Labour migrants and rural change: The “mobility transformation” of Hitra/Frøya, Norway, 2005–2015
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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After the 2004 and 2007 EU enlargements, large numbers of Eastern European labour migrants settled in rural destinations in Western Europe where they predominantly found low-skilled manual labour jobs in rural industries. These labour migrants differ from other types of rural migrants (e.g., domestic in- and out-migrants, lifestyle and amenity migrants, international refugees and asylum seekers) and represent distinct challenges and opportunities for the host rural communities—for example in terms of novel forms of social inequalities and cultural diversities. This paper discusses the dynamics of transnational labour mobilities and their consequences for rural Europe by investigating the case of the Hitra/Frøya community, until recently a traditionalist rural community in Mid-Norway. As a result of large-scale labour migration, over the last decade the region has developed into a genuine high-mobility, transnational rural community and is now characterised by its heterogeneous social fabric. From the local elites’ perspective, which seems to have hegemonic status in the region, the transformation is a successful, triple-win situation: The community at large develops a more sustainable economy and sees population growth and reduced social problems, the locals enjoy the boosted economy and its many benefits, and the in-migrants escape economic austerity in their homelands and are successfully integrated into their host communities. However, stories told by labour migrants provide important nuances to the narrative of success and suggest processes of social fragmentation, polarisation, and contestation. The paper demonstrates how contemporary forms of rural mobilities may confront the traditional structures of rural societies, generate novel social divides and multi-local identities and everyday practices. Methodologically, the paper employs a mixed-methods approach and analyses a variety of materials: statistical materials, public documents, interviews with key informants in the local rural community, and in-depth individual interviews and focus group sessions with migrants.