From Sand to Lillesand

12 September 2009

Saturday


Norwegian cove

A picturesque Norwegian cove (photo credit: Laura Nielsen)

Today I took my leave of the charms of small town Norway and began the drive back to Oslo. I drove south from Sand, passed through Stavanger where I toured the Oil Museum, and took the coast road to Lillesand. Last year I also took the coast road, though I mainly stayed on the highway. This time I took some of the secondary roads that run right along the rocky coast. There are spectacular views as well as beautiful little coves and inlets along the coast.

The windy and rocky south shore of Norway (photo credit: Laura Nielsen)

The windy and rocky south shore of Norway (photo credit: Laura Nielsen)

To see the Oil Museum and to pass through the countryside of Norway is to be reminded of the particular form that industrialization took in Scandinavia in general and Norway in particular. As the oil drilling rigs are interspersed among the rough seas of the north Atlantic, the occasional industrial concerns on land are interspersed throughout the largely unchanged landscape of Norway. Life is and can be completely transformed by industrialization, as we have observed in this forum on many occasions, and this transformation of life often brings a transformation of the landscape… but not always.

Preternatural beauty along the south coast of Norway (photo credit: Laura Nielsen)

Preternatural beauty along the south coast of Norway (photo credit: Laura Nielsen)

In Norway one sees the interpenetration of the traditional and the industrial. The ways of life represented by the traditional and the industrial are here not mutually exclusive, but continuous. Many people have a traditional family farm, or a cabin in the mountains or along the fjord, while also having their work in the industrial sector of the contemporary Norwegian economy. Here, industrialization appears — at its best — as an extension of life, as an improvement in the quality of life coupled with greatly expanded opportunities, rather than a transformation of life that involves the replacement of one way of life entire with another.

It takes patience to drive in Norway: narrow, winding roads cannot be rushed, nor can waiting for the ferry. Roads so narrow that only one vehicle can pass at a time are common in Norway. (photo credit: Laura Nielsen)

It takes patience to drive in Norway: narrow, winding roads cannot be rushed, nor can waiting for the ferry. Roads so narrow that only one vehicle can pass at a time are common in Norway. (photo credit: Laura Nielsen)

The kind of industrialization experienced by Norway is less likely to produce alienated labor on a large scale, but with the relatively small scale of the Norwegian population there is little that happens here on a mass scale. Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned here. In pre-industrialized societies, while no everyone would ideally wish to be a subsistence farmer, almost everyone ends up doing so because there are few other options. In industrialized society the options for employment are greatly expanded, and if this expansion can open opportunities for individuals without creating the conditions for mass discontent, this is all to the good.

Norway has a thriving industrial sector that does not dominate the landscape, but finds a place within the landscape. (photo credit: Laura Nielsen)

Norway has a thriving industrial sector that does not dominate the landscape, but finds a place within the landscape. (photo credit: Laura Nielsen)

Different forms of industrialization are conducive to different forms of labor. The mass labor of the factory system is an undifferentiated as the inevitability of subsistence farming among pre-industrialized peoples. But not all industrialization takes this form. Consider, for example, the industrialization of the fishing industry, which has long been central to the Norwegian economy. In its early stages, the industrialization of fishing is likely to increase yields, to reduce the difficulty and danger of the fisherman’s labor, and (again, initially) does not create mass unemployment through automation. (Perhaps the experience of the industrialization of the timber industry in Finland is a similar case, although I am just speculating here.) The later stages of industrialization have changed many of these initial effects, but the time allowed for transition can be crucially important.

Helicopter technology is particularly well-suited to the Norwegian landscape and they play a crucial role in servicing oil platforms and even in building cabins in the mountains.

Helicopter technology is particularly well-suited to the Norwegian landscape and they play a crucial role in servicing oil platforms and even in building cabins in the mountains.

In so far as experiences of industrialization go, it is difficult not to see that of Norway as anything other than the optimal path of industrialization. Whether or not this continuity of tradition with industrialization could be accomplished any other place in the world remains an open question.

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3 Responses to “From Sand to Lillesand”

  1. Estee said

    I enjoyed your pictures in Norway. Especially ‘The Doors’ pictures.
    I am glad you had a good time there.
    I will leave for Jakarta this coming Saturday, the 26th.
    I wish you a very happy birthday, wish you all the best.

    Love,
    Estee.

  2. Andrew said

    Hmm, I wonder how much you know about Norwegian industrialization.. It certainly changed the country, the people and our way of life. The oil economy is really just a footnote in that sense.
    It was the hydropower industry, [steel, paper and textile] mills that transformed this country. The enterprising Lutheran priests that traveled the country setting up factory after factory. The factories provided schools, churches and homes.
    From this new social class rose the workers movement and the Labour party. The party that would take political control over Norway and create the Social-Democratic welfare state we have today.

    After 1905, when Norway gained full independence from Sweden, a heavy wave of industrialization took place. In the 1890s the fish preserving and cellulose and paper industries started to grow rapidly.
    From 1905, when Norsk Hydro was established, manufacturing industry connected to hydroelectrical power took off. It is argued, quite convincingly, that if there was an industrial breakthrough in Norway, it must have taken place during the years 1905-1920. However, the primary sector, with its labor-intensive agriculture and increasingly more capital-intensive fisheries, was still the biggest sector.

    • geopolicraticus said

      Dear Andrew,

      I completely agree with you that Norwegian industrialization has its origins in hydropower exploitation. My family was involved in this in Sand, precisely in the period you mentioned from 1905 to 1920.

      The oil industry is a latecomer in this sense, but in terms of income earned it now dominates the Norwegian economy. Thus to discuss the origins and development of Norwegian industrialization is quite a different subject than its current status.

      As Statoil just successfully bid on 21 offshore contracts in the Gulf of Mexico, it is now set to become one of the world’s “Oil Majors.” Also, Norwegian companies involved in the construction and supply of natural gas lines to continental Europe demonstrates Norway’s preeminent position as the fossil fuel vendor to Europe.

      Industrialization always brings dramatic changes to a people and a landscape; it is always a matter of degree. In some places the way of life is changed beyond recognition; in other places, the changes are dramatic, but less wrenching than elsewhere. The fact that there were “Lutheran priests that traveled the country setting up factory after factory” (as you wrote) demonstrates the continuity with the pre-industrial Lutheran tradition, when pastors preached to the congregation the virtues of planting potatoes.

      You also mentioned that, “the primary sector, with its labor-intensive agriculture and increasingly more capital-intensive fisheries, was still the biggest sector,” and I had particularly focused in the above on the industrialization of the fishing industry. This, too, as with the example of Lutheran continuity, also demonstrates significant continuity from before and after the rapid industrial development of the period from 1905 to 1920.

      Best wishes,

      Nick

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