Socio-economic restructuring and prospects for economic diversification in peripheral single-industry resource communities of the Russian North (Tuomas Suutarinen)
Resource communities offer a valuable understanding of the unique industrial, cultural, geopolitical, and positional dimensions which are ignored in mainstream core-centric economic geography. Until recently resource communities throughout the world have faced a growing neoliberalism which has decreased state participation in local socio-economic development. This has required resource communities to promote viability through various mechanisms of adaptation and resilience.
This study focuses on resource communities in the Russian North. Resource communities and their major enterprises in Russia have faced significant socio-economic problems since the collapse of the Soviet Union: diminishing population, volatilities of world market prices of their mining commodities with direct impacts to their economic well-being. At the local level the deterioration of the post-Soviet social sphere has resulted in such communities’ residents’ dissatisfaction. Globalisation and the volatility of global resource prices have directly affected the sustainability of local resource industries. This has forced resource communities to re-evaluate their economic basis and to promote economic diversification to boost their long-term viability. Furthermore, the heightened political tension between Russia and the West since 2014 has highlighted the importance of the impact of external forces and state-level policies in local development. Both the volatility of the resource economy and the volatility of higher level politics have affected the development of resource communities in Russia. This is an indication of the relatively strong driftwood effect of resource communities on the world economy and politics.
This study positions itself into locality research tradition with a case study of local socio-economic restructuring. This study contextualises the topic into discussion of problems of peripherality, generally shared by remote resource communities and single-industry towns. The study approaches the problems of restructuring in resource peripheries by analysing the reform of their socio-economic landscape from viewpoints of restructuring and economic diversification.
The main objective of this study is to answer how peripheral single-industry mining communities in the Russian North responded to socio-economic changes, especially to financial busts after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and their capacity to address their current development challenges. The research uses a case-study method to study three mining communities in the Murmansk region. The study answers the following research questions: (1) How do the various general, institutional, sectoral, human, and local processes shape the socio-economic development of resource communities in the Russian North? (2) What is the actual and locally preferred role of different actors in the socio-economic restructuring of peripheral resource communities in the Russian North? (3) What is the potential for economic diversification in peripheral resource communities in the Russian North?
The study contains a wealth of empirical material assessed by means of methodical triangulation: survey, in-depth semi-structured interviews and focus group interviews, and secondary sources such as newspaper articles and statistics are utilised. The main empirical material of the study is a quantitative survey conducted in Kovdor in September 2010. In addition, qualitative semi-structured interviews conducted in Kirovsk and Revda in 2012 are used in one of the study’s articles. The resulting data is largely analysed by use of quantitative methods, with qualitative methods playing a supportive role.
The study shows the importance of globalisation in the socio-economic restructuring of resource peripheries in the Russian North. The changing positionalities of resource communities are important in the process of socio-economic restructuring. Moreover, self-reflection in communities is required to overcome the structural and institutional obstacles to sustainable local socio-economic development, such as resource-based path-dependency, paternalistic expectation, and resource fatalism, which sustain local resource communities’ identity.
This study brings new insights to discussion of resource geographies. Moreover, the study expands understanding of the socioeconomic restructuring process in peripheral resource communities. In addition, the study places itself into locality research tradition, and geographically to the contemporary changing economic geography of the industrial and urban Russian North.
Keywords: resource community, mining community, single-industry town, socio-economic restructuring, Russian North, Murmansk region