Remote villages as heterotopias and places of utopics: analogue case studies in Sweden and Israel in preparation for future Mars settlement

Pfaffl, Magdalena (2019) Remote villages as heterotopias and places of utopics: analogue case studies in Sweden and Israel in preparation for future Mars settlement. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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While there is a growing body of research on taking people to Mars, as well as on the environmental control and life support systems required to keep humans alive both during the journey and on Mars, there is very little research to support the development of successful new settlements. This research explores the challenges faced by remote villages in harsh environments and how their residents have learned to adapt to these challenges. Accessing this existing knowledge opens opportunities for future settlement on Mars as well as on Earth.

Research into remote villages as a form of settlement separate to rural settlement is a comparably new field within human geography. Recently for example the Carsons (2011; 2014) have identified a list of common features of remote villages. However past indices have used features of marginality as markers in identifying remote villages (Cloke, 1977; Cloke and Edwards, 1986) thus creating or at least strengthening an image of remote villages as chronically troubled and in decline. While there exist a number of different definitions and indices for identifying remoteness none appears to cater to the multi-facetted nature of remoteness. Besides the physical component of remoteness, the phenomenon has been shown to include cultural (Huskey, 2005, 2006; Schmallegger et al., 2011; Ardener, 2012; Gilbert, Colley and Roberts, 2016) as well as political (Harvey, 2000; Huskey, 2005; Rogers and Walker, 2005) aspects.

At the other end of the spectrum remote villages have been associated with utopian ideals, as can for example be seen in the Israeli Kibbutz movement (Zilbersheid, 2007). The proposition was brought forward by this study that rather than being either utopias or dystopias remote villages might in fact be heterotopias. Heterotopias are places of otherness, places that are disconnected from the mainstream by both physical and socio-cultural barriers and where social rules different from the mainstream can exist (Foucault and Miskowiec, 1986; Hetherington, 1997).

This study used an inductive research approach of extreme case studies, using open-ended interviews and qualitative coding techniques. The methodology was most heavily influenced both by Flyvbjergs' (Flyvbjerg, 2006, 2009) ideas on case study research and Birks & Mills' (2011) understanding of grounded theory. During 2015 five villages in northern Sweden and southern Israel were visited for this study. These sites were chosen using a multi-parameter matrix that catered for the multi-facetted and often relative nature of remoteness.

During research in the case studies observations on three types of challenges were found: those challenges that were uncontrollable prerequisites of settlement ("environmental challenges"), those challenges that were brought about by political and social realities outside of the community's immediate control ("infrastructure challenges"), and those challenges that referred directly to the village community ("community challenges"). Overall challenges faced by villages in both regions were remarkably similar though influenced by factors such as the villages' age and settlement history. The data from this study showed four common phenomena characterising village life in remote and harsh regions. Firstly, the harshness of terrain and climate provides residents with a sense of place. Secondly, residents described a strong 'do-it-yourself'-attitude and volunteering culture. Thirdly, there was a high occurrence of different types of self-employment that signified that the lack of employment options was not as significant as expected. Finally, and most importantly, residents were attracted to what life in a remote village could offer, and in particular, the opportunities that could be provided that were different from mainstream society.

Using the findings from this study the phenomena listed by the Carsons (2011; 2014) could be put in relation to each other. In doing so I was able to contribute to explaining the co-occurrence of these phenomena and at the same time I identified a missing link. In the following I proposed that the observed co-occurrence of phenomena can be explained through remote villages being heterotopias. Research findings showed that at least the villages in this study can be described as heterotopias.

If indeed remote villages are heterotopias, then they can be expected to have a two-way relationship with the mainstream. The villages of this study could be shown to conform to Ravens' (2015) and Hetheringtons' (1997) notion of heterotopias as places of utopics, that is places that through their striving towards utopia create a high innovative potential that could be described as that of a 'living laboratory' (Raven, 2015).

The question then follows how to support remote villages in accessing this potential for innovation. This study proposes the use of structure and agency theory for these means: From the case study data we know residents of the case study sites to have strong agency, that is a willingness and capability to self-solve problems that arise from their villages' remoteness. However as suggested by structure-and-agency theory, agents need a supporting structure in order to be able to exercise this agency. For remote villages this means that while local decision-making and resource allocation are to be encouraged this cannot be used as an excuse for removing structure, as structure is vital for agency.

Due to the research design of this study, using a small number of extreme cases, the findings of this study cannot be generalised. However, as the case studies were based on an approximation of a future Martian village the findings of this study are very likely to be applicable to this particular kind of village. Next steps in research need to establish parameters and identifiers of remote villages that enable future research to conduct larger, quantitative studies. Through such generalisable research we will be able to establish whether all types, or just a particular type of remote village are or can be heterotopias.

Item ID: 63185
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: heterotopia, utopia, dystopia, Sweden, Isreal, remote villages, remote communities, remoteness, Mars, settlements, human civilisation, human geography, space exploration, physical environment, environmental challenges, harsh environments
Copyright Information: Copyright © 2019 Magdalena Pfaffl.
Date Deposited: 19 May 2020 01:54
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1604 Human Geography > 160499 Human Geography not elsewhere classified @ 35%
22 PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGIOUS STUDIES > 2203 Philosophy > 220399 Philosophy not elsewhere classified @ 30%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050299 Environmental Science and Management not elsewhere classified @ 35%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9606 Environmental and Natural Resource Evaluation > 960699 Environmental and Natural Resource Evaluation not elsewhere classified @ 50%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 50%
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