Topic: Back to the authentic and good life? Between political and media narratives and the experience of rural incomers in times of crisis, in Greece and Portugal
Despite the wide and well-documented transformations in rural areas in Europe, there are persistent and widespread assumptions that identify the rural as the opposite, and often alternative, to the urban and that portray the rural as unchanged and unchangeable. Frequently, those assumptions are based on a representation of the rural as ‘authentic’ and ‘genuine’, keeping the ‘true’ character, values and soul of a given country, contrasting with the ‘artificial’, ‘problematic’ and ever-changing nature of urban areas. These representations are related to the notion of rural idyll and tend to portray the rural as the epitome of the ‘good’ life. Although these are relatively long lasting images of the rural, they seem to be restored and reinforced in times of financial and economic crisis by political and media narratives, as recently happened in Greece and in Portugal.
Those narratives – with strong similarities with the ‘ruralist conservatism’ conveyed during dictatorship times (particularly in the Portuguese case) – became more evident after 2008, increasingly and mutually reinforcing the social construction of the rural as a ‘space of refuge’ from the ‘urban-centred crisis’. Both in Greece and in Portugal – the two cases analysed here – the times of crisis were fertile in evoking the rural as authentic and full of opportunities mainly in agriculture and tourism-related businesses, particularly for younger generations, stressing, at the same time, the successful examples of relocation and the prospects of a better and rewarding life in the countryside .
Our aim is to analyse and debate the content of the political and media narratives on rural authenticity in times of financial crisis and to compare it with the concrete experiences of people that relocated in the countryside since 2008, highlighting the diversity of situations, motivations and adaptation strategies. The analysis is based on an unstructured and exploratory examination of the political and media narratives on the ‘back to the countryside movements’, together with the (also exploratory) analysis of 24 interviews with people that have returned to or relocated in the countryside during the times of crisis.