“An island in time; The biography of a village” by Geert Mak


Interesting to read about the changing patterns of village life in Friesland, a rural province in the North-West of the Netherlands.  The contrast between the old village economy and the expectations of modern rural dwellers was very familiar.  The loss of traditional village services, loss of agricultural labour and decline of traditional community events made emotional reading as older residents found it challenging to adapt to new lifestyles.  However, the changes in these villages are driven by the desire of younger people to travel, to seek higher education and employment elsewhere just as much as being the result of external factors. Yes, counterurbanisation (where urban workers are now more able to choose a rural home in an attractive environment and commute or tele-work back into the urban economy), EU agricultural policy and national planning regimes have an influence too but it is perhaps too easy to blame outside factors.  Mak makes a telling observation that rural areas are no longer just those places that haven’t become urban, and are thus under-developed and disadvantaged, but they exist as places that are positively different to urban places.  Today’s rural resident is part of the urban economy but seeks to experience elements of rurality.  These are not necessarily the closed communities with common identities and collective memories that Mak describes, but they are communities where a number of people participate in different ways but participation is a choice expressed as part of an individualised lifestyle.

I recommend this book to anyone with an interest in rural society in Europe and would love to know whether similar books exist in the UK.

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