• Rosie Alexander

Moving away from "the Edge"

Updated: May 19

Until recently, I wrote a blog called “adviser on the edge”. This was a blog I started in the early days of my PhD studies exploring career development of students from the islands of Orkney and Shetland. The title draws aimed to draw attention to the experiences of myself, and my clients (when I worked as a careers advisers in Orkney) who lived and worked in communities traditionally commonly constructed as remote, or peripheral. In this current blog, I want to explore why I have now moved away from the identity of “adviser on the edge” and launched this blog under the title people, place and careers.

Cliffs in Birsay, Orkney, looking out over "the edge" to the island of Westray

The first issue to point out is the growing discomfort I, along with many others in the North of Scotland have with the ways that our communities are positioned as “peripheral”. To be peripheral is to be distant, different, from a presumed centre, typically an urban centre of power. And to be peripheral or remote is to be somehow less important, it does not recognise the value of rural places. As Professor Frank Rennie at the University of the Highlands and Islands writes: “I don’t like the use of “remote” which implies distance from something that is more important, when the most important things to me are all around me.” Similar themes are picked up by Magnus Davidson who wrote recently about the North of Scotland, and challenged peripheralizing discourses, highlighting the (central) importance of resources in the “remote” north for addressing pressing issues of climate change.


Now in my PhD research I retained the use of the term “remote”, arguing that for me, my work in career guidance and development focuses on a policy context that is largely dominated by neoliberal ideologies. These ideologies (very broadly speaking!) tend to overlook the role of place and context, articulating a vision of a global world, where individuals are largely motivated by economic and career success and are able to move freely to achieve their goals. I have argued elsewhere that neoliberal ideologies especially as they appear in concepts of career guidance and development are deeply problematic for young people in rural areas – potentially overlooking that rural young people often face significant barriers to mobility, and further not always recognising that there may be other motivators for young people beyond narrow notions of “career progression” such as community, family and place.


Therefore, for me, to a certain extent retaining the use of “remote” in my context has a value – recognising that some young people are “remote” from the neoliberal values that imbue the field of career development and guidance. In a context where urban life is privileged, and the role of geographical context largely overlooked, the use of “remote” in relation to geographical spaces also highlights that there are other communities apart from urban communities, and there are young people in these communities who may feel remote from systems that don’t seem to recognise their positions. However, this is a nuanced position, “remote” in my context, and when spoken by me or other people in rural communities in a way which is highlighting our experiences in relation to wider power structures that potentially overlook these experiences, feels potentially valid and valuable. This is quite different, though, to the experience I, and others, have of being positioned by others who come from or represent more urban positions as “remote” – representations that commonly appear in the national media (the “remote Orkney islands”). I haven't really thought through exactly why this feels different. It might be to do with the way that island places are often constructed in dominant discourses as associated with the "rural idyll", places outside of the cut and thrust of modern life, places to escape to (Stalker and Burnett, 2016, offer a good summary of some of these points). These ideas are often promoted in our tourist literature, but seem to offer a very partial representation of actual island life - where people work, study, raise families and so on. Being positioned as "remote", being seen through a lens of the pastoral idyll, island life feels fundamentally misrecognised, and I think this is what Frank Rennie and others describe.


So, this is a complex point, and one that I am still thinking through, however at this point, suffice it to say that over time I have become increasingly aware of the politics of terminology like “remote”, and the subtleties and complexities in utilising such terminology. This has led to me becoming uneasy about utilising the term “on the edge” in my blog, without being able to recognise the complexities in this description. This is why I have sought a more inclusive way of describing what I do – focusing on place and careers. This broader positioning also recognises the ways that my own thinking and research has developed. What I recognised throughout my PhD (and thanks to lots of discussions with researchers and practitioners working in other more urban areas) is that the issues I was exploring in relation to two specific communities, potentially highlighted dynamics of place and career development that were much more widely applicable. In this way, researching rural (or remote!) places, does not mean that the knowledges produced are themselves peripheral, but rather smaller places can be valuable in the ways they highlight dynamics that may be harder to see (more obscured) in larger places (Farrugia, 2014). So, indeed in some ways, coming away from “the edge” in my blog is also recognising that the knowledges generated from working in rural communities are not actually peripheral at all, but potentially really quite central.


*Note: by the wonders of modern technology I have managed to bring all the posts from my previous blog "adviser on the edge" into this one. You will find them below.


References

Farrugia, D. (2014). Towards a spatialised youth sociology: The rural and the urban in times of change. Journal of Youth Studies, 17(3), 293–307. https://doi.org/10.1080/13676261.2013.830700


Stalker, L. H., & Burnett, K. (2016). Good work? Scottish cultural workers’ narratives about working and living on islands. Island Studies Journal, 11(1), 193–208.


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