Enduring rural poverty: Stigma, class practices and social networks in a town in the Groninger Veenkoloniën

J Rural Stud. 2020 Oct:79:226-234. doi: 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2020.08.031. Epub 2020 Aug 26.


In the Groninger Veenkoloniën, a former peat region in the northeast of the Netherlands, persistent poverty is more prevalent compared to other rural regions in the country. Grounded in participant observations and supplemented by in-depth interviews capturing the social life history of 21 participants, this paper paints a detailed picture of the social networks and class practices of those experiencing persisting poverty in the examined town and surrounding region. In addition, we explore the relations between the rural context and lived experiences of class and poverty. Our findings highlight the complex experience as well as spatial embeddedness of persisting poverty. We find that, although the specific circumstances to which the participants are exposed vary greatly, the repercussions in terms of the characteristics of their social networks and practices are very similar. In general, the social networks of participants are fragmented and small, tightly knit, and characterized by clear power imbalances. The most formative experiences that result in the isolation of networks of poor are found to occur in the home and family situation during childhood years. We argue that poverty and the region's history are intricately interwoven resulting in a socio-spatial stigma which in turn contributes to the persistent and intergenerational character of poverty in the rural context of our study. Due to the long history of stigmatization, dismantling the socio-spatial stigma attached to the Groninger Veenkoloniën will presumably take multiple generations.