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The Childhood, Law & Policy Network (CLPN)

Interview with Spyros Spyrou et al. about their edited collection, Valuing the Past, Sustaining the Future? Exploring Coastal Societies, Childhood(s) and Local Knowledge in Times of Global Transition

Our member Spyros Spyrou (European University Cyprus) and his co-editors, Anne Trine Kjørholt (Norwegian University of Science and Technology), Sharon Bessell (Australian National University), Dympna Devine (University College Dublin, Ireland), and Firouz Gaini (University of the Faroe Islands), talk about their edited collection, Valuing the Past, Sustaining the Future? Exploring Coastal Societies, Childhood(s) and Local Knowledge in Times of Global Transition (MARE Publication Series, Volume 27, Springer Nature, 2022).


Q: What is this edited collection about?

The book explores questions related to the social and cultural sustainability of coastal communities in transition through the lenses of childhood and knowledge across three generations in cross-national contexts. It aims to contribute towards a better understanding of the shifting and dynamic interplay among knowledge production, society, and working lives in coastal environments, focusing on children, young people, and intergenerational relations, and thus bridging past, present, and future.

Forms of knowledge production and the value placed on specific forms of knowledge have shifted over time, leading to tensions within and between communities and social groups and coastal communities are no exception to this trend. The shift away from local, embedded knowledge has created forms of deskilling whereby practical life skills, local knowledge, and local practices have been devalued. New forms of knowledge are not necessarily equipped to fill the resulting gap, and small coastal communities, such as those examined in the book, are often ill-served by forms of knowledge valued by the global capitalist system.

By addressing the challenges to sustainability experienced by local communities in light of local, national, and global social and economic changes, the contributors try to offer new knowledge and critical understanding into the issue by highlighting the role of childhood and intergenerational relations in the transmission of knowledge in coastal communities. 

Q: What made you initiate this volume?

The editors and most of the authors who contributed to this volume participated in the international research project ‘Valuing the Past, Sustaining the Future: Education, Knowledge, and Identity Across Three Generations in Coastal Communities’. The project, funded by the Research Council of Norway, is headed by Professor Anne Trine Kjørholt from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in collaboration with researchers from Australia, Ireland, the Faroe Islands, and Cyprus.

As part of the project, we explored changes over time in everyday lives, work, identities, and learning in coastal societies in the five countries from 1945 to the present, particularly in rapidly changing sociocultural and material contexts. We developed a comparative qualitative research design based on life biographies across three generations and supplemented by ethnographic methods.

The rich comparative data we were able to accumulate through the project together with the interdisciplinary lens we adopted throughout—with researchers representing wide-ranging disciplines and fields such as anthropology, sociology, childhood studies, education, history, geography, political sociology, and public policy—allowed us to examine a complex issue holistically, in-depth, and across time and space.

Along the way, we concluded that an edited book would contribute greatly to the current knowledge on the subject. We also believed that it would fill an important gap in the literature on social and cultural sustainability in coastal communities through its focus on childhood and intergenerational relations. Our hope is that the book will resonate not just with scholars working on issues of sustainability and education in coastal communities, but also with childhood and youth studies scholars interested in understanding the complexities and effects of social and cultural change on children and young people. 

An excerpt from the introductory chapter (pages 3-4):

In the second half of the twentieth century and the early twenty-first century, many coastal communities around the globe have been struggling to sustain their viability and prosperity in the wake of economic restructuring processes, globalization, and new cultural, educational, and lifestyle values, especially among young people. Urbanization, the centralization of institutions and services, and the financial viability of fisheries and maritime industries are the main challenges for coastal communities today, in addition to the underdevelopment of infrastructure and environmental degradation.

Depopulation and youth outmigration in many coastal communities make it difficult to develop sustainable local societies in the future (Gerrard 2008). Mobility is not new to coastal communities, many of which have been important ports for national and international maritime trade and transport throughout history. However, if ships have been sold, there is a lack of business and employment opportunities, young people leave, and the coastal community risks experiencing a slow death. This process, which some coastal communities now face, raises the following question: Why do young people leave their childhood homes and the coast? The reasons vary, but educational and career aspirations, combined with new cultural and lifestyle values, are key factors. Although some coastal communities are experiencing outmigration, people are also moving to the coast. Many coastal communities have experienced new waves of newcomers in search of the opportunities and lifestyles offered there. In many cases, these newcomers are international blue-collar migrants motivated by opportunities in the new economy. Others, such as the elderly and retired people, seek quieter lives.

While the shore and the ocean might be assumed to give coastal communities an open and outward-looking nature, they are often tightly knit. In some cases, newcomers without existing ties face difficulties in being fully accepted. In the Faroes and Norway, for example, “new” people from other villages, islands, or countries have to have been settled there for at least three generations to be perceived as “real” locals (Gaini 2013). These ideas of insider and outsider, acceptance, and belonging are reflected in an account by the Dutch-Canadian researcher Sonja Boon, who described moving to the small coastal city of St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada. Boon quickly discovered the ways in which “being a Newfoundlander” was defined and decided to present herself as an “NBC – Newfoundlander by Choice” as a means of negotiating her place within her new home (Boon 2019, p. 7). Sonja Boon, like many other people moving to small coastal communities, realized the way in which “home” and “belonging” were molded by a long history of connection and deep familial ties to a place over generations. While we have described coastal societies as places in transition, emphasizing the shift in the demographic composition of the population and in the social and economic structures of the local society, we have also noticed a dividing line between older and newer groups of citizens in the community, a segregation that in some cases resonates with young people’s identity formation and feelings of belonging to a place. Many present-day coastal communities are a diverse mosaic, reflecting patterns of mobility and immigration (Gaini 2015). However, long-held attachments to place also shape the nature of the same communities. The result is a landscape characterized by the complex dynamics of inclusion, exclusion, connection, and disconnection. These and other processes of change have a profound impact not only on everyday life, social cohesion, and cultural practices but also on the development of inclusive, socially, and culturally sustainable coastal societies in the future.



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