Starting from the findings that self-reported quality of life is higher in rural areas than in the city, this framing essay sets the scene for the chapters in Part III, which focus on the role civil society might play for quality of life in rural areas. First, the framing essay shows the different ways of participating in civil society and considers how other studies have discussed how different ways of participation in civil society might influence individuals’ quality of life. Next, the framing essay considers the possible role the density of civil society might play for individuals’ quality of life. Finally, the framing essay gives an overview of the content of the chapters in the section, including the methodological and theoretical basis for the chapters.
This chapter asks how do inhabitants in Danish rural areas assess whether, how and why participation in civil society influences their quality of life. Theoretically, we argue that the importance for civil society’s role in influencing life satisfaction depends on whether the citizens are engaged in social networks which are profound and long lasting. Twenty-eight semi-structured interviews with individuals who were in different ways and to a different extent engaged in civil society in three different rural settings in Denmark form the empirical base of the analysis. In the analysis we show that long-lasting and deep participation in civil society results in higher levels of quality of life. Specifically, we point to three different mechanisms which we illustrate in three themes: Theme 1: Making activities possible for other local citizens, Theme 2: Contributing to civil society is rewarding for the individual, and Theme 3: It is rewarding to be a part of the struggle for overcoming the challenges of living in rural areas. Further, we argue that an age difference exists, as the younger persons, to a greater extent than older persons, participate in civil society to get a rich social life with friends. The older persons to a greater extent highlight the altruistic motives for contributing to civil society. Finally, we argue that with regard to increasing quality of life, ‘collective volunteering’ seems to be of higher importance than ‘reflexive volunteering’ for the interviews in this study.
What have we learned about rural quality of life and how do we proceed?
Pia Heike Johansen
Evald Bundgård Iversen
Jens Kaae Fisker
The purpose of the concluding chapter is to summarise key findings from every chapter in the book, to draw conclusions and implications on the main themes, and to identify directions for future research. Two kinds of themes are covered in the chapter: the four organising themes that provided the structure for the book, and three cross-cutting themes that emerged in the relation between the parts. The latter included spatial justice, meeting places, and rural sociality. These are reflected upon in the opening of the chapter, before the following subsections go into the four organising themes and the individual chapters. We round off by reflecting on the learning points that have emerged and the implications that this should have for the field going forward. In this context, we also mention the topics that the book has, for various reasons, not covered, but which should nevertheless be key themes for future work.
The 2020 World Happiness Report suggests that rural residents in Northern and Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand are generally happier than their urban counterparts. Similar findings have been reported in country-level studies and broader regional research, especially in Europe. Such findings go against conventional wisdom in the field and represent something of a conundrum to researchers and policymakers alike: the rural–urban happiness paradox. Is quality of life really better in the countryside? How and under which circumstances is this the case? Did influential writers like Edward Glaeser get it all wrong when suggesting that the city had now triumphed? What can we learn from digging deeper in the rural–urban happiness paradox and which critical questions does this leave us with for the future? What might policymakers, planners, architects and other influential actors learn from such an exercise? The purpose of the proposed book is to delve deeper into these matters by asking what quality of life in rural areas is actually all about. Since 2018 a cross-disciplinary team of researchers from four research environments at three Danish universities has been carrying out an ambitious research project to do just that. In this edited volume their findings are presented alongside chapters written by specially commissioned international authors from across Europe, North America, Asia and Africa.
In this chapter the purpose, rationale and organisation of the book are explained, along with an introduction to the key questions which are at stake. It begins by introducing the rural–urban happiness paradox as the impetus for assembling the volume, focusing on how the spatial differentiation between urban and rural places in measurements of well-being in the global North has puzzled researchers. From this point of departure, the chapter goes on to question the viability of retaining a binary view, where places and the people who inhabit them are designated either as urban or as rural. Instead, a different road forward is offered, wherein the messy realities of contemporary everyday life are liberated from such simplistic distinction in favour of an approach that retains the complexities that matter for human well-being. Following a brief account of more than a century of research on quality of life, the remainder of the chapter introduces the organisation of the volume by posing the key questions that animate each part. The chapter ends by returning to the key concern of the book: the (im)possibility of attaining rural well-being for all and the many difficult questions that this entails.