In the last three decades the anthropology of Western Europe has become almost exclusively an anthropology of urban life. The anthropology of rural life in Western Europe has been progressively neglected. Yet, just because cities concentrate people who continue to produce new and unexpected forms of social organization does not mean rurality becomes the emptying home of a tired traditionalism. Far from it. Since the city is only defined by opposition to the countryside, and since rural movements have urban effects, we cannot ignore the changes taking place in hamlets, villages, and rural towns throughout Western Europe. They are a integral part and parcel of life in Europe today. The key aim of this book is to redress this academic imbalance, by examining some of the central changes in the rural zones of contemporary Western Europe. In particular, most contributors look at the newcomers to these areas and the rainbow variety of effects they are having. The ‘alternative’ in our title is to be understood broadly. The contributors are not just looking at the self-proclaimed alternatives (hippies, New Agers, back-to-nature types, etc.) but at labour migrants from outside Western Europe and affluent resettlers as well. Members of all these groups are, in their own way, contributing towards the construction of a non-traditional countryside. All of them help to maintain life in rural areas which would otherwise be emptying of residents.
To set the scene for the rest of the book, this chapter discusses the evolving discourses of the rural and the urban, the exploitation of this discourse by some political parties, and the rise of the heritage industry. It then proceeds to survey the literature, in both anthropology and geography, on north European immigration into rural Western Europe: who these people are, when they arrived, what effects have they had on the social, economic, and political life of the places they chose to settle in. Since this material is relatively scanty, I have also relied on material within popular travelogues. I then discuss, in a similar manner, the nature and consequence of labour migration from North Africa and Eastern Europe to these areas. I conclude by considering the roles anthropologists can play today in today’s countrysides, in the development of rural life and the formulation of rural policy.
MacClancy, who worked in the West of Ireland, found that the majority of incomers there were patently alternative types fleeing the urban cultures of their upbringing. But there are important distinctions within that general group: the hippies who came over in the early 1970s; the much more politicized crusties who arrived a decade later; the latest wave, which started in 1990s, of less radicalized urbanite escapees who strive to combine the value of living rurally with the benefits of information technology.