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The urban transformations of the mining towns through the eyes of the citizens

Published: 27 October 2020

The mining communities of Kiruna and Gällivare are undergoing a major urban transformation process to ensure the survival of the mining industry. A new dissertation from Luleå University of Technology analyzes how the citizens in those mining communities create an image of their own society during the ongoing urban transformation. The image of the hometown changes as the years go by and affects people's willingness to move or stay.

–The hope for an attractive society after the urban transformation proved to diminish over the years and in the end no longer held back the residents of Kiruna who planned to move, Eugenia Segerstedt says, researcher in Human Work Science at Luleå University of Technology and author of a dissertation on citizens' experiences of urban transformation in Kiruna and Gällivare.

Historical contemporary document

It is a unique, historical contemporary document from several aspects that the researcher Eugenia Segerstedt produces in her dissertation Small Town, Big Move Constructions of place in transiting mining communities. The dissertation is based on four empirical studies in which more than 3,500 people participated and which spans several years, which makes it possible to compare how people's views of the communities of Kiruna and Gällivare change in the midst of ongoing urban transformation.

In the 2010s, urban centres in the northern Sweden mining communities of Gällivare and Kiruna entered a new execution phase of a large-scale transformation precipitated by ground subsidence caused by mining activities, a transformation that continues. The ambition to make the transition socially sustainable and contribute to more attractive communities, resulted in the research project by Eugenia Segerstedt, that focused on these aspects. 

Surveys comparable over time

The overall theoretical perspective in the dissertation is that place is socially constructed: place is made by reflective people who discuss and describe it, by conversations that are produced and reproduced in social groups beyond individual statements and opinions.

The first study in the dissertation consists of three comprehensive surveys between the years 2011 and 2016 where residents in Kiruna had to answer questions about how they perceive their hometowns, the ongoing social upheavals, social sustainability and the probability that they will move within five years. Since data were collected on several different occasions, comparisons can be made over time. Blue collar working residents considered moving to a lesser extent than others in 2011, but that difference could no longer be observed in 2016.

– Especially young people in Kiruna, both men and women, had a greater tendency to want to move than other age groups. Kiruna was becoming the city of the old men where the young men wanted to get away to a greater extent than older generations, Eugenia Segerstedt, says.

Friendship and kinship more important to stay

–The importance of social bonds as a contributing reason for wanting to stay came to be more important than the local community itself during the period studied. Together with other results, this may mean that reasons why some people in Kiruna and Gällivare consider moving away, have shifted from being at the local community level to the individual and group level, Eugenia Segerstedt, says.

In the second study, individual interviews were conducted with citizens who had participated in workshops for citizens and commuters about the future of Kiruna and Gällivare. A 3D visualization was also created by social patterns in Gällivare, such as economic prosperity and dissatisfaction with the built environment, where data from surveys were combined with Statistics Sweden's statistics. The third study compared three series of workshops with Kiruna and Gällivare residents and a group of long-distance commuters whose purpose was to include the citizens' perspective in the transformation of society.

The citizens created storylines

Based on the analysis of the empirical material, a number of dominant stories about the homeland that the inhabitants of the study had to relate to over time crystallized:Model community, a town constructed as a new establishment planned to be modern and inclusive; Nature and the town, the theme of beautiful natural surroundings valued by residents and visitors, including the mountains, forest, rivers and lakes and the risk of losing proximity to it; Big city elsewhere, a big city used in the construction of Kiruna and Gällivare to show what those places are not, as a counterpoint; The secure small town, the storyline of knowing “everyone”, spontaneously meeting, helping each other, were all used to re-establish the sense of stability and reframe the new environment by connecting it to the construction of the communities’ past. The storyline, the conditionally inclusive town, was used to question the character of and conditions for inclusion in the local interconnected context. The storylines of hope of a more inclusive and sustainable future and broken promises of a faster transformation, resulting in bigger changes, were used to process the change to imagined futures of place.

–What is striking in my work is that residents in Kiruna and Gällivare who discussed urban transformation based on living in an attractive and good society, addressed many aspects of life in the local communities - but not the mine. The mining industry, which is central to the town, has its own rhetoric about attractiveness and social sustainability linked to the local communities, but if you ask citizens, they do not address the mining industry in connection with these topics, Eugenia Segerstedt, says.


Text: Staffan Westerlund, Katarina Karlsson

Eugenia Segerstedt

Eugenia Segerstedt, Researcher

Phone: +46 (0)920 493040
Organisation: Human Work Sciences, Humans and Technology, Department of Business Administration, Technology and Social Sciences

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