Special environment requires special support

A new study on locality, mobility and youth engagement in the Barents region defines youth policy recommendations.

When youngsters in bigger cities are living the urban youth culture, there are lots of young people in the Barents region living outside urban centres. Tomi Kiilakoski wanted to understand the cultural landscape of the young living in the North in rural areas and get an insight into the lives of young people in Inari, Murmansk and Alta.

What he found were drawings, photographs, songs and interviews telling about the meaning of nature, about learning to live, being mobile and facing the temporality of their social ties. In research, the youth in the Barents region emphasize the importance of nature and home. Their relation to nature is multifaceted, including traditional livelihoods, human-animal interactions with reindeers, hunting, hiking, jogging, or riding snowmobiles. In these ways the nature becomes a meaningful part of everyday life. Additionally, nature is strongly connected to peer activities as it offers opportunities to be outside without adult supervision.


Mobility in the Barents region is both a possibility and a social imperative. The young are forced to move away from their home region to south and bigger cities because of the lack of education and work. The issue of mobility involves overcoming large geographical distances, facing youth cultural distances, coming to terms with peers leaving, and learning to leave oneself. To be able to move young need to learn to be mobile and to develop capacities that will help them to adapt to different environments.

One way to learn about the different environments is digital media, which is an important way for the young in the Barents region to be part of global youth cultures. When the geographical distances are long, the digital services may help the young to reach various activities.

Based on the findings of the research Kiilakoski defines in his study the youth policy recommendations that support the life of young people in the rural areas of Barents.

“The wellbeing and success in life are affected not only by individual abilities but also by the material conditions, distances and social support given to the young people. Substantial distances and policy decisions favoring urban areas mean that the young living outside centres have to develop capacities that their peers in the cities do not. Young people have fire everywhere, but their environments differ” states Kiilakoski.


Youth policy recommendations
(The summary of the editor. The full recommendations can be found in the study, pp. 55–56.)

1. The access to youth services depends on the distances to the centres. By securing the possibility to travel and by providing transportation, the young people would have equal right to access services regardless of their backgrounds.

2. Youth policy should be connected to family policy, and cross-generational arenas should be developed.

3. Digital services for the young should be evaluated by their ability to overcome geographic hindrances.

4. Decisions on vocational education institutes should involve impact assessments utilizing the perspective of mobility and moving away.

5. The young should have support and encouragement in how to learn to leave.

6. The young need special support when moving away from their home region.

7. Services for the young should be evaluated to meet the experiences of the young. For young in rural areas the nature is an arena of peer solidarity.

8. Migration back is connected to social relationships, family ties and the physical environment. Young adults with their special needs in housing, industrial and educational policies should be considered when thinking about the attractiveness and innovativeness of the communities in the Barents region.

The study “I am Fire but my Environment is the Lighter. A Study on Locality, Mobility, and Youth Engagement in the Barents Region” by Tomi Kiilakoski (Finnish Youth Research Society, Finnish Youth Research Network 2016) can be found here http://www.nuorisotutkimusseura.fi/julkaisut/verkkokauppa/verkkojulkaisut/1298-i-am-fire-but-my-environment-is-the-lighter.

Text: Johanna Westerlund
Pictures are pieces of artwork by the young in the Barents, published in the study



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