Civil Society, Social Innovations and the Coping with Demographic Change. Three Case Studies of German Shrinking Rural Communities

Thursday, 19 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Christoph SCHUBERT, Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany
In several countries around the world, rural areas are confronted with major shifts in the composition of the population. Most of all aging and the population decline in rural communities are the consequences, which often lead to a reduction of social infrastructure, a lack of communal finances and a restructuring of local administrative institutions. These phenomena are evident in many modern societies like Canada, the United States of America, Germany or even Japan.

The central question of my presentation is:

How do rural communities cope with the consequences of demographic change, and which possibilities do the civil society have to reform, restructure or redesign lost local institutions?

To answer these questions, I will present results from a research project that focusses on coping with demographic change in different small shrinking villages in Germany. With ethnographic case studies, the project examines promoting and inhibiting strategies and factors to empower civil society actors.

The members of civil society react in different way to cope with demographic challenges in the three observed villages. In one case, they had to deal with the closure of the last primary school, which led to a restructuring of the local landscape of associations to become more powerful in future challenges and to keep the attractiveness of the village. In another case, the local mayor established a group of retirees to support local municipal tasks. Moreover, in the third case, local associations had to deal with a decreasing number of memberships. For this reason, they initiated corporations with associations in surrounding villages to continue together the associations work.

With these three case studies, my presentation describes promoting and inhibiting factors how social innovations initiated by civil society actors can help to cope with the consequences of demographic change and to reform rural communities for future challenges.