This article is the the latest from our international research team examining small villages in the developed world. For this research, we combined three case studies we had conducted in Australia, Canada, and Sweden and used these to confront the notion of rural “decline.” Small rural villages are often characterized by ‘decline’ in literature, media, and policy. However, this characterization reflects a value judgement of what is actually occurring in these places. Using a Dirt Research methodology, we show that there these places are anything but declining. There is change, sometimes accompanied by population loss, but assuming that this is all negative is simplistic.


The purpose of this paper is to confront the notion of “decline” at the village level by illustrating a more immersive approach to sociological and demographic research within rural and remote communities. The research uses case studies of three villages in Australia, Canada, and Sweden, all of which have been labeled as “declining villages,” typified by population loss, an aging population, high rates of youth outmigration, and loss of businesses and services. This paper argues that focusing solely on quantitative indicators of demographic change provides a narrow view of rural village trajectories and ignores subtle processes of local adaptation that are hidden from quantitative data sets. Our research integrates quantitative data from the “outside” with qualitative data from the “inside,” including visual ethnography, to develop a more balanced perspective on how villages have been changing and what change could mean locally. These objectives are accomplished by revisiting a Dirt Research methodology applicable to a broad range of research into rural and remote villages. (read online)