel intimidating or too much. (Ebbe and Susse, Møn)

Discussion and conclusion: rural eurhythmia?

Eurhythmia? Rhythms unite with one another in the state of health, in normal (which is to say normed!) everydayness; when they are discordant, there is suffering, a pathological state (of which arrhythmia is generally, at the same time, symptom, cause and effect). The discordance of rhythms brings previously eurhythmic organisations towards fatal disorder.

(Lefebvre, 2004, p. 16)

Arguably, there is a close affinity between Lefebvre’s notion of eurhythmia and Rosa’s notion of resonance. But since Rosa defines social acceleration purely in terms of quantified time, there is a case for exploring how rhythmanalysis may provide access to the aspects of lived time which lie beyond the realm of clock time. Bringing Lefebvre together with the differential ontology in a study of rural quality of life offers the opportunity to empirically escape the quantitative dimension of Rosa’s acceleration and cluster differences in time (rhythm), together with differences in desires and differences in performance. In other words, we felt that such an exploration might throw new light onto what, from a rural perspective, generates resonances. Until now, however, the potential for a productive relation between Rosa’s sociology of the good life and Lefebvrian rhythmanalysis has not been explored in any depth. Our mission in doing so was not to refute Rosa but to complement his work by exploring the empirical opening that rhythmology represents. The analysis illustrated that our complementary view offers an opportunity to also go beyond analysis of work–life balance and focus instead on everyday life as an integrated whole where multiple rhythms intertwine and mutually condition one another.

While arguing that ‘a large part of the population no longer needs economic growth in order to achieve more happiness’, Rosa and Henning (2017) stress that ‘we should be aware of the danger of endorsing a merely adaptive mode that secures happiness beyond growth by a shift towards “immaterial” values, coping strategies and compensatory imaginaries, which might mask anti-emancipatory discrimination ideologically’. One might be tempted to draw parallels between a quiet rural life often described as a romantic rural idyll and such adaptive modes. There is, however, no conclusive evidence to suggest that the immaterial rural values found in the study were indicative merely of coping strategies. On the other hand, the study also showed that everyday rural life is deeply integrated in social acceleration; living in the countryside, then, is not an effective means of escape. Where resonance was identified, it was associated with particular rhythmic aspects of life in the countryside and not with rural life as a whole. But importantly, those rhythms cannot be linked to specific activities or predefined lifestyles.

Rather, the capability to manoeuvre among multiple social acceleration rhythms and multiple biorhythms proved crucial for the production of resonance, for instance through the provisioning of homegrown food and the sociality enacted in sharing it with urban friends and family. Admittedly, the desire for homegrown food could, on first appearances, be interpreted as a coping strategy or escape attempt in relation to social acceleration. Neither informants nor their urban acquaintances used the practice to replace the socially accelerated practices associated with supermarket and grocery store food provisioning. What drove the desire, in our interpretation, was rather the reconnection with biorhythms associated with the seasons, nature and landscape, which thereby became dominating in the rhythmic practice. In short, the imitation of non-human biorhythms constituted an atmosphere of a bodily aligned production which embedded a sense of resonance. This is important, because whereas social acceleration entails an escalatory tendency, the biorhythms of growing your own food are cyclical and include some extent of immunity to escalation. Also, this was a desire for something other than the accelerated society rather than simply a desire to escape it.

Whether resonance attained in this way could only occur in a rural setting is not at all clear. Certainly, urban life looms large in the tale of social acceleration, but this should not lead to the automatic conclusion that the solution – resonance – can only be found in the rural, geographically speaking. In fact, the diffusion of urban gardening and the increasing focus on providing parks and green spaces in urban areas are closely connected to questions of human well-being (see also Chapter 23 by Veenhoven et al.). A key question is where a proper balance can be struck in the combination and mastering of biorhythm and the polyrhythmia of everyday life. In urban settings there is a risk that ‘greening the city’ becomes merely another ‘project’ in an already (too) busy everyday life – thus contributing further acceleration. In rural areas, on the other hand, there is a growing risk that abstracting from – or filtering out – the imposing presence of industrial farming becomes too difficult. Urban project culture also risks spilling over into rural life as exemplified in Denmark by project-oriented rural development policy.

A clearer example of a coping strategy was the well-developed capacity of informants to filter out, or temporarily ignore, elements of rurality seen as a threat to quality of life. The most apparent instance of this was industrial farming. But we also saw that in the same way that they were able to direct their view only at the landscape elements that provided them with a biorhythmic connection, they were also able to ignore pressures for recomposing rhythms of sociality. Such wilful ignorance could perhaps be seen as part of a strategy to exclude the unwelcome urban rhythms that have their starting point in the fetishisation of growth. This obviously requires additional work on the political underpinnings of their practices, but it is noteworthy that none of the informants talked about prosperity or growth directly. Instead, the economic dimension was articulated through photos of houses and gardens in the process of restoration and rebuilding, clearly conducted on a limited budget with a focus on DIY and sustainable materials. Finally, on the topic of sociorhythms, the most significant finding was the capacity of informants to master a disentanglement of the accelerating and competitive rhythms of fast project culture and the contrasting qualities of a rural sociality, where social competition is low and one is accepted based on personal qualities rather than social position or proven merits. In this sense, social acceleration may have invaded rural areas, but it has not (yet) become omnipresent in rural sociality.

We opened this chapter by proposing that Hartmut Rosa’s sociology of the good life would benefit from being injected with a dose of Lefebvrian rhythmanalysis. Based on our findings, we believe that this is particularly relevant in rural settings, especially with a view to retaining a critical perspective which is not confined to discussing coping strategies. Rurality is not a place beyond social acceleration, but is fully integrated with the phenomenon. Its presence may be more subtle, it may be harder to see, but it is nevertheless there. What a rhythmic perspective has allowed us to do is to approach those aspects of everyday life where dealing with social acceleration is more than a coping strategy. Rhythms are collective phenomena with an individual aspect: we all have to find our way in a polyrhythmic world that we share with others and this implies finding and creating our own rhythms. And yet they are not ‘ours’ alone but partake in the production of that very polyrhythmia. What our informants do in their everyday life may allow them to deal with social acceleration, but this is not why they do what they do. They are not merely coping but living. It may be a simple point in the end, but it makes all the difference if Rosa is right in suggesting that resonance is the cure for social acceleration. We believe he is, but we also believe that when it comes to everyday rural life, rhythm is what makes the difference in the pursuit of resonance.

References

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